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Encampments at Winnipeg universities not going anywhere until demands met: protesters

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Encampments at Winnipeg universities not going anywhere until demands met: protesters
Protesters at pro-Palestinian encampments at the University of Manitoba and the University of Winnipeg say they don't plan to go anywhere until their demands are met. Marney Blunt reports.

Protesters at pro-Palestinian encampments at the University of Manitoba and the University of Winnipeg say they don’t plan to go anywhere until their demands are met.

The encampment at the U of M has been in place for just over one week now.

“We’re ensuring everyone is safe, we’re ensuring we are peaceful, we do not tolerate any violence,” protester Hussein Chokr told Global News.

The protest is making numerous demands of the U of M, including making a public statement in support of Palestinian rights, divesting from companies with ties to Israel and introducing a course on Palestinian identity.

The pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Manitoba. Josh Arason / Global News

A University of Manitoba spokesperson says university leadership met with the protesters on Monday. Chokr says more meetings are planned, and feels their message is being heard.

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“With enough pressure and sense of community together, we have seen in the past when a community is together, things happen,” Chokr said, noting they don’t plan on leaving the quad on the university campus any time soon.

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“We’re going to continue here indefinitely until our demands are met.”

The U of M protest site was set up last Tuesday and was originally set to stay in place until Thursday, but remains there a week later. A statement posted on the university’s website Friday said plans for outside groups to protest at the Fort Garry campus on Saturday forced the cancellation of the Science Rendezvous event over the weekend.

At the University of Winnipeg, an encampment has been in place since Friday. Protesters at the site Tuesday said their only communication with university officials was over camps not being allowed on university property without approval.

The University of Winnipeg encampment. Josh Arason / Global News

A statement posted online from the U of W Friday said campus members are allowed to protest on campus, but setting up tents, temporary structures and overnight encampments on university property without approval is not allowed.

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On Tuesday, a U of W spokesperson said the university is continuing to monitor the encampment for impacts on campus operations or safety.

Meanwhile, the president of the University of Winnipeg Faculty Association (UWFA) released an online statement supporting the students’ right to protest.

“I support the rights of students to protest peacefully without threat of reprisal, intimidation, or discipline unless there are clear, verifiable, and serious violations of the law,” UWFA president Peter Miller wrote.

Concerns from the Jewish community

Gustavo Zentner, the vice-president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, says he’s heard concerns from members of the Jewish community in Manitoba, including university students and their parents.

“These are very tense times. The Jewish community is feeling singled out, feeling discriminated against,” Zentner told Global News.

“They see flags, chants, and certain signs that single them out, make them feel unwelcome and unsafe. And that’s precisely what we were hoping we would never see right here in Canada.

“I mean, we look to universities as a safe place where they can actually provide that type and level of engagement and dialogue, and ensure students can engage with people of other faiths and nationalities and different curricula they’re going through as a means of engaging and letting their views known.

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“This time at universities, unfortunately, we see students who feel unsafe, that do not want to go university to run their activities or register for next year’s courses, and that’s a problem.”

The Winnipeg Police Service says it currently doesn’t have officers actively on-site at either encampment, but is keeping lines of communication open with both universities and protest organizers.

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