Police use tear gas on crowd as pro-Palestinian activists occupy McGill University building

Pro-Palestinian student protesters at McGill University occupied a building on the school's downtown campus Thursday evening. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC - image credit)
Pro-Palestinian student protesters at McGill University occupied a building on the school's downtown campus Thursday evening. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC - image credit)

Montreal police fired tear gas at a crowd of pro-Palestinian protesters outside McGill University's James Administration Building, where activists had blockaded themselves on the third floor Thursday evening.

Around 6 p.m. inside the building on the university's downtown campus, masked demonstrators could be seen opening windows, chanting and waving a Palestinian flag.

A line of police officers stood on the street below, but soon the protest grew larger, with protesters occupying the campus square and carrying banners. About an hour into the protest, police in riot gear appeared in the windows where protesters had been. They began to shut the windows and removed flags and banners, including one that said, "You could have divested 41 days ago."

Around 7:30 p.m., officers used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the crowd outside the building.

By 8 p.m., protesters were escorted out of the building. A spokesperson for the Montreal police said the situation is under control, but said there will be arrests connected to the incident.

Sarah Leavitt/CBC
Sarah Leavitt/CBC

Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) McGill posted a lengthy statement on Telegram, saying the university has so far shut down its demands for McGill to divest from companies with ties to Israel.

"Students have blockaded themselves inside the building to take ownership of the university that continues to fund and be complicit in the genocide of the Palestinian people," the statement read.

"As the Zionist forces push deeper into Rafah, perpetrating horrific crimes and massacres, McGill administrators shamelessly refuse to cut financial and academic ties."

A pro-Palestinian student encampment with dozens of tents and temporary fencing surrounding them has been on the campus's front lawn since April 27.

The occupation Thursday happened hours after an encampment that had been set up at the Université du Quebec à Montréal (UQAM) came down. Activists there said they would leave after UQAM's board of directors unanimously approved a resolution agreeing to most of their demands.

Sarah Leavitt/CBC
Sarah Leavitt/CBC

Rula Jurdi Abisaab, a professor of Islamic history at McGill, attended the protest Thursday evening.

"The university is actually putting its head in the sand.… This is shameful, this is all shameful," Abisaab told CBC News.

"The students have been agitating for a rightful, just and moral cause which is asking McGill incessantly, through all kinds of means, to declare and divest from companies, weapons and technological companies that are complicit with the genocide which Israel has been carrying against the Palestinian people."

Sarah Leavitt/CBC
Sarah Leavitt/CBC

Last week, McGill president Deep Saini published a letter calling for a stronger police response following escalating tensions. Saini listed incidents where protesters had followed university administrators to their homes and demonstrated outside.

He also described how a table with rotting food was left outside one university office with the names of staff members listed on a sign and red handprints next to them.

Montreal police have so far taken a passive approach to the more than month-long pro-Palestinian encampment.

Two court injunction requests to dismantle the encampment have so far been refused by Quebec Superior Court judges.

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