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No Sign of Leaving: University of Winnipeg Encampment Stays Up After Three Weeks 

The encampment at the University of Winnipeg

A pro-Palestine encampment of more than a dozen tents with an unknown amount of long-term protestors has been outside the University of Winnipeg for more than two weeks. Along the West side of the encampment are four banners describing what the encampment represents and its objectives. 

Under a banner titled Declare, it is written, “We demand the University [of Winnipeg] issue a statement immediately condemning the ongoing genocide against the Palestinian people, including the scholasticide in Gaza, and calling on the Canadian Government to immediately cease all military contracts with Israel.” 

On May 12th, University of Winnipeg President Todd Mondor sent out a statement to all students and faculty stating the University is opposed to all forms of hatred, antisemitism, and Islamophobia. The statement also emphasized the value of student safety on campus, and the encampment was set up without first seeking permission to do so, violating “established University policies, health and safety guidelines, and the law.” 

“Our priority is to ensure that students, faculty, and staff can continue to work and learn in a safe and respectful environment. The University is monitoring the encampment for any impacts on the health and safety of our campus community.” 

The University has enacted a policy wherein any person entering campus buildings must show identity at the doors. While student identity is requested first, individuals may present any form of photo identification to be let in at any entrance point.  

“The idea is we’re trying to make sure we know the identification of everyone on campus,” a security supervisor who preferred to remain anonymous explained. “People are asked to identify themselves in order to maintain safety inside the campus and remain aware of who’s here…

The concern is that we don’t want people who don’t attend our University to be in our University. If you have an academic or legitimate purpose to be on campus, you’ll be allowed in.” 

There is no record of who is in the encampment ; therefore, security wants to be aware of everyone entering the building. Those who fail to identify themselves with a photo ID may be temporarily prevented entry until their status as a student, faculty, or attendee to an on-campus event can be confirmed.  

According to members of the encampment, some of the students are from universities across the city, and some are from unspecified community organizations. 

A banner hung along the encampment demands “no repercussions or disciplinary charges are aimed at students, staff, or faculty” of the Universities of Winnipeg or Manitoba because of actions taken to support Palestine. Another banner demands the University divest from all holdings in companies “complicit in Israeli apartheid and illegal occupation,” as well as a demand to cut all academic ties with Israeli institutions. The encampment demands the school remain transparent about future investments. 

“We demand the Board of Regents disclose all investments in endowments, short-term working capital assets, and other financial workings of the University hereafter,” their banner reads. 

The downtown Winnipeg encampment is nothing new, not even in the prairies. At the south end of Winnipeg is a similar encampment on the University of Manitoba campus.  

Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is a multi-national group that has inspired many sit-ins and encampments across Canada and the United States. Individuals representing the group were with the University of Manitoba encampment for a brief period but have since departed after violating the requirements of the U of M security team, which included always having at least one executive member of SJP at the encampment. Their support remains in lieu of their presence. 

Demands made by the encampment include calls for the University to enact proactive measures to ensure the safety of Palestinian students. Among demands included boycotting Israeli academic institutions and “regular reviews, transparent reporting procedures, and mandatory cultural and ethical competency training for staff and students.”  

Other demands order the University to disclose all investments for students to see. The demand further says the school must then “promptly divest permanently” from any companies or institutions “complicit in genocide.” Protestors also demand the University make a public statement of support for Palestinian rights and must have a course specifically geared toward Palestinian Identity in their curriculum. 

Leger Poll 

A Leger poll of 1,519 Canadians released May 7th showed that 48 per cent of respondents were opposed to the protests, most of whom believe they are a potential threat to student safety, while 31 per cent support them. Twenty-one per cent reported uncertain feelings. Canadians polled between the ages 18 and 34 were more likely to support the encampments, with 45 per cent in that age range supporting the demonstrations. 

Twenty-three per cent of respondents in the same poll believe the encampments should be accepted as a form of free speech, and 33 per cent think the camps should only be forcefully dismantled if protestors are voicing antisemitic views or hate speech. 

Six out of 10 respondents to the poll believe “different minorities” in Canada are too demanding in their claims, and 54 per cent believe Canadians are too accommodating “towards the claims of minorities.” Canadians aged 55 and older tended to agree with these statements, with results of 70 per cent and 60 per cent. The age range 55 and over accounted for 41 per cent of respondents. 

South of the Border 

While encampments in Manitoba and across Canada have remained peaceful, schools south of the border have taken a different approach. For fear of violence or the promotion of antisemitism, schools across the United States have called in the authorities to clear out encampments. It seems every week, there is a new headline from an American outlet about police being called onto a campus to remove protesters. The most recent pro-Palestine camp ousted was at the University of Michigan, where 50 people were removed on the morning of May 21st with at least four arrests. 

The American protests, which eventually inspired the encampment at McGill and eventually universities in Manitoba, began at Columbia University in April. On April 18th, 108 protestors were arrested. Nearly 3,000 arrests or detainments have taken place across the United States at more than 60 institutions since. 

The Start of Canadian Encampments Started 

The first encampment in Canada occurred at McGill University, starting nearly a month ago. That protest has thus far gone undisturbed by authorities despite attempts made by administrators. After failed negotiations, the school made an injunction request against the encamped protestors. Lawyers representing McGill University argued the encampment made the campus unsafe, suggesting the encampment prevented the school from moving forward with convocation ceremonies in their outdoor location.  

The provisional injunction request was denied by a Quebec Superior Court Judge last week. The judge saw no risk, citing there had yet to be any dangerous incidents as a result of the camp being there for two weeks at that point. He also pointed to the fact the school had already relocated their convocation ceremony. Ultimately, the school had not presented an urgent need for the encampment to be dismantled. 

On May 17th, McGill University announced they would be moving forward with an interlocutory injunction request in order to have the encampment permanently banned. The injunction would ban protestors from “camping or occupying in any manner whatsoever” and even authorize bailiffs appointed to the judgement to “call upon any peace officer to assist them.” 

– Matthew Harrison, U Multicultural

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