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McGill encampment: Court rejects request for injunction against protesters

Click to play video: 'Judge denies injunction to remove pro-Palestinian campers at McGill University'
Judge denies injunction to remove pro-Palestinian campers at McGill University
WATCH: Pro-Palestinian protesters at McGill University are celebrating what they call a victory after a Quebec judge rejected a request to remove their encampment that was set up five days ago. The resolution has also pushed university officials to make a move. Global’s Gloria Henriquez reports. – May 1, 2024

A Quebec judge denied the request for a provisional injunction to remove protesters at McGill University on Wednesday as the encampment by pro-Palestinian activists stretched into its fifth day.

The decision comes after a lawyer representing the two students asked a judge to order a “restricted area” preventing five pro-Palestinian groups from protesting within 100 metres of every building at McGill’s downtown campus for 10 days.

The students, who both attend McGill, say the demonstrators’ presence had created an environment of aggression and left them feeling unsafe.

Click to play video: 'McGill encampment: Demonstrators confronted by counter-protest'
McGill encampment: Demonstrators confronted by counter-protest

Pro-Palestinian activists pitched their tents on campus grounds Saturday, calling on both McGill and Concordia universities to divest from Israel-connected funds. It follows a wave of similar protests on campuses across the United States linked to the Israel-Hamas conflict.

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Superior Court Justice Chantal Masse ruled Wednesday that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that their access to the school was being impeded or that they would be unable to write their final exams.

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The justice said that while some of the slogans and statements attributed to the protesters are “troubling,” there is no indication that they constitute direct threats towards the students. Masse also wrote that while campers are illegally occupying the grounds at McGill, “it is for the moment premature to conclude that the situation won’t be resolved adequately and non-violently with a progressive police intervention.”

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators at an encampment at McGill University in Montreal, Saturday, April 27, 2024. GMH

But Masse also recommended protestors at McGill “review the words used during the demonstrations and to refrain from using those likely to be perceived, rightly or wrongly, as calls for violence or as antisemitic remarks.”

McGill, Montreal police and protesters were awaiting the ruling as the encampment on school grounds entered its fifth day.

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The police force said it “will carefully analyze the content” of the court’s ruling and will continue to evaluate “different possible avenues” to respond in a way that favours a “peaceful outcome.”

Meanwhile, the university decided to remain neutral rather than support the injunction request. McGill issued a statement, saying it was encouraged by the court’s finding that the protesters’ presence is illegal and its recognition that the school’s call for police assistance was “a last resort” after attempts at negotiations failed.

McGill and vice chancellor president Deep Saini wrote in a message to staff and students following the ruling, saying the university has reached out to the encampment’s lawyers to “restart our discussions as we continue to collaborate with police.”

Click to play video: 'Gaza protests: McGill asks Montreal police for help with pro-Palestinian protesters'
Gaza protests: McGill asks Montreal police for help with pro-Palestinian protesters

Saini called on the encampment to dismantle immediately, and committed to holding a forum with only McGill students to discuss demands.

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Leila Khaled, a student at McGill who was present at the encampment Wednesday, welcomed the judge’s decision. She described it as an “unprecedented victory” in the court, adding that morale remains high among protesters.

“We are staying here indefinitely,” Khaled said.

Neil Oberman, the lawyer representing the two students who sought the injunction, said he respects the judge’s ruling. He doesn’t know if his clients will choose to appeal.

He acknowledged the situation at McGill is nuanced, but said the university needs to “take control of its campus.”

“Where have you ever heard that two students need to hire a lawyer to go to school? This is unacceptable,” Oberman said.

—with files from Global’s Gloria Henriquez, Brayden Jagger Haines and The Canadian Press

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