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Premier Legault reiterates that McGill pro-Palestinian camp must be dismantled

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Quebec Premier François Legault reiterated that the pro-Palestinian encampment at McGill University must be dismantled while police remain "on the lookout for new developments."

While visiting his L'Assomption riding on Friday morning, Legault once again called for the dismantling of "the illegal encampment" on the university campus, even though on Wednesday, the Quebec Superior Court rejected a request for an injunction to move the camp, which was erected on Saturday.

"There are all kinds of very legal ways to demonstrate," but "to set up an encampment on the grounds of a university that doesn't want that encampment, that's illegal," the premier argued, adding that he "counts on the police to dismantle in the way they think is best, and then at the time they think is best."

The premier made the same request on Thursday, 48 hours after university officials asked for police assistance, believing they had failed to persuade the protesters to end what they described as an illegal action.

At the same time in Montreal, Public Security Minister François Bonnardel said that he had "total confidence in the SPVM for the continuation of things" and for the "operations they will carry out to dismantle this."

A dangerous precedent

Also on Friday morning, the Fédération québécoise des professeures et professeurs d'université (FQPPU) issued a statement saying it was "concerned by the premier's recent comments."

"University campuses have always been places where ideas clash, sometimes vigorously," said FQPPU president professor Madeleine Pastinelli. "In a free and democratic society, it is not up to the political authorities to give orders to the police on operational matters," and "for the premier to attack demonstrators' freedom of expression by calling for police intervention against them sets a dangerous and worrying precedent."

Police assess the situation

For its part, the Montreal police (SPVM) issued a press release stating that it had taken note of the court's decision to reject the request for a provisional injunction by two McGill students, on the grounds of "the absence of a demonstration of an emergency."

The SPVM has indicated that it will closely follow "the judicial debates surrounding this litigation" and will remain on the lookout for any new developments.

"Let's not forget that the role of police officers in such a situation is to ensure peace, good order and personal safety, while respecting rights and freedoms," the SPVM said.

On Thursday, Canadian Justice Minister Arif Virani rebuked Premier Legault for his position: "Police operational decisions are always their decisions, independently of politicians. This is always the case in a democracy like ours. It separates us from other countries where the rule of law is not respected, so it's extremely important," he had said on his arrival at the Canadian parliament.

The demonstrators are demanding that McGill, as well as nearby Concordia University, cut their financial ties with companies they claim are "profiting from the genocide" in Gaza. They also want the university to cut all ties with certain Israeli institutions.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on May 3, 2024.

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