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McGill University says pro-Palestinian demonstrators 'refuse' to collaborate, encampment violates policies

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McGill University says the growing encampment on its lower field in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza violates its policies.

In a statement sent Monday afternoon, the Montreal university said discussions failed, it plans to "de-escalate before moving to steps that involve police assistance."

This comes after hundreds of demonstrators started camping out on the school's grounds to demand the university divest from funds they claim are connected to Israel.

"Students have reiterated their intention to continue the encampment indefinitely, until McGill and Concordia divest from all companies profiting from genocide," read a joint statement published Monday by co-organizers Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights McGill, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights Concordia, Independent Jewish Voices McGill and Independent Jewish Voices Concordia.

Monday, the university's media relations office noted the situation has "shifted significantly" as the number of tents on campus has tripled since Saturday.

"We have become aware that many of them, if not the majority, are not members of the McGill community," the university claimed.

Officials also claim they saw "video evidence" of people using antisemitic language and intimidating behaviour.

McGill University has not responded to CTV News Montreal's requests for interviews.

CTV News spoke to a Jewish Israeli student on campus who did not want to be identified for safety reasons. She said she approached the encampment hoping to have a dialogue.

"We were met with intimidation, we were told to go back to where we came from, we were told that we were terrorists, we were told that Zionists are racists. They did not welcome any conversation, they refused to speak to us," she said. 

CTV News has seen a video of an exchange where demonstrators chanted slogans that included, "Leave Palestine alone," "Go back to Europe," and "All Zionists are racist. All Zionists are terrorists."

The university said the school plans to investigate as the encampment violates both McGill's policies and the law. 

"The university has been in communication with lawyers retained by McGill students in the encampment to discuss conditions in place to ensure safety as well as a timeline to remove the tents," the school noted.

However, officials say the students, through their lawyers, "refused to carry on these discussions and did not bring any proposals or suggestions to further the dialogue. They have instead indicated that they intend to remain on campus indefinitely."

McGill says its senior leadership team is now meeting to discuss the next steps.

Encampment members are demanding the school divest from Israeli companies it says are "complicit in the occupation of Palestine." They also want the school to cut academic ties with Israeli institutions and denounce Israel's offensive in Gaza, which has led to more than 34,000 Palestinian deaths, according to the local health ministry. The Israeli offensive comes following the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants on Israel that killed about 1,200 people.

A McGill student and encampment spokesperson who didn't want to give her full name for fear of reprisals from the school or police said on Sunday that the campers intend to remain indefinitely.

"We're not leaving. Students aren't leaving. They're going to hold the fort down. They're going to stand their ground," said Maria, an organizer with Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) McGill.

Montreal lawyer Neil Oberman said he is representing some McGill students who are seeking a provisional injunction against the protesters in the encampment and the university administration. He would not say how many students he is representing.

Wave of protests on campuses 

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

On Monday, the University of Ottawa warned its students that using university space is a privilege and not a right.

"While peaceful protest is permitted in appropriate public spaces on campus according to our policies and regulations, encampments and occupations will not be tolerated," read a message signed by Éric Bercier, associate vice-president of student affairs.

'We don't want this to escalate'

Quebec Higher Education Minister Pascale Dery said on Monday that the provincial government has been "preoccupied" with what's going on at McGill and that they're "taking it very seriously."

"We don't want any confrontation," she said. "Everybody is on the same page; we don't want this to escalate, so we'll do everything we can, but it's up to the university to take the decisions in that regard."

She said Quebec has been in close contact with McGill and the Montreal police (SPVM) since Saturday.

"It's up to McGill to take the decisions that are needed to ensure the security of all the students on campus," said Dery. "We're in the midst of an exam period, the exams are not done yet, so I just want to make sure of security."

-- with files from Morgan Lowrie of The Canadian Press

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