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Quebec court rejects McGill injunction request to remove encampment

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A Quebec judge has rejected McGill University's request for an injunction to remove the pro-Palestinian encampment on the university's campus in downtown Montreal.

Wednesday's ruling is the second injunction request that has been denied after two students requested a similar court authorization.

The injunction request sought to authorize Montreal police to assist the school in dismantling the encampment on McGill's lower field, citing health and safety concerns at the encampment that was first set up on April 27.

Justice Marc St-Pierre did not find sufficient grounds to justify an injunction, but requested the plaintiffs make specific modifications to the introductory application and re-file the request.

St-Pierre said in his decision that McGill "cannot point to any serious claim or violent incident since the erection of the first tents on the campus," noting that "even a confrontation with counter-demonstrators on May 2... took place peacefully."

In addition, the court said that McGill's need for an injunction to start work for the spring convocation was not justified because of the "university's wise decision to relocate the event."

In the written decision, St-Pierre said the case also raises the issue of the conflicting rights of the protesters' freedom of expression versus McGill's property rights.

He said there is a need for a larger debate on the question, including whether a "peaceful occupation" should fall under the right to freedom of expression. The judge said a "more in-depth analysis than is normally done in the context (of) a provisional injunction" would be preferred.

Sibel Ataogul, the lawyer representing the Students Society of McGill University (SSMU), said group is "ecstatic at the news."

"We think it's a great victory for the right to express oneself for the right to protest, of course, peacefully and we think the facts prevail,"she said.

In response to the ruling, McGill said in a statement: "While we agree with the court’s previous finding that the encampment is unlawful, McGill is disappointed in today’s ruling. We are currently in the process of analyzing the judgment."

Protesters have been demanding that McGill divest from companies tied to Israel, and hailed the court decision on Wednesday.

"In a historic win this morning, the courts rejected McGill's request for an injunction to dismantle the encampment and recognize the students' right for free speech and demonstration," said a protester who identified herself as Rama. "This sets an incredible precedent not only for the McGill community, but for the Palestinian community at large, which, despite attempts of defamation and repression, has refused to be stifled."

Reacting Wednesday afternoon, Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante said the city was taking note of the court's decision.

"We have every confidence that the experience and sensitivity of the SPVM, as well as the proactive maintenance of a dialogue between the university and the people occupying their land, will preserve the calm and security of the site," she said. "Our priority is to preserve the peaceful character of Montreal and avoid the escalation of tension seen in the United States."

- with files from The Canadian Press 

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