Pro-Palestinian student groups across Montreal unite on McGill campus

Students come together in solidarity with Palestine in opposition to their institutions’ complicity in the war on Gaza

Photo Andraé Lerone Lewis

On Nov 9., hundreds of protestors gathered in front of the McCall MacBain Arts Building at McGill University in solidarity with Palestine. A line of students holding up posters and people standing with Palestinian flags stretched in front of the building’s pillars.

An organizer started the event by shouting pro-Palestinian chants such as “McGill take a stand, don’t support stolen land,” “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!,” and “Free, free, Palestine.” Chants followed with speeches by students from McGill, Université de Montréal (UdeM), and Concordia University about the history of the Palestinian sufferings, the number of people killed, as well as the Canadian government and institutions being complicit in Gaza’s genocide.

According to one of the organizers, a student at McGill who did not want to disclose her name for safety reasons, the planning of this protest was a response to a national call for a shutdown initiated by hundreds of universities across North America. 

Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) McGill collaborated with other Palestinian groups in the city to make it clear that the Palestinian student front remain united, organized and strong, the organizer explained. “Our demands are a ceasefire, to end the genocide on Gaza and to end all complicity between our institutions and the role that they play in funding and supporting the occupation of our lands and people,” she said. 

University students across multiple campuses have endured intense emotions regarding the conflict, catalyzing them to protest. Another organizer who did not want to disclose her name said “We wanted to give students an outlet to express that.” 

She added that the main message of the collective opposition is to make clear demands to the universities to divest from all  companies that profit off the occupation of the Palestinian people.

Gustav Salinas from UdeM shared the importance of understanding the concepts of colonization and liberation. 

“I think it’s a shame that we all have to bear the responsibility of these events because our governments are complicit in the violence that is unfolding,” he said. “It’s important to make everyone conscious of their power, the power that they hold to change the course of events in Palestine and make a better world for everyone.”

Throughout the event, the students expressed disagreement with their institutions.  “We, the university community of Montreal, refuse to be complicit in this massacre,” Salinas shouted  from the steps of the building. 

Students marched to the Scotiabank on Sherbrooke Street. The bank is said to be one of the biggest shareholders in Elbit Systems, Israel’s premier defence contractor. 

Students also expressed disappointment with Concordia’s discouragement of Palestinian solidarity to be held on campus. Tyler, a Concordia student who attended and was granted anonymity for safety reasons, expressed that. “Even if our university isn’t vocally in support of Palestinian students, I think it's more important that Concordia students show that we’re there for them and that we support the cause.” 

The Concordia chapter of SPHR had planned another sit-in on the ground floor of the Hall building, but due to the events of Nov. 8, the walkout was moved to McGill’s campus. According to an announcement on SPHR ConU’s Instagram, “we cannot guarantee the safety of our members as well as our community at this moment [on campus].”

A member from SPHR Concordia spoke at the event. “They (Concordia) are terrified of the numbers because public opinion is on our side,” she said as participants cheered loudly. 

Palestinians weren’t the only ones present during the walkout. Jewish voices were also in attendance to show solidarity with Palestine. “I think it's really important to show up as Jews, as the Jewish Independent Voices chapter at McGill, to counter some of the narratives that Zionists are using to justify the occupation and the siege,” Leo Ortega, a speaker and participant, said. 

Ortega expressed his reservations over the comparison of the peaceful Palestinian protests to the gruesome events of the Kristallnacht in 1938 by McGill University. “I found it deeply disgusting, deeply disrespectful to Jewish historical memory and to Judaism in general,” he said. “I think one of the most harmful things that you can do to the Jewish community is equate Judaism with the state of Israel.” 

The protest ended at the Scotiabank, where more protestors mobilized and chanted for a free Palestine.