May 22nd, 2024

Rights watchdog tells B.C. colleges: protect Gaza protesters at peaceful encampments

By The Canadian Press on May 6, 2024.

People take over a field with tents during a student encampment for Palestine at the University of British Columbia campus in Vancouver, Monday, April. 29, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ethan Cairns

VANCOUVER – British Columbia’s human rights commissioner is calling on universities and colleges to protect the rights of students and staff taking part in “peaceful encampments,” saying she’s worried about people who “speak up in solidarity with Gaza” being penalized.

Kasari Govender says in a statement that campus communities have a right to “peaceful and lawful assembly and free expression.”

Govender says there’s no place in B.C. for antisemitism, anti-Palestinian racism, Islamophobia or public incitement and, as long as those limits aren’t breached, universities and colleges should protect the rights of protesters.

Pro-Palestinian protest camps sprang up at several B.C. campuses last week, including at the University of British Columbia and the University of Victoria.

Protest organizers have said they want universities to support the Palestinian cause by divesting from companies linked to Israel, joining a “global academic boycott” of Israeli schools and publicly condemning Israeli actions in Gaza.

Govender says that how decision-makers deal with the student protests will be a test of the “strength of our democracy.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2024.

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