Two weeks into an encampment protesting Israel on its grounds, McGill University sought an injunction to remove it—which was refused by a judge

UPDATE (5/15/24): Justice Marc St-Pierre said in his decision that the university failed to justify the urgent need to dismantle the camp.

McGill University is seeking an injunction to end the pro-Palestinian encampment that has been occupying school grounds since April 27.

The school issued a statement two weeks later, informing its community that action would be taken to dismantle the protest. So far, the school has been unable to deal with the protesters—and the camp has grown significantly in size, with over 115 tents counted on campus.

Police had to intervene on May 2, to settle tensions between a group of protesters and counter-protesters.

“I write today to let you know that McGill is seeking a court order that would require those participating to dismantle the encampment, and to refrain from camping on or occupying McGill’s downtown campus. The order would authorize the Montreal police (SPVM) to enforce it,” reads the message from Deep Saini, the university’s president and vice-chancellor.

“I would like to emphasize that the order, if granted, would not stop our efforts to continue our discussions with members of the McGill community participating in the encampment. We are committed to doing so in good faith.”

The statement goes on to list the primary reasons that the school is seeking the injunction, the main issue being public safety. According to the message, there is only one entry and exit point to the encampment, and no emergency exit access.

“The University is concerned about the risks that the encampment poses to the safety, security and public health of members of the McGill community and for those participating in the encampment. Neither McGill nor organizations such as the Montreal Fire Prevention Services have been able to go into the area to verify compliance with health and safety.”

Furthermore, the school is seeking the injunction to reduce the rising tensions between protesters and counter-protesters—citing the event on May 2—and clarified that the encampment is being held on private property, which prevents McGill from hosting activities and events.

“An occupation such as the encampment monopolizes university property, preventing the McGill community from using that space for their normal activities. The encampment will, in all likelihood, prevent students and their families from celebrating this spring’s convocation on lower campus, where the ceremonies for most faculties normally take place.”

Earlier this month, lawyer Neil Oberman went to court seeking an injunction on behalf of two students but was denied.

Were it granted, the injunction would have prevented demonstrations within 100 meters of any of McGill campus buildings in Montreal. But in a May 1 interview with The Canadian Jewish News, Oberman said that this was the preliminary stage of the hearing.

“One thing is for sure, this is an ongoing issue. This is a warning for other universities to be very careful, to manage their facilities properly, be respectful of people’s rights but also to make sure that security and safety are not negotiable.”

Justice Chantal Masse denied the request on the basis that there was no evidence proving that demonstrations were blocking access to the building.

Encampment organizers are demanding that McGill and Concordia University disclose and divest from all investments in companies they consider to be complicit in “the genocide of the Palestinian people.”

Additionally, they are demanding that both institutions sever ties with Israeli organizations and grant amnesty to all protest participants as well as make a public statement condemning what they describe as an ongoing genocide.

On May 13, pro-Palestinian demonstrators mobilized on school grounds at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) to being another encampment in solidarity with McGill’s demonstrators.

“While Zionist violence has been raining down on Gaza for more than eight months, and the occupying forces are stepping up their murderous assault on Rafah, the international community remains silent and complicit,” reads a statement from the encampment organizer group Solidarité pour les droits Humains des Palestiniennes et Palestiniens (SDHPP-UQAM) .

“We, students from various universities and CEGEPs, refuse to remain silent in the face of these colonial crimes.”

Organizers are demanding that the university sever any ties with Israeli institutions and are asking that McGill cancel its injunction request. They are also calling on the termination of Quebec’s representative office in Israel.

Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-François Blanchet condemned the nature of the UQAM protest in a statement on social media:

“Freedom of opinion, assembly and demonstration are one thing. UQÀM is a public institution, unlike McGill, but that does not justify masked individuals obstructing the freedom of movement of others, setting up barriers, rendering security equipment inoperable and navigating very close to violence. activist and hate speech. Anything that prevents a university from being what it is—a place of learning, research, reflection —must be contained. The freedom of other students is compromised. We are far from legitimate demonstrations. I am not naive enough to believe that there is no structured and hostile organization or any infiltration linked to these demonstrations.”