Anger growing over how U of A, Edmonton police dismantled pro-Palestinian protest

Click to play video: 'Anger growing over how University of Alberta, Edmonton police dismantled pro-Palestine protest'
Anger growing over how University of Alberta, Edmonton police dismantled pro-Palestine protest
A large crowd gathered Tuesday on the University of Alberta campus not just to show support for the people's university for Palestine, but also to express anger over how administration and Edmonton police dismantled a demonstration encampment over the weekend. As Lisa MacGregor explains, the actions have led to an associate dean resigning in protest – May 14, 2024

A professor at the University of Alberta has resigned from their associate dean role in protest over how school officials handled the dismantling of a pro-Palestinian encampment this past weekend.

Faculty of arts professor and associate dean of equity, diversity, and inclusion Natalie Loveless said she saw the early morning protest removal by Edmonton police this past Saturday.

She said the unnecessary use of force she witnessed against students is something she will never forget.

“The sound of nonlethal weapons being fired and the sight of batons wielded by militarized police against unarmed students on an apparently public sidewalk after they had been complying with the demand to slowly and peacefully protest their way off campus, is still with me,” Loveless said in a letter dated Tuesday.

“Not only was this police action unjust and at odds with the university’s mission and values. It caused real and deep harm to all it targeted.”

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As a result, Loveless said she can no longer fulfil the job she was hired to do as the inaugural associate dean of EDI in the faculty of arts and resigned on Monday.

“With police marching on our students, on our campus, I can neither protect students nor facilitate the difficult conversations that are needed to advance equity and justice for our community.”

Her resignation came on the same day a large crowd gathered at the post-secondary institution over the lunch hour.

They were there not just to show support for the “people’s university for Palestine” movement, but also to express anger over how school administration and the Edmonton Police Service dismantled the demonstration encampment.

Demonstrators protesting the Edmonton Police Service and University of Alberta’s actions to dismantle a pro-Palestinian encampment. Photo taken on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Global News

It was one of several recent protests on academic campuses in Canada and the United States in response to Israel’s actions in Gaza.

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The camp at the U of A began to form last Thursday, growing to about 40 tents by the next day as protesters called on the university to cut ties with businesses and investments that support Israel.

The group also demanded disclosure of those investments, a declaration of the right to protest and condemnation of Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip as a “genocide.”

Edmonton police said it repeatedly gave demonstrators notice that they were breaching university policy and provincial trespassing laws.

A final warning was given early Saturday morning and around 4:30 a.m., after which officers in tactical riot gear moved in to force the encampment to disband.

What unfolded was an at-times chaotic daybreak scene, as police in a line advanced on protesters who refused to leave the pro-Palestinian encampment.

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Officers were seen using their batons on protesters and video on social media showed what appeared to be tear gas being deployed.

Edmonton Police Service members dismantling a pro-Palestinian protest encampment at the University of Alberta on Saturday, May 11, 2024. Courtesy: university4palestine.yeg via Instagram

In light of injuries being reported, Premier Danielle Smith said on Monday she’s asked the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team police watchdog to investigate.

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Global News has attempted to speak with University of Alberta president and vice-chancellor Bill Flanagan several times in the days since, but the university has not made anyone available to answer questions.

Flanagan issued a statement on Saturday, citing fire hazards and the risk of escalation and violent clashes with counter-protesters among the reasons for police involvement.

There are growing calls for Flanagan to take more concrete action. Signs at Tuesday afternoon’s demonstration read statements such as “Flanagan should resign!” and “Faculty for Palestine.”

Demonstrators protesting the Edmonton Police Service and University of Alberta’s actions to dismantle a pro-Palestinian encampment. Photo taken on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Global News

A letter sent to Flanagan by four associations representing staff and students said the “visual evidence of the forceful removal of protestors has sent a chilling message to students, faculty, and staff, suggesting that dissent will be met with aggression rather than dialogue.”

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The use of force appeared to be a severe abuse of power on campus, said the letter signed by the leaders of the University of Alberta Union and Association Presidents, Association of Academic Staff University of Alberta, Non-Academic Staff Association, University of Alberta Students’ Union and Graduates Students’ Association.

An emergency meeting with the president and other high-level U of A leaders was requested, which AASUA vice president Kristine Smitka said will happen on Wednesday.

“We would really like to see some accountability and further explanation around the events that led up to what transpired that took things from what was very calm, peaceful, responsible protest on Friday evening to what in the videos is really quite alarming,” said Smitka, who was shocked by the videos that emerged of police moving in before the sun came up.

“Where we left things on Friday night and where we woke up Saturday morning was quite a stark difference.”

Click to play video: 'ASIRT may probe Edmonton, Calgary police response to pro-Palestinian encampment removals'
ASIRT may probe Edmonton, Calgary police response to pro-Palestinian encampment removals

Smitka said the association has been flooded with messages from U of A staff and students expressing what she said are deep concerns over how police acted.

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“We need to think about what safety risks arose from the use of force to remove what appeared to be a peaceful protest.”

In addition to ASIRT investigating the actions of police, the AASUA wants an independent review of the university’s actions that led up to calling the police and asking officers to forcefully remove the protesters.

The associations said the police actions undermine the principles of open discussion, intellectual exploration and freedom of expression that universities have traditionally upheld.

“It just doesn’t align with the university’s proclaimed principles,” said Lisa Glock, president of the University of Alberta Students’ Union, explaining the statements released by the university do not align with what appears to have actually transpired and was recorded on video.

“There’s a deep scepticism about the university’s reasoning and, frankly, complete loss of trust in their credibility to report on this issue, seeing those videos contradicting their statements.”

Glock said violence should never be the response to a peaceful protest.

“Freedom of expression is at the core of who we are as Canadians, frankly. Everyone has the right to speak their mind, protest peacefully,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Important that we bring the temperature down: Minister responds to Calgary campus protest clashes'
Important that we bring the temperature down: Minister responds to Calgary campus protest clashes

It isn’t just staff associations and students speaking out. Members of the University of Alberta and University of Calgary faculties of law also sent a letter on Tuesday to their institution’s respective presidents, along with the Edmonton and Calgary police chiefs and Alberta Crown Prosecution Service.

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The letter says law professors have deep concerns over what appears to have been a violent infringement of students’ right to protest, which are protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“Arguments that the trespass notices are justified by fire hazards or other safety or operational issues cannot be sustained in light of the fact that the students do not appear to have been given a meaningful opportunity to understand and rectify any such concerns before the notices were served.

“In the absence of meaningful engagement, discretionary trespass notices and the decision to call in police to enforce such notices are not reasonable and proportionate limits on Charter rights.”

The actions in Calgary and Edmonton mirrored similar measures authorities have taken in recent days to crack down on campus protesters at sites across the world.

Students at campuses across Canada and the U.S. Have been setting up encampments and calling for their schools to cut ties with Israel and businesses that support it.

Click to play video: 'Tensions rising over Canadian campus protest encampments'
Tensions rising over Canadian campus protest encampments

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