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Police clear road, arrest one pro-Palestinian protester on UBC campus

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Police have arrested one person during the clearance of pro-Palestinian protesters who were blocking a main intersection at the University of British Columbia campus in Vancouver.

But there was no obvious move against a protest encampment that has occupied a sports field at the campus for a month.

A statement from the RCMP says the clearance involved officers from the University and Richmond detachments, RCMP critical response officers, Vancouver police and the B.C. Highway Patrol.

It says police were called to the intersection of University Boulevard and Wesbrook Mall where protesters were "impeding access" to the main entrance into the university.

The statement says demonstrators were given the opportunity to get off the road but police action was required to clear the intersection.

It says one person "did not comply with police direction" and was arrested.

The intersection was clear by 12:15 p.m., though several unoccupied RCMP vehicles remained nearby.

"The intersection has reopened to the public, however the RCMP will continue to monitor the situation and take necessary action should there be any criminal activities that pose a threat to the safety of individuals and/or property," the RCMP statement said.

UBC said in a statement that the protest at the intersection had "created difficulties and traffic delays."

"The safety and security of our community members and visitors remains our foremost priority. Any protest actions must be conducted with respect for others and within the boundaries of UBC policy and the law," it said.

It added that graduation ceremonies were proceeding as scheduled.

Video posted shortly after 11 a.m. by an Instagram account associated with the protests showed dozens of uniformed officers walking down the main route into the university.

The account called "People's University for Gaza at UBC" had earlier posted an update asking people to gather for a rally at the intersection.

Footage provided by a protester who did not want to be identified showed RCMP officers standing over a woman sitting on the road, her hands behind her back.

A voice over a loudspeaker tells protesters: "This is the RCMP. You need to clear the area immediately or you will be under arrest."

The protest occurred during spring graduation ceremonies at UBC that have been going on since last week.

After police cleared the road, a few dozen demonstrators marched across campus from the Rose Garden near the ceremonies to McInnes Field, the site of the protest encampment established April 29.

Cst. Tania Visintin with the Vancouver police said the department was asked to go on "standby," and video posted by the protest group showed Vancouver police vehicles near the intersection, but Visintin said they did not deploy any officers.

Organizers behind Wednesday's rally issued a statement saying an "autonomous coalition" of student protesters had blocked the intersection on campus.

It said that over the past week, "thousands of graduates have walked the stage on this unceded Musqueam land," and this was in "stark contrast" to the current situation in Gaza "wherein there are no graduation ceremonies whatsoever."

The pro-Palestinian encampment at UBC was the first of three similar camps to spring up in the province in response to Israel's actions in its war with Hamas.

Protesters at UBC as well as the University of Victoria and Vancouver Island University have called for the schools to end financial and academic ties with Israeli companies and institutions they say are complicit in the "genocide" of Palestinians.

At an unrelated press conference on Wednesday, Premier David Eby said the protests require a "difficult balance" for post-secondary institutions to strike between the right of free speech and the need for people to feel safe at school.

"They need to feel comfortable in their classes, they need to be comfortable on campus and everyone needs to feel welcome there," Eby said.

"I would encourage everybody to do their best to ensure those twin values are respected on our campuses."

A spokeswoman for UBC said earlier this week that the school had no update to its May 16 statement from president Benoit-Antoine Bacon, which called for "productive dialogue with members of the encampment to work toward a peaceful resolution."

The letter from organizers on Wednesday called on Bacon to condemn the "clearly documented genocide (and) scholasticide" in Gaza in order to start a dialogue.

The camp had about 60 tents on Wednesday, fewer than during its early days. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 29, 2024.

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