One month of the Palestinian solidarity encampment

The Ubyssey has reported on the MacInnes Field Palestinian solidarity encampment and the associated protests and vigils since its inception.

Here's what's happened on campus this past month.

April 29 — Encampment begins

UBC community members began an encampment on April 29 on MacInnes Field in solidarity with Palestine.

Signs which read “Long Live Palestine” and “Turtle Island to Palestine: Occupation is a Crime” were attached to lined fences put up around the field, which was filled with tents and students in keffiyehs.

In an Instagram post, organizers People’s University UBC listed their demands for UBC. These 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 report issued by a United Nations-appointed independent expert, there are “reasonable grounds” to believe Israel is committing genocide in Gaza.

At the time, Capuchin, a community member involved in the encampment, said the encampment’s focus was to “recentre attention toward the Palestinian cause and toward the genocide in Gaza.”

Matthew Ramsey, acting senior director of UBC Media Relations, wrote in a statement to The Ubyssey that UBC understands “some in our community want to protest the violence and war they see unfolding.”

Ramsey also wrote that any actions that create “a health and safety risk, impede the university community … from learning, research, work and other activities on campus or damage university property” will be investigated. UBC did not take any action to remove the encampment.

In 2022, UBC rejected calls from student groups such as the AMS, Students for Palestinian Human Rights and the UBC Social Justice Centre to divest from companies complicit in Palestinian human rights violations and endorse the boycott, divest, sanction (BDS) movement. In December 2023, UBC President Benoit-Antoine Bacon reaffirmed UBC does not support BDS.

Capuchin said “We’re staying here until UBC recognizes our demands.”

May 7 — UBC president releases statement on divestment

Signs inside the encampment.
Signs inside the encampment. Elena Massing / The Ubyssey

UBC President Bacon said in a UBC broadcast message that UBC’s focus is on ensuring the community’s safety amid the ongoing encampment, and that UBC’s endowment fund “does not directly own any stocks in the companies identified by the movement.”

Instead, “capital is held in pooled funds and managed by external investment managers.”

The “identified companies,” according to Bacon, account for about 0.28 per cent of the endowment fund. That is around $7.8 million of UBC’s $2.8 billion endowment.

Bacon also said UBC is a signatory of the Principles for Responsible Investment, a United Nations-supported framework of principles that set a responsible investing standard, and that the university’s investment managers adjust their investment strategies based on environmental, social and governance principles.

“We reject the administration’s attempts to deny their complicity in the ongoing genocide of Palestinians by the terror state of Israel,” wrote Zainab, an encampment spokesperson, in a statement to The Ubyssey.

Zainab wrote that the encampment’s organizers are not interested in negotiating with UBC — “Our demands are clear.”

May 11 & 13 — Building occupations begin after UBC statement

Protestors outside the Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre.
Protestors outside the Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre. Saumya Kamra / The Ubyssey

Protestors 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.

On May 11, chants of “Shame” and “Free, 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.

Ramsey 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.

“Protesters have clearly indicated they intend to continue escalating with such disruptive actions,” wrote Ramsey.

People’s University UBC also said the protest was peaceful.

After several hours, protesters left the Bookstore upon receiving instruction to vacate by RCMP and Campus Security.

On May 13 at about 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 was 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 exits. Doors to the Alumni Centre were locked from the outside.

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.”

“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 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.

May 15 — Protestors occupy Koerner Library, read statements during Senate meeting

Protestors outside Koerner Library.
Protestors outside Koerner Library. Iman Janmohamed / The Ubyssey

Around 50 protestors affiliated with the Palestinian solidarity encampment occupied the seventh floor of Koerner Library, calling on UBC to release a statement within 24 hours responding to the encampment’s demands.

Around 4 p.m., protesters lined up along the stairwell and gathered outside the UBC President’s Office with Palestinian flags, banners, a speaker and a microphone.

The Ubyssey had one reporter inside the library. Campus Security did not allow additional press-pass-bearing Ubyssey reporters to enter.

At 5:30 p.m., a group of RCMP officers and two Metro Vancouver Transit Police officers spoke to protest organizers inside and said people who did not leave the building would be arrested. Some protesters vacated the space and began demonstrating outside Koerner Library — 17 community members stayed inside.

Outside, protestors chanted, drew on the building and sidewalk with chalk and waved Palestinian flags from the building’s roof.

Protestors were asked to leave by RCMP officers who said library management had closed Koerner Library and protestors who stayed would be charged under section 430 of the Criminal Code for mischief.

Around 6:40 p.m., protesters spoke to Campus Security Director Sam Stephens about their demands. Stephens said he was not authorized to deliver a public address on the UBC President’s behalf but could deliver the protestors’ request directly to the president. Protesters said that once Bacon provided a public response that directly addressed all of their demands, they would leave the library.

At 7:07 p.m., Stephens returned with a letter confirming he would take the protestors’ list of demands and request for a response to Bacon. He also requested protestors leave the library.

“This is your final warning. Library management has closed the library, you’ve been asked to leave under section 430 of the Criminal Code of Canada,” said an officer.

Around 7:33 p.m., UBC VP Students Ainsley Carry spoke with protestors. Protesters asked Carry if he was getting UBC to implement their demands. He said he was committed to starting a discussion. Carry also expressed his “preference” that demonstrators vacate the building.

“We are now 222 days into a genocide. I don’t know how much more discussing anybody of us has in us. I don’t know how to discuss and convince the university to see Palestinians as human,” a protester said.

Around 8 p.m., protesters escorted by Campus Security left Koerner Library chanting “Disclose. Divest. We will not stop. We will not rest.”

