McGill students occupy university administration building

Students continue to demand divestment after riot police arrived on scene and arrested 15 protesters

Protestors push back against police after being sprayed by irritant gas. Photo Ivan B

A group of pro-Palestinian protesters occupied the James Administration building at McGill University on the evening of June 6, saying that the administration has continuously failed to meet the demands of the student encampment.

Students barricaded the building’s entrance with metal fencing and formed lines around the door by linking arms. Protesters were also seen from open windows on the third floor where they hung banners containing slogans such as “[McGill] could have divested 41 days ago” and “Stop the scholasticide.”

A media spokesperson for the McGill encampment, who identified himself as Ward, said that the occupation was carried out by a group of students unaffiliated with any organization within the Palestinian movement. He believes that the students share the same frustration as encampment protesters towards McGill’s failure to meet their demands after over a month of negotiations. 

“This shows that the Palestinian struggle is beyond just the encampment,” Ward said.

A spokesperson for Independent Jewish Voices McGill, who identified herself as Sasha Robson, said the university had been negotiating in “bad faith” by repeatedly endangering students participating in the encampment.

According to Robson, the encampment’s negotiations team asked the university to refrain from taking legal or disciplinary action against students while negotiations were ongoing. Robson said that one member of the senior administration denied the request, saying that the administration could “walk and chew gum at the same time."

Riot police used irritant gas at around 7:30 p.m. to push back the crowd of protesters away from the administration building and onto the Roddick gates on Sherbrooke Street. Thirteen protesters were arrested for breaking and entering the administration building and two were arrested for obstructing police operations.

The occupation occurred just over a week after McGill President Deep Saini released a letter urging police to act in response to protests that he says were “designed to threaten, coerce and scare people.” Saini cited incidents of protesters last month targeting members of McGill’s senior administration by demonstrating outside their houses. 

Rula Abisaab, a professor of Islamic History at McGill, was present at the protest representing Professors4Palestine. Abisaab condemned the language Saini used, which she believed depicted the students as threatening. She stated that the students should use every means at their disposal to expose “[the] mass murder, mass destruction [and] scholasticide in Gaza.”

“These are our students,” said Abisaab. “The senior administration should turn around, take its head out of the sand […] and educate themselves about Palestine. We cannot be part of an educational institution where the administrators have the blood of Palestinians on their fingers.”

“What the students are doing is necessary. It’s principled, it’s brilliant and it’s inspiring.” — Ted Rutland

Abisaab wasn’t the only professor on site. Ted Rutland, a professor in Concordia’s department of geography, planning and environment, was around ten feet away when police started spraying irritant gas on the crowd. He said that roughly 100 riot police drove through the line of students while beating them with truncheons. 

According to Rutland, professors must share the risk that students face in situations involving police. 

“What the students are doing is necessary. It's principled, it's brilliant and it's inspiring,” he said. “We might think that your boss is a person who pays your bills, but I work for the students.”