tudent organizers at the University of Toronto are asking allies and community members to attend a Solidarity Rally beginning at 7 p.m. tonight inside the established encampment at King College Circle to help prepare against possible police action. Hundreds of students have occupied the area since 4:30 a.m. Thursday morning. 

The call for support was voiced Wednesday morning in response to an official letter from the university warning the organizers that “protesting will not be permitted after 10 p.m.” 

“These intimidation tactics don’t work on us,” said an unnamed organizer with Occupy4Palestine, the same group that occupied the halls outside University of Toronto President Meric Gertler’s office earlier this year. 

Photo by Fernando Arce

“They want us out of here by 10 p.m. Please call every single person you know, because they will try to evict us, and we will not leave. We don’t know what to expect, but we need to prepare for the worst.”

The letter, which was read aloud by an organizer, prohibited a number of items on campus, including camp stoves, megaphones, and “structures of any sort — tents, shelters, etc.”

“Various laws and University policies may apply to your activity, including the Ontario Trespass to Property Act, the U of T Code of Student Conduct, and the Policy on the Temporary Use of Space,” the letter said.

Following the example of several American universities and McGill University in Montreal, the students took over the University of Toronto campus to demand their institution sever ties with Israeli universities and with companies supplying arms to Israel.

“We decided it was time to escalate and join the hundreds of thousands of students around North America and the world who are demanding their university end their complicity in the ongoing genocide that is happening right now,” Erin Mackey, an organizer and media spokesperson, told The Hoser inside the encampment. 

“So we are here and will continue to be here until the university divests from Israel.”

The encampment organizers have three specific demands:

  1. Disclose all investments held in endowments, short-term working capital assets, and other financial holdings of the university hereafter;
  2. Divest the university’s $4 billion endowment, capital assets, and other financial holdings from all direct and indirect investments that sustain Israeli apartheid, occupation, and illegal settlement of Palestine;
  3. Terminate all partnerships with Israeli academic institutions that either: operate in settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, or; support or sustain the apartheid policies of the state of Israel and its ongoing genocide in Gaza.

Several hours into their demonstration, the northwest gate was opened by a security guard who said they were removing a generator. Demonstrators quickly moved to peacefully block him by forming a human wall, and the fence was quickly locked again after the guard removed the generator and left the area. 

Later, a lone agitator protested the encampment, yelling and waving his arms. Demonstrators drowned him out with chants and the agitator vacated the area.

“Hey, hey, hey, goodbye,” they sang. 

Photo by Fernando Arce

Around noon, another agitator walked into the encampment. Organizers quickly cleared a path and peacefully asked her to leave, asking demonstrators not to touch the person. After some time a University of Toronto security guard ordered the agitator to leave and she complied. 

Throughout the morning, campus security vehicles have been staged at various points. By 11 a.m. only one police cruiser could be seen on scene, but organizers are remaining cautious due to the “wave” of police repression seen across the U.S., Mackey says.

She says the 10 p.m. deadline — which they have vowed to ignore — means it’s “likely” that police will show up. 

While they don’t anticipate a violent U.S.-style crackdown, they said they are prepared for whatever may happen. That includes having the support of a Movement Defense Committee whose phone number demonstrators had written on their arms in case of arrest. 

“We’ve had conversations with (University of Toronto President Gertler) before and they’ve led nowhere, which is why we’re here today,” she said. “We have the resources and support that we need to ensure our own safety. And we will continue to be here. Everyone understands the risks and has been fully briefed and prepped for all outcomes.”

The university’s letter also claims that the university “grounds and buildings are private property.”

Photo by Fernando Arce

“Unauthorized activities such as encampments or the occupation of university buildings are considered trespassing,” the letter states. 

But that is a “ridiculous statement,” says Alejandro Paz, an associate professor of anthropology,  a member of the Jewish Faculty Network, and the co-chair of the steering committee of “Here in Palestine,” a Palestinian studies initiative on campus.  

“This is a university. It belongs to all of us. All of these lands are part of the university and should be used exactly how the students are using it,” he told The Hoser from inside the encampment. 

“Our president always wants us to do more experiential learning. This is experiential learning… And they’re doing it actively, using university property to be part of a growing movement.”

May 2, 2024
Local News
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