Statement on Morning Encampment Raid at York University

[Content Warning: The following statement references police violence and racism, colonialism, imperialism, and anti-Indigenous racism. — YFS]

On June 5, 2024, York University students launched the York Popular University for Palestine Encampment in solidarity with the People of Gaza facing a genocide. Students made their demands clear – for York University to Disclose, Divest, and Boycott. Early this morning, Thursday, June 6th, 2024, York University Administration made the shameful and violent decision to call militarized Toronto Police Services onto the Keele campus leading to the arrest of three students and community members, fines, and violent dismantling of the Encampment without prior dialogue.

At approximately 8:00 am this morning, riot police were invited onto campus by the Administration to forcefully arrest, issue trespass notices, and tear down tents while students slept inside. To intentionally invite TPS in the early hours of the day while no one else is present is shameful. To issue trespass notices to students who pay to access a public campus and its facilities is shameful and sends the message that York University campus is for a select few, rather than a diverse all. Just yesterday, Wednesday, June 5th, York University stated “The university will be seeking to establish a dialogue with the individuals in the encampment,” however, today’s raid comes before the Administration even opened conversations with the students facilitating the encampment. York University continues to intentionally misrepresent those in the encampment as “individuals” rather than students of York University.

Additionally, Toronto Police Services destroyed a sacred fire being kept by Indigenous matriarchs. During Indigenous History Month, it is absolutely shameful, colonial, and racist that the Administration allowed for the desecration of an Indigenous ceremony. Sacred fires are a gift from the Creator, a doorway to the spirit world, ancestors and creation. Since the removal of the Potlatch Ban, banning and disrupting Indigenous ceremony has been largely recognized by the so-called Canadian state as an act of cultural genocide. In York University’s Land Acknowledgement, the university acknowledges the Dish with One Spoon Covenant. The Dish with One Spoon covenant states an agreement to peaceably share and care for the Great Lakes region; extinguishing and removing a sacred fire actively goes against this covenant. The Administration should be ashamed.

York University additionally stated today that “students involved in the encampment left peacefully” – arresting students for existing on their own campus is not peaceful. The York Federation of Students refuses to allow the university to deem criminalizing their own students as peaceful. Doing so would set an extremely dangerous precedent to the level of violence the Administration is willing to exercise on its students.

Toronto Police Services continue to disproportionately target Indigenous, Black and racialized students via surveillance tactics and police violence. Even today, students witnessed facial recognition vehicles circling the Harry W. Arthurs Commons, and students were subjected to carding and bag searches as they entered campus. We know that students do not feel safe on their own campuses when Police are present. York University’s own Security Services Review acknowledged the numerous “negative impacts” including lack of personal safety, daily experiences of racial harassment and discrimination faced by its community, and claims to be committed to dialogue about addressing systemic racism. Further, on January 24th, 2022, at the YFS Annual General Meeting, undergraduate students voted in favour of opposing all police on campus – calling for the removal of police presence at all on-campus events. Yet, York University continues to allow Toronto Police Services in Student spaces and enables police violence through illegal theft and destruction of student possessions.

Not only were police called on students, but a private company was also hired to steal students’ belongings. After the raid, an undisclosed private company, using materials rented by The Erie Tool Works Company, destroyed and stole the belongings of students involved in the encampment. Tents, school supplies, backpacks, megaphones, food and water, were all items York University permitted to be stolen from their students.

York University’s reasoning is that it cares about the “safety of all its community members.” Does arresting students keep them safe? Does stealing the materials students need to complete their education keep them safe? Does having upwards of 30 police cruisers, court services vans, police on horses, and dozens of militarized police officers keep Black and Brown students on our campus safe? We ask York University – Safety for whom?

The York Federation of Students echoes the demands of the encampment organizers and condemns York University’s clear call for violence against our members. We call on York University to disengage with Toronto Police Services and engage in genuine dialogue with its own community. •

IJV Canada Salutes the Victories of Student-led Encampments Across Canada

It has now been a month since the first student-led encampment in solidarity with Palestine was established on the lower field of McGill University in Montréal. During that time dozens of similar encampments have flourished right across Canada.

The mere fact that students and their allies have been able to sustain camps for the past month is a victory in itself and shows that the movement in solidarity of Palestinian liberation in Canada is stronger than ever. Student encampments are also winning material gains on the ground right across Canada and IJV salutes and seeks to underscore these historic milestones.

In Montréal, l’Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), has become the first Canadian post-secondary institution to take a strong stance against the ongoing genocide in Gaza and has put out a statement denouncing the ongoing scholasticide perpetrated by Israel against Palestinian students, university professionals and scholars.

UQAM has also become the first Canadian university to make all future agreements – at the time of writing UQAM currently has none – with Israeli institutions conditional to the respect by these institutions of the basic principles of international humanitarian law and non-discrimination especially on the basis of race and gender. Given the complicity of all Israeli post-secondary institutions in the ongoing oppression and dispossession of the Palestinian people – as documented by Israeli scholars such as Ilan Pappe and Maya Wind – in taking such a stance UQAM has become de facto the first Canadian university to apply on an institutional level an academic boycott of Israeli institutions. The last step in this process to enshrine academic boycott of Israeli institutions that are in violation of international law is a vote of the academic council on June 4th. The students have agreed to dismantle the camp on the condition that the academic council confirms these historic gains.

Elsewhere in Kingston, Ontario the students at Queen’s University moved to dismantle their encampment after having garnered significant assurances from the university administration that they would be moving toward divesting from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation.

A similar move was made by students at McMaster’s University in Hamilton, Ontario where the administration acquiesced to a number of the encampments demands notably the institution of a framework for inter-university exchanges that will ensure all institutions that McMaster has agreements that respect international law and human-rights – similar to the gains made by students at UQAM. The courageous students at McMaster were also able to ensure that their university disclose and ultimately divest from companies that profit directly or indirectly from the oppression of the Palestinian people and dispossession of their land.

In Oshawa the students at the Ontario Tech University were successful in guaranteeing that their administration put in place a working group that will ensure that none of the university’s investments are in breach of international law and thus aid in any material way continued Israeli ethnic cleansing.

Both UQAM and Ontario Tech University have also promised to set up scholarship funds of up to 100k for Palestinian students. Thanks to the pressure from students McMaster University will be setting up a 200k fund for Palestinian scholars and students.

IJV has been supporting the student encampments in a multitude of ways, from IJV student activists taking lead organizing roles within the encampments to leading material and legal support to the student activists. While University administrations at McGill and UofT have decided recourse to injunctions to silence the students IJV has seeked to intervene to refute false allegations of antisemitism and make sure that the voices of anti-zionist jewish students are heard. We will continue to support the students for as long as it takes.

These universities have taken courageous stances because of the mobilization of their student bodies. In this crucial moment examples such as those emanating from Montréal, Kingston and Oshawa show a way forward for university administrators across the county: negotiate in good faith with your students and divest from genocide. To echo the motto put forward by Queen’s University Apartheid Divest (QUAD) it is time for universities to divest from death and invest in life.

The recourse to the courts to try to silence the legitimate demands of the students and the brutal intervention of police forces in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver are not the way forward. IJV calls on all university administrations across Canada to respect the fundamental values at the basis of academic freedom, to denounce the systematic destruction of Palestine’s post-secondary education system by Israel and the murder of Palestinian students, university professionals and scholars. •