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Ontario Premier Doug Ford weighs in on campus encampment protests

As Ontario universities tell students that encampment protests won’t be tolerated on their campuses, Premier Doug Ford is begging for calm.

Campuses across the United States, alongside Canadian institutions like McGill University and the University of British Columbia, have seen live-in protests held by students demonstrating against Israel’s conflict with Hamas and humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip.

At McGill in Montreal, for example, demonstrators are demanding the university divest from Israeli companies they say are linked to the conflict. Participants have said they expect the school to cut academic ties with Israeli institutions.

The universities of Toronto and Ottawa have warned students that they will face severe consequences if similar demonstrations pop up.

Both universities say they have clear policies that state the use of their facilities without proper authorization can carry serious consequences and protests need to be organized within the limits of university policies and the law.

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“U of T’s lands and buildings are private property, though the university allows wide public access to them for authorized activities,” Sandy Welsh, vice-provost of students, wrote in an email sent out to the student community on Sunday.

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On Tuesday, Ford said he was confident institutions could handle their own security but pleaded for study to go uninterrupted and for an end to conflict and division.

“I have all the confidence in our universities, our university security, our university police,” Ford said at an unrelated event in Caledon, Ont.

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“Guys, don’t interrupt some students’ graduation, don’t interrupt the students from learning. We just support our students, so let them learn, don’t cause any problems… Everyone should be living peacefully. I can’t stand all this conflict, I just hate it.”

Ford’s words on Tuesday echoed similar comments he made in Ottawa on Monday, where he avoided wading into the issue and instead called for calm.

The minister directly responsible for the file, however, appears to be taking a stronger stance, branding encampment protests an “illegal act.”

In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Jill Dunlop, the Minister of Universities and Colleges, said there was an expectation universities would act.

“As they would with any other illegal act, we expect that institutions will work with police and campus security to address any incidents of hate and racism, unauthorized encampments and occupations, and all other forms of discrimination at their institutions,” the spokesperson said.

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“The government has been assured by college and university presidents that they are working with their teams to adopt appropriate measures to prioritize the safety and wellbeing of all students, faculty, and staff so that students can continue to learn and attend graduation without interruption.”

The recently introduced legislation at Queen’s Park will give the government enhanced abilities to dictate policies on university campuses, particularly around racism and discrimination.

A proposed law — Bill 166 — would give Dunlop the power to issue directives, telling post-secondary institutions what parts need to be included in their mental health or anti-racism policies.

— with files from The Canadian Press

&© 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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