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Doug Ford says pro-Palestinian university encampments ‘need to move’

Ontario’s premier called for pro-Palestinian protest encampments to move off university campuses Monday even as one Toronto university suggested it was making progress in its talks with demonstrators.

Premier Doug Ford said he is “not in favour” of the encampments, which have cropped up on several campuses in recent weeks, adding he’s getting messages from parents expressing concerns that their kids will be harassed or bullied because of them.

“They need to move. The university has to move these people along,” Ford told reporters at the Ontario legislature.

The premier said some of what he’s seen and heard about the protests is “unacceptable.”

“I can’t stand some of the nasty stuff I’ve been seeing out there,” he said.

Ford’s comments came as the University of Toronto said it sees “a way forward” after meeting with student protesters involved with an encampment on its campus.

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Though the university initially gave protesters a deadline of 10 p.m. last Thursday to leave, administrators later said they wouldn’t remove the encampment if its activities remained peaceful.

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Sandy Welsh, the university’s vice-provost of students, said in a statement Monday morning that members of the administration met with student representatives for the encampment over the weekend and the discussions “have been constructive.”

The representatives and administrators are working together to address concerns about health and safety, as well as reports of threatening or hateful language, she said.

The encampment set up in an area known as King’s College Circle last Thursday has seen protesters call on the university to disclose ties with the Israeli government and divest from Israeli companies.

Mohammad Yassin, a fourth-year student and one of the spokespeople for the demonstrators, said he was part of the group that met with administrators on the weekend.

The statement issued Monday was disheartening because it “perpetuates lies” about the demonstration, he said.

The administration’s ongoing allegations that the protesters are not part of the university community or that they are engaging in hate speech are simply not true, Yassin said.

“During the second or third day of our camp, we had a Shabbat dinner that was organized by the Jewish faculty and community of our camp, while we were being accused of antisemitism,” he said.  “We shut down any forms of hatred, antisemitism, virulently. It’s against our community guidelines, and we have processes to deal with people who promote this kind of hate.”

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The group went into the talks believing they would be discussing their demands soon, but instead the university has continued to focus on “trivial things” like the fence around the area and sanitation, he said.

“We are only going to talk about demands with the university going forward. … It is not worth our time to be discussing fences when over 30,000 people in Gaza have been killed.”

The International Court of Justice is investigating whether Israel has committed acts of genocide in the ongoing conflict in Gaza, with a ruling expected to take years. Israel has rejected allegations of wrongdoing and accused the court of bias.

Israel’s campaign in Gaza was launched after Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 men women and children hostage in October. The Israeli offensive has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials.

Pro-Palestinian activists have also set up tents at McGill University in Montreal, the University of Ottawa, McMaster University in Hamilton and the University of British Columbia campus in Vancouver.

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