Campus security called for police at University of Calgary encampment: report

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
Days after police in Edmonton and Calgary dismantled pro-Palestinian encampments on university campuses, Premier Danielle Smith says the province is asking ASIRT to investigate in light of reports of injuries. Lisa MacGregor reports – May 13, 2024

Campus security called police in response to the University of Calgary encampment earlier this month, according to a new Calgary Police Service report.

At around 5:30 a.m. on Thursday, May 9, an encampment led by the group Calgary Student Movement was established on campus near MacEwan Hall in solidarity with the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Protesters demanded the university fully disclose its investments and divest from companies that have indirect or direct ties to the conflict between Israel and Hamas, which escalated last October.

The Calgary Student Movement also called on the university to condemn Israel’s actions toward Palestinians.

The encampment at the University of Calgary was part of a broader student movement across Canada and the U.S. calling on schools to disclose ties with the Israeli government and divest from Israeli universities. This includes protests and encampments at the University of Toronto, McGill University, the University of British Columbia, the University of Ottawa and Western University, among others.

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The report said that while officers anticipated that pro-Palestinian protests would take place at post-secondary institutions in Calgary, the timing was considered “spontaneous.”

“Nobody was surprised that this occurred. It wasn’t a question of whether or not this would happen. It was really just a question of what happened,” CPS Chief Mark Neufeld said at Wednesday’s Calgary Police Commission meeting.

“The encampments were up and running at various post-secondary institutions across Canada and the U.S. And just as police were talking to one another, I’m quite sure that post-secondary institutions were also talking to one another about their experiences with encampments on their institutions.”

Click to play video: 'Edmonton police answer questions about response to U of A encampment protest'
Edmonton police answer questions about response to U of A encampment protest

Police said the university advised protesters that they were allowed to protest but not to camp, and the camp was considered “trespassing” on university property.

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CPS said it received the initial call for service at around 6:37 a.m. on May 29 from campus security. However, the report did not detail why the call was made.

The report then said the police service’s initial response was limited to patrol officers, who tried to engage in dialogue with protesters throughout the day. A mobile command unit was also established near McMahon Stadium, several blocks away, soon after.

Police said more than 25 tents were erected by 10:30 a.m. Police also said the crowd grew to around 40 people by 1 p.m., and supplies were unloaded into the camp via U-Haul at around 2:15 p.m.

“It was eminently clear that, following precedent from other jurisdictions, the protesters intended to establish a camp on university property for the long term,” the report read.

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Throughout the day, more protesters arrived at the University of Calgary encampment, reaching an estimated 150 by 8 p.m. according to police.

Global News spotted dozens of police vehicles, as well as officers in protective armour, helmets and shields, near the encampment site by 8 p.m. as students chanted, linked arms and demanded the university disclose its divestments.

Protesters then held a meeting in the encampment at around 9:20 p.m. to decide if they wanted to stay or leave. Police tore down parts of the barricade and entered the encampment shortly after the meeting began.

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Click to play video: 'Toronto’s new encampment strategy leans away from enforcement'
Toronto’s new encampment strategy leans away from enforcement

According to the report, officers then tried to further negotiate with protesters and broadcasted on loudspeakers that protesters were being given the opportunity to leave between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Many protesters began packing up tents, supplies and personal belongings during this time but around 30 protesters remained at the site at 11 p.m., linking arms and singing, “We will not be moved.”

Just after 11 p.m., Calgary police officers began moving forward to clear the camp, while protesters continued to link arms. The CPS report said some protesters threw water bottles and tried to grab officers’ shields. The report also said some protesters also pushed police officers.

Around 15 pepper balls and four OC grenades — hand-deployed devices that deliver light, sound and synthetic aerosols — were used against the protesters as officers tried to push them toward the nearby LRT station, the report said, before adding that the protesters were warned before the tools were used.

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The police denied any use of flash bangs in their report.

The CPS report said the protesters were dispersed by 11:35 p.m. and a total of four arrests were made that night. Neufeld said no charges were laid but tickets were issued.

“There’s no question that those that were remaining understood that what they had been told and the potential consequences, including the potential for arrest,” Neufeld said.

The police chief also said the intervention was effective to de-escalate the situation.

“The CPS understands and is working to determine whether social media accounts and reporting of serious injury … are in fact accurate, and if so, it would investigate the circumstances leading to those injuries,” Neufeld said.

Click to play video: 'McGill encampment: university holds graduation ceremonies off campus'
McGill encampment: university holds graduation ceremonies off campus

In an emailed statement to Global News, a spokesperson for the University of Calgary said students and community members are free to protest but they are not allowed to set up encampments nor barricade themselves on university grounds.

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“Encampments, barricades, and overnight protests are not permitted because of the additional operational challenges, safety risks, and other challenges they pose,” the email read.

“The police were called by campus security when protesters ignored instructions to stop building an encampment and were subsequently given notice of trespass. This occurred in accordance with the university’s policies and procedures.

“Once the university requests the trespassers be removed from campus, how to enforce a trespass becomes an operational decision of the Calgary Police Service.

“The police engaged with the protestors for many hours, seeking to resolve the matter with cooperation and most protestors left once they were assured they could return to protest as long as they did not set up an encampment.”

Student union calls for independent investigation

In a social media post on Tuesday, the University of Calgary students’ union said it is calling for an independent investigation into what led to the police response that night.

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Students’ union president Ermia Rezaei-Afsah told Global News students want to understand the university’s actions and decision-making.

“We want to know how much coordination they may have had with CPS,” he said. “We want the truth about the situation because the (narrative) that the university is pushing does not line up with what the students’ union has witnessed.”

Rezaei-Afsah added the union wants an independent third party, like a retired Court of King’s Bench judge, to conduct the independent investigation.

“The university’s trying to brush this under the rug, and it’s not working for them,” the students’ union president said.

“For years and years, administration had been slowly working towards building inroads with students. And this event kind of broke all of that. The only way to move forward from it is for the university to take some accountability as to what happened.”

The university said it will be doing a third-party review of the decision-making process related to the removal of the encampment.

“In addition to the University of Calgary review, to the extent that the Students’ Union’s issues relate to police matters, the Government of Alberta has announced that an ASIRT review will take place regarding police actions,” a university spokesperson said.

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