University of Toronto gives pro-Palestinian activists 24 hours to end encampment

<span>A pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Toronto in Toronto, Canada on Thursday.</span><span>Photograph: Canadian Press/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
A pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Toronto in Toronto, Canada on Thursday.Photograph: Canadian Press/Rex/Shutterstock

The University of Toronto (UofT) has warned pro-Palestinian activists that they have 24 hours to accept a proposal to end a three-week protest camp on the schools’ downtown campus – or risk being treated as trespassers and potentially face police action.

In a statement Meric Gertler, the university president, cited harassment, discrimination and lack of inclusion as reasons the encampment needs to be removed.

“From day one, our goal has been to achieve a peaceful and sustainable resolution to the unauthorized encampment … the encampment must end,” said Gertler.

Protesters at the encampment, which was set up on 2 May and supported by students and faculty, have called on the university to divest from companies investing in Israel or supporting the offensive on Gaza.

After meeting protesters on Thursday afternoon, the UofT gave them 24 hours to respond or face repercussions, although it was unclear at what time the deadline would fall.

At a press conference, Gertler said that calling police on the students was not out of the question. “[We] are not eliminating any options,” he said.

The UofT encampment is the largest of its kind in Canada and started after pro-Palestinian protests erupted at Columbia University in New York, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and others across the US.

In the US, violence has broken out at protest camps when they have been targeted by counter-protesters or when police moved in to clear them.

At the UCLA, pro-Israel groups set off fireworks towards pro-Palestinian protesters, with the two sides coming to blows and fights. At those same protests, four student journalists were targeted by pro-Israel supporters, where they were beaten, kicked and sprayed with a harmful chemical.

At Columbia University, police in riot gear were accused of assaulting civilians when they forcibly cleared the site. Faculty and students expressed disappointment with Columbia University’s administration welcoming police on to campus and allowing them to make arrests. Police made threats to arrest student journalists reporting on the incident.

In its statement, UofT offered to set up a working group focusing on the issue of divestment with an expedited approach to ensure a timely report. But the offer did not meet some of the protesters’ key demands, including ending partnerships with Israeli universities.

The UofT Occupy for Palestine group did not explicitly respond to the deadline, instead tweeting that Thursday marked the fourth week of their encampment.

“There is nothing peaceful or sustainable about investing in genocide,” the group said in the post.

The university’s graduations start on 3 June. According to Gertler, the ceremonies will continue regardless of whether the encampment remains.