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Pro-Palestinian encampment at McGill University in Montreal dismantled

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McGill University says its downtown campus is closed on Wednesday because it is dismantling the pro-Palestinian encampment on its lower field.

"The encampment is the site of profound health and safety risks that continue to grow in scope and severity," the university writes in a statement.

On its website, McGill notes, "due to the presence of human waste, a rat infestation, discarded syringes, a large amount of rotting food and garbage, and other potentially dangerous and unsanitary conditions within the site, it was necessary to use heavy machinery to remove parts of the camp for the safety of all involved...For the same reasons, it will be necessary to excavate and replace a layer of contaminated soil on the site."

School officials say they decided to dismantle the camp because authorities, including police and the fire department, have been denied access to the site.

"McGill will always support the right to free expression and assembly within the bounds of the laws and policies that keep us all safe," said Deep Saini, the university's president and vice-chancellor. "However, recent events go far beyond peaceful protest and have inhibited the respectful exchange of views and ideas that is so essential to the university's mission and to our sense of community."

The university says it will not be commenting further "while the operation is ongoing."

A Montreal police officer stands outside McGill University on Wednesday, July 10, 2024. (Cosmo Santamaria/CTV News)

In an e-mail sent Wednesday morning, the group Divest for Palestine Collective called the situation "absurd."

"We were told that we were breaking into our own campus to protest the fact that our tuition money is being used to fund companies that kill Palestinians," it noted. "As we continue to see bodies pulled from the rubble, I promise that students will not end the fight for divestment at this encampment."

Zeyad Abisaab, a representative of the encampment at McGill University and a Concordia University student, tells CTV News the group was threatened with arrest.

"There is intimidation. It's not voluntary. None of these people left voluntarily," he said. "There's intimidation, coercion, threats, there were dogs. It was not voluntary."

One demonstrator, who gave his name as "Scott Montreal," adds the university has "no right" to evict them despite tearing down the camp.

"We have a constitutional right to protest for Gaza, and I can say that I'm a Jewish person, I've been to Palestine twice, and it's appalling what Israel is doing to the Palestinians," he said.

Montreal police officers stand outside McGill University as the school dismantles the pro-Palestinian encampment. (Scott Prouse/CTV News)

Montreal police (SPVM) confirmed it is onsite at the school to oversee the operation.

"McGill hired a private security agency to dismantle the encampment," explains Jean-Pierre Brabant, a spokesperson with Montreal police, adding the force is not in charge of the operation.

He says that an eviction notice was issued by the agency, and some people have already left the site.

Brabant adds one person was arrested for allegedly assaulting a security agent.

Montreal police officers onsite at McGill University after the school hired a firm to dismantle the pro-Palestinian encampment on its lower field. (Scott Prouse/CTV News)

In the meantime, McGill is asking students, faculty and staff to avoid the area.

"Classes typically held on the downtown campus will move online for today," it notes. "We ask instructors to please notify their students immediately."

In addition, libraries and daycares are closed.

The campus is also off-limits to the public, and all events, summer programs and activities are cancelled.

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