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B.C. universities focus on talks with encamped protesters as others take legal action

The pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Victoria on Wednesday, May 1, 2024. (CTV News) The pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Victoria on Wednesday, May 1, 2024. (CTV News)

Some Canadian universities are taking legal action to end pro-Palestinian encampments on their campuses, but three schools in British Columbia are taking less confrontational approaches.

The University of Victoria says it's focusing on dialogue with encamped protesters, while Vancouver Island University says it's committed to a "measured" response.

Vancouver Island University spokeswoman Jenn McGarrigle said in a statement that while the encampment there has led to some disruptions for both students and staff, it has not changed the school's desire for a peaceful resolution.

"VIU continues to support the right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression and to take a measured approach to the encampment," she said.

The University of Victoria said in an email that it was focusing on dialogue with protesters, despite an increase in cases of "challenging behaviour" on campus since the protests began.

The school said it was "interested in having productive dialogue with members of the encampment to work toward a peaceful resolution."

Both the Vancouver Island University and University of Victoria camps sprang up on May 1. The third B.C. encampment is at The University of B.C.'s Vancouver campus, where protesters have been occupying a sports field since April 29.

Encampments have been erected in several Canadian cities, following a wave of similar campus protests in the United States linked to the Israel-Hamas war.

A UBC spokeswoman said the school had no update to a May 16 statement by UBC president Benoit-Antoine Bacon calling for "constructive and respectful dialogue."

Protesters at all three B.C. universities have called for the institutions to end financial and academic ties with Israeli companies and institutions they say are complicit in the "genocide" of Palestinians.

On Monday, the camp at UBC had about 60 tents, noticeably fewer than in the early days of the protest. A few police officers patrolled the fenced perimeter.

Protesters declined to allow media access to the encampment and said no representatives were available to comment.

Elsewhere in Canada, the University of Toronto is seeking a court injunction to end the protest there and has issued a trespass notice. In Quebec, a court has already granted the Université du Québec à Montréal a partial injunction against protesters, prohibiting tents within two metres of campus buildings.

McGill University is also seeking an injunction after two judges previously denied provisional requests to dismantle the encampment at the school.

Meanwhile, McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., saw an end to its encampment protest after demonstrators and the school reached a deal last week.

Both the University of Victoria and UBC have said they welcome "further dialogue" with protesters on divestment while being unable to support academic boycotts.

Bacon was among university heads testifying to a Parliament committee on Monday about the protests.

He said some chants heard at the campus protests are "awful" and can be considered antisemitic.

Bacon was questioned with the presidents of the University of Toronto, McGill University and Concordia University.

Liberal Anthony Housefather asked all four if antisemitism was a significant problem on their campuses and all said yes.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2024. Top Stories

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