Pro-Palestinian protesters mark quiet night on UBC Okanagan campus

UBC Okanagan now has an encampment of protesters. Courtesy: UBC Okanagan/Facebook

Pro-Palestinian protesters moved into UBC Okanagan’s campus this week and say they don’t intend to leave until their concerns have been heard.

“Our demands range from divestment to boycotting, as well as publicly condemning the ongoing genocide happening right now in Gaza,” the group’s spokesperson, Jen, said Tuesday.

She and the dozen or so others on site were wearing scarves across their faces to obscure their identities and avoid public backlash. They had spent one night at the encampment that had five tents as of Tuesday morning. Palestinian flags were hung on makeshift fences encircling the tents, along with banners calling for freedom for Palestinians.

“We’re here in solidarity with Palestinians, their right to resist and the right to return to their land,” Jen said.

“We’re also here on stolen Syilx land, so we recognize that imperialism and colonialism run deep and all of these forms of injustice are intertwined.”

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The protesters would like UBC president Benoit-Antoine Bacon as well as UBC-O deputy chancellor Lesley Cormac to hear their concerns and make changes.

The UBC Okanagan contingent of protesters is joining the growing number of encampments set up across North America, though the local version has been more peaceful than many of its counterparts.

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

Jen said the local group is focused on creating a safe space, avoiding clashes between attendees and police or counter protesters at larger campuses. So far, their interactions have been friendly.

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“We’ve had lots of people throughout the day coming by and talking to us and they’re curious why we’re here,” she said, adding that they have a leaflet they hand out that explains their views.

But they have followed closely the tensions in other areas and intend to stay safe.

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“This is the chance to really showcase our community that this is something that really matters, and it should disrupt a little bit and should take people a bit out of their day-to-day,” Jen said.

“Having students and faculty walking by and seeing what’s happening is why we’re here.”

In a statement about the protests, UBC security said it values freedom of expression and respects peaceful protest.

“During this time, campus remains open for students, faculty, staff and visitors,” reads the statement.

The university is monitoring the situation and is continuing to liaise with law enforcement to ensure the safety of those both inside and outside the protest area.

All campus buildings, including academic spaces, recreation facilities and attractions remain open. However, some buildings may have shorter opening hours.

Summer session begins on May 13 as scheduled and UBC-O graduation ceremonies will proceed as scheduled on June 6 and 7. Conferences and other events will continue as planned unless stated otherwise by the organizers.

“The University is working to minimize disruptions to campus operations and remind everyone that any protest actions must be conducted with respect for others and within the boundaries of UBC policy and the law,” reads the statement.

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“Throughout the year, the university has continuously reinforced the need for peaceful and respectful debate in these very challenging times, which is a tenet that must be respected by all members of the UBC-O community, as well as visitors to our campus.”

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