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Counter-protesters face off with pro-Palestinian encampment group at McGill University

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Montreal police said they will continue to monitor the pro-Palestinian encampment at McGill University after deploying a heavy police presence on campus on Thursday.

The school had asked students not to use the Roddick Gates as counter-protesters from the Jewish community descended on the university to make their voices heard. Police said the demonstrations were peaceful and orderly. 

The side-by-side protests came one day after a Quebec judge rejected a request for an injunction that sought to limit protests on campus.

Montreal police said it is still analyzing the legal debate about the dispute.

"We remain on the lookout for developments in the situation, maintaining communication with McGill University and the demonstrators. Let us remember that the role of police officers in such a situation is to ensure peace, good order, and the safety of people, while respecting rights and freedoms," police said in a written statement on Thursday.

Jewish groups chanted and waved Israeli flags just across from the encampment that was set up last Saturday.

"We really want to send a message to other students both in Montreal and more globally that the Jewish community still stands with them, that we stand united and that we’re not going to kowtow to anti-Semitism," said Jamie Fabian, a second-year law student at McGill, who was with the pro-Israeli protest.

"We support the right of free speech, we support the right of freedom of assembly. The problem that we have is with this messaging that they’re provoking in intifada and calls for violence."

Police separate pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel demonstrators on the outskirts of a protest encampment on the grounds of McGill University, in Montreal, Thursday, May 2, 2024. (Ryan Remiorz, The Canadian Press)

A poster shared on social media called on people to "demand that McGill University enforces its policies and to stand against Jew-hatred on campus. Never again is now."

"We're here for safety purposes to make sure that we can intervene if anything is going on," said Montreal police (SPVM) spokesperson Jean-Pierre Brabant, ahead of the demonstration. "Obviously, we want these protests to go really calmly, peacefully."

Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante said the police presence is to protect the right to demonstrate but also to ensure it remains peaceful.

"Our metropolis values peace, listening and inclusion," she wrote on X. "In Montreal, it is possible to express yourself while respecting rights and laws. We must all defend these common values."

A pro-Palestinian rally was also organized at 11:30 a.m. at the Roddick Gates by groups supporting the encampment.

The encampment has been on McGill's lower field since last weekend, demanding the university divest from funds they claim are connected to Israel.

"We are a peaceful encampment and we will remain like that," said Ali Salman, a representative of the encampment. "When there is an act of provocation, which is clearly, the counter-protests that were made were clearly an act of provocation or instigation...we have the community behind us who's willing to support us, to defend us. We will remain peaceful and remain on our message, which is divest."

The group says they also want the school to cut academic ties with Israeli institutions and denounce Israel's offensive in Gaza following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack.

A pro-Israel demonstrator at McGill University is separated from the pro-Palestinian camp. (Olivia O'Malley, CTV News)

The Israeli offensive has led to more than 34,000 Palestinian deaths, according to the local health ministry.

 

The police's Brabant said that there have been no issues since the encampment started on Saturday. The Montreal fire department (SIM) also inspected the encampment and concluded that it was safe.

 

However, Brabant says police are ready to intervene if the situation escalates.

 


Bird's-eye view of the protests at McGill University and outside the Roddick Gates (photo: Audrey Blanchard)

"We're aware of what's going in the States, [and] we're aware of, of maybe what could go on," said Brabant. "At this point, we want everything to be done peacefully since the beginning, and we're going to continue in that direction."

The encampment in Montreal is one of a wave of similar protests across university campuses in the United States linked to the Israel-Hamas war.

Pro-Palestinian activists wave flags on the outskirts of a protest encampment on the grounds of McGill University, in Montreal, Thursday, May 2, 2024. (Ryan Remiorz, The Canadian Press)

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