July 12th, 2024

With no fanfare, pro-Palestinian protesters dismantle UBC camp after two months

By Chuck Chiang, The Canadian Press on July 8, 2024.

A University of British Columbia sports field, that had been occupied by a pro-Palestinian protest encampment, is seen the day after it was dismantled by its participants, in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, July 8, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Chiang

VANCOUVER – A pro-Palestinian protest camp that had occupied a sports field at the University of British Columbia’s Vancouver campus for more than two months has been dismantled by the demonstrators without fanfare or warning.

Last week, protest organizers had vowed to continue using “every possible avenue” on campus. But by Monday, every one of the dozens of tents once pitched on the field was gone, although barricades and fencing around the site remained in place.

A statement from UBC said the “protesters decamped from MacInnes Field” next to the school’s transit loop and student union building on Sunday, but did not elaborate.

A spokeswoman for the protest camp confirmed in a text message that it had closed.

A UBC security guard at MacInnes Field who declined to be named said the protesters vacated the site without giving any notice on Sunday evening.

Guards patrolled the area on Monday to prevent unauthorized people from entering the field while they waited for cleanup crews to arrive.

On Friday, more than 35 tents and a small handful of people had been visible at the site that was occupied in late April by protesters demanding that UBC end any financial or academic ties with Israeli companies or institutions.

The camp at UBC sprang up after similar protests at universities elsewhere in Canada and in the United States. There are also camps at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, B.C., and at the University of Victoria.

University of Victoria spokeswoman Erin Bell said “the People’s Park UVic encampment remains present on campus,” while a spokeswoman for Vancouver Island University said it had no update on the protest camp there.

The low-key closure of the UBC camp came after another protest site at the University of Toronto was vacated last week. That came after a judge ruled in favour of an injunction sought by the school to clear the camp.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Markus Koehnen ruled the encampment took away the school’s ability to control what happened on its properties. The result, Koehnen said, amounted to irreparable harm.

“In our society, we have decided that the owner of property generally gets to decide what happens on the property,” Koehnen’s decision said.

University of Ottawa professor Michael Geist had said the Ontario decision could act as a road map for other schools looking to remove protest camps. He said its reliance on property law meant schools could issue trespass notices to protesters before starting the legal process of clearing them out.

Protesters at several Canadian schools including UBC issued a joint statement on social media last week calling the Ontario decision “shameful” for prioritizing property ownership over students’ rights.

The statement said protesters would “continue to act on our campuses and apply pressure to our universities through every possible avenue.”

The UBC camp once included about 75 tents and was bustling with music and activity, but at one point on Friday only three people could be seen inside the fenced zone.

Vancouver Island University had said in a statement last week after the Ontario court decision that it was “exploring similar legal avenues taken by other institutions.”

The school said about 25 protesters occupied a school building in late June and disrupted an exam, while another building was vandalized over the Canada Day long weekend.

Vancouver Island University said its settlement proposal to the protesters had been rejected, and the escalation of disruptions on campus shows “encampment participants are unwilling to engage in good-faith dialogue.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 8, 2024.

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