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McGill admin: Listen to the cops and talk to students

Engler: Over the past decade, the McGill University administration has repeatedly intervened to undercut Palestine solidarity

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Pro-Palestinian demonstrators at McGill University, Montréal, May 2, 2024. Photo courtesy Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights McGill/X.

Even the Montréal police think the McGill University administration is too extreme in its crackdown on pro-Palestine student protesters.

In an embarrassing setback Québec Superior Court Judge Marc St-Pierre recently rejected McGill’s request for an emergency injunction to dismantle the student divestment encampment on its lower field, which is unused, but exceptionally well situated in downtown Montréal.

The university sought a court ruling to force the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) to intervene against the students. In its application to the court McGill claimed that it had repeatedly requested the police to forcibly dismantle the encampment, but to no avail. The court application noted: “On May 4, 2024, McGill representatives met with high-ranking representatives of the SPVM at their headquarters on St-Urbain street, to inform the SPVM that it believed the Encampment was illegal, as per comments made by the Court in the judgment rendered on May 1st, 2024, and to reiterate McGill’s concerns regarding the safety, security and public health risks at the Encampment. During this meeting, the SPVM informed McGill that an intervention would not occur in the short term, as their criteria for a police intervention were not met at that time. The SPVM suggested that McGill seek to resolve the situation peacefully over an undefined period of time, principally through dialogue with the Encampment participants.”

The McGill administration is remarkably hostile to Palestine advocacy. They refused to meet student hunger strikers calling for corporate divestment and severing ties to Israeli universities even after two were hospitalized last month. In November, the administration announced it would terminate its memorandum of agreement with the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), which regulates fees, use of name and other matters between the university and union after undergraduates voted overwhelmingly for the “Policy Against Genocide in Palestine.” In the largest referendum turnout in SSMU history, 78.7 percent of undergraduates called on the administration to sever ties with “any corporations, institutions or individuals complicit in genocide, settler-colonialism, apartheid, or ethnic cleansing against Palestinians.”

McGill administrators had already threatened to annul the agreement eighteen months earlier, when 71 percent of undergraduates supported a Palestine solidarity policy that called for boycotting “corporations and institutions complicit in settler-colonial apartheid against Palestinians.” In response, rock legend Roger Waters, author Yann Martel, former MP Libby Davies, author Chris Hedges and 200 others signed an open letter criticizing the administration’s threats as anti-democratic and anti-Palestinian. On the eve of his 2022 performance at Montréal’s Bell Centre, Waters participated in a well-mediatized online rally that criticized McGill’s actions.

Over the past decade the administration has repeatedly intervened to undercut Palestine solidarity. In 2016, for instance, they blitzed students to vote against an online confirmation poll after an in-person SSMU general assembly supported an Israel divestment motion.

The administration has engaged in other forms of anti-Palestinian bias. Its representatives have repeatedly traveled to Israel and participated in events put on by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), a highly controversial registered charity which systematically discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel. In 2018, the JNF gave arch anti-Palestinian activist Hillel Neuer, head of UN Watch, an honorary degree.

The Montréal university has also struck a series of accords with Tel Aviv University, which recently signed a three-year, $4 million deal with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to train hundreds of soldiers, as detailed in a recent +972 Magazine article. McGill also has ties to Technion, a Haifa-based technology institute which has been described as “Israel’s major weapons lab” and an “incubator for the Israeli military-industrial complex.”

Two days after the court rejected their emergency injunction McGill announced it would seek a new court order to dismantle an encampment with over 100 tents (a previous injunction requested by a pro-Israel lawyer also failed). Instead of negotiating with protesters whose demands have broad support among the university community, the administration wants to force the police to intervene.

In response, students campers chant “Genocide isn’t funny, students over donor money.” and “Disclose, divest we will not stop we will not rest.” Perhaps the McGill administration should listen to the cops: talk to the students. Negotiate. Compromise. Settle peacefully.

Yves Engler has been dubbed “one of the most important voices on the Canadian Left today” (Briarpatch), “in the mould of I.F. Stone” (Globe and Mail), and “part of that rare but growing group of social critics unafraid to confront Canada’s self-satisfied myths” (Quill & Quire). He has published nine books.

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