Campus protests, building occupations spark after UBC statement on encampment demands

Protestors have started to occupy campus buildings such as the UBC Bookstore and Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre to increase pressure on the university to meet the Palestinian solidarity encampment’s demands.

UBC community members began an encampment in solidarity with Palestine on MacInnes Field on April 29, organized by @peoplesuniversityubc.

Their demands include divesting from companies complicit in Palestinian human rights abuses, boycotting Israeli universities and institutions and publicly condemning what organizers and human rights experts call a genocide in Gaza.

According to a March report issued by a United Nations-appointed independent expert, there are “reasonable grounds” to believe Israel is committing genocide in Gaza.

In a May 7 statement, UBC President Benoit-Antoine Bacon said the university’s endowment fund doesn’t directly own any stocks that are the target of divestment demands. Instead, capital, which is managed by external investment managers, is held in pooled funds which amount to about 0.28 percent of the endowment fund — approximately $7.8 million of the university’s $2.8 billion endowment.

However, the Social Justice Centre and UBC Graduate Students 4 Palestine said UBC invested around $113 million of its endowment fund into companies “complicit in Israeli crimes” in 2023 according to an Instagram post with an accompanying spreadsheet.

The groups said it cross-referenced UBC’s 2023 Holding Disclosure Report with companies identified by the UN OHCHR, Amnesty International and the Boycott, Divest and Sanction Movement among others.

Protestors outside the Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre after the May 13 sit-in.
Protestors outside the Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre after the May 13 sit-in. Saumya Kamra / The Ubyssey

Protestors occupy UBC Bookstore on May 11

On May 11, chants of “Shame” and “Free, free Palestine” echoed from the UBC Bookstore as protestors occupied the space.

“Community members and UBC students took back the bookstore to increase pressure on the university to recognise and address the ongoing and intensifying genocide of the Palestinian people,” wrote People’s University UBC in a statement to The Ubyssey.

Matthew Ramsey, acting senior director at UBC Media Relations wrote “During this period, there has been theft, abuse of university property, erection of barricades, installation of cooking and toilet facilities on UBC property and the removal and possible theft of a Canadian flag from a UBC flag pole.”

In an Instagram post, People's University UBC said it did not install cooking facilities or engage in the possible theft of a Canadian flag.

Ramsey wrote staff members “and others” were able to leave the UBC Bookstore with the assistance of University RCMP and Campus Security and that no arrests were made.

“Protesters have clearly indicated they intend to continue escalating with such disruptive actions,” wrote Ramsey. “The protesters have also made it very clear that they are unwilling to engage in any form of discussion.”

In an Instagram post, People's University UBC said the protest was peaceful.

Ramsey wrote UBC will be "considering all options" and engaging with the RCMP and legal counsel when considering their next steps.

Around 4 p.m., protesters left the Bookstore after being instructed to vacate by RCMP and Campus Security.

Protestors engaged in the vigil inside the Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre while Campus Security and RCMP stood near the exits.
Protestors engaged in the vigil inside the Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre while Campus Security and RCMP stood near the exits. Iman Janmohamed / The Ubyssey

Protestors hold vigil in Alumni Centre on May 13

On May 13 at around 3:30 p.m., around 20 protestors held a silent vigil in the Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre to commemorate Rashid Abu Arreh, a 16-year-old killed by the Israeli army in 2021.

Taped to the windows was a statement from the organizers which said the sit-in is to “honour the mothers of Gaza whose children have been murdered by Israel in its genocide.”

The group sat in a circle inside the Alumni Centre’s foyer with pictures of people killed by the Israeli army taped to the ground, a projector displaying names on a screen and signs taped to the windows reading “Honour All Palestinian Mothers” and “Stop Genocide.”

Other protestors who couldn’t enter the building sat outside.

Campus Security and University RCMP were present and stationed at some exit. Doors to the Alumni Centre were locked from the outside. Two officers from the Police Liaison Team were on the scene but did not have any material engagement with protestors.

Both Campus Security and RCMP denied The Ubyssey’s repeated requests to enter the building and did not explain the restriction on journalists’ ability to report on the situation.

In a statement to The Ubyssey about the vigil, Ramsey wrote “RCMP were called to disperse the group, which left the building only after being informed of the potential for arrest.”

“The University will continue to contact RCMP for assistance in the event of any future incidents of this kind,” wrote Ramsey.

People's University UBC said the Alumni Centre was closed during the vigil and "despite the people presenting no safety threats."

"People held a silent vigil with images of martyrs but were promptly kicked out and met with excessive police presence," wrote People's University UBC in a May 16 press release.

The vigil lasted around an hour with protestors leaving at 4:40 p.m., after a second warning from RCMP that those who refused to leave would be charged with mischief under section 430 of the Criminal Code, according to video obtained by The Ubyssey.

University RCMP Corporal Christina Martin wrote the RCMP attended the Alumni Centre sit-in at the request of Campus Security, in a statement to The Ubyssey.

This article was updated at 2:02 p.m. on Thursday, May 16 to include comment from People's University UBC.

This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

A protester outside the Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre after the May 13 sit-in with a sign that reads “Until we are all free, none of us are free.”
A protester outside the Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre after the May 13 sit-in with a sign that reads “Until we are all free, none of us are free.” Saumya Kamra / The Ubyssey