As protestors dispersed from Koerner Library, an organizer spoke into the protest’s microphone.

“From the bottom of my heart, fuck this university and fuck every last administrator."

Protests held a vigil outside the Life Sciences Building.
Protests held a vigil outside the Life Sciences Building. Iman Janmohamed / The Ubyssey

Also on May 15, protestors held a vigil and read statements at the Senate meeting calling on UBC to cut ties with Israeli universities.

The meeting, which was originally planned to be held in the Life Sciences Building, was moved online and pushed back 30 minutes to 6:30 p.m. without any public announcement.

At the start of the meeting, which was live-streamed over Facebook, President Bacon said there was a “safety plan” for the meeting, but because “safety” was called to Koerner Library, the Senate was “no longer confident” the meeting could proceed in-person.

Outside the entrance to the Life Sciences Building, protestors set up a vigil with photos of people killed by the Israeli army and Palestinian flags placed into the ground. The group was protesting UBC’s partnerships with Israeli universities like Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

The Senate is the governing body which decides and approves all academic matters including academic university partnerships at UBC.

Student Senate Caucus Co-Chair Jasper Lorien said that they, along with Co-Chair Kareem Hassib and 16 other senators, have submitted a letter to call a special Senate meeting to discuss “the ongoing violence in Israel and Palestine and discuss a motion regarding suspending academic ties with Israeli government entities, including public universities.”

Clerk of Senate Chris Eaton said they would be reviewing the letter “to ensure that it meets the requirements.” If it does, Eaton said they’d “organize a special meeting to discuss the proposed resolution.” Whether a special meeting is happening has yet to be announced.

At the end of the meeting, two protestors read statements to the Senate.

The first speaker said UBC regrets complicity in the genocide of Indigenous peoples, but has not said the same for the genocide in Palestine.

“There is no Truth and Reconciliation day with no Nakba day … shame on you all,” said the first speaker.

The second speaker spoke about their family’s history of displacement.

“Remember this in 400 years, when settlers in an unrecognizable Palestine pat themselves on the back for performing land acknowledgments and vigils commemorating our missing and murdered men, women and children,” said the second speaker.

Bacon thanked both speakers. He said “the violence in Palestine is awful and has been hard to watch for everyone” and “the history is also extremely complex and evokes complex and difficult emotions.”

May 16 — UBC president responds to encampment’s demands

Inside the encampment on Thursday, May 2.
Inside the encampment on Thursday, May 2. Iman Janmohamed / The Ubyssey

President Bacon released a statement responding to each of the Palestinian solidarity encampment’s demands on May 16.

In the statement, Bacon reiterated his May 7 statement on divestment, which is that UBC’s endowment fund “does not directly own any stocks in the companies identified by the movement.”

Bacon also wrote that UBC has a responsibility to ensure everyone is safe on campus which, at times, has required the support of law enforcement.

“On the issue of campus safety and the role of police in protests, compared to what has been seen elsewhere, UBC has been measured and restrained in our response to the protests, and our aim is to continue to be,” wrote Bacon.

Protestors at other universities like the University of Alberta, University of Calgary and Columbia University have faced arrests and police confrontation.

On boycotting Israeli universities, Bacon wrote that the UBC Vancouver and Okanagan Senate “make final decisions pertaining to academic matters.”

On condemning the genocide in Gaza, Bacon wrote “universities have been increasingly asked by communities to take positions on events through institutional statements.”

“However, these world crises are complex and by definition evoke different emotions and can be interpreted in very different ways by different members of the community.” Bacon also wrote that the university “cannot presume to speak for everyone in matters external to its own operations” and students and professors will hold a “broad array of views.”

“University neutrality is not synonymous with moral relativism,” wrote Bacon. “All universities, by their very nature, stand strong against all forms of violence, exploitation, intimidation, discrimination, harassment or any other form of harm directed at individuals or groups on the basis of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or any other characteristic or label.”

Bacon also said UBC wants “to engage in discussions on these issues with UBC student representatives of the protest encampment, ” with VP Students Ainsley Carry serving as the lead liaison for these discussions.

Carry attended the encampment’s rally on April 29, the Emily Carr University graduation protest on May 8 and spoke to students at the May 15 President’s Office sit-in.

“As such, like the rest of the world, we hope for a ceasefire and a lasting peaceful resolution in the Middle East,” wrote Bacon.

May 29 — Protesters block intersection, first encampment arrest made

Protestors marching across campus with signs and Palestinian flags.
Protestors marching across campus with signs and Palestinian flags. Saumya Kamra / The Ubyssey

Around 25 protesters from the Palestinian solidarity encampment blocked the University Boulevard and Wesbrook Mall intersection.

Around 8 a.m., protesters blocked the intersection, shutting down traffic and causing several buses to be rerouted, according to TransLink.

“Israel bombs, UBC pays,” protesters chanted. “Disclose. Divest. We will not stop. We will not rest.”

RCMP warned protesters to clear the intersection over a loudspeaker. Protestors gathered their things as police officers formed a line and began walking forward. Police trailed slowly behind protesters who moved down University Boulevard into campus.

One protester, later identified as West Vancouver activist and UBC alum Susan Bibbings, held an effigy of an infant wrapped in a burial blanket and stopped moving forward at the crosswalk before the AMS Nest. Police told Bibbings and the media filming her, including The Ubyssey, that they would be arrested if they did not move off the road.

After Bibbings refused to move, police placed her under arrest.

At 11:30, around 35 protestors marched through campus. Protesters reached Flag Pole Plaza before noon as Chan Centre graduation ceremonies were underway.

Around 1 p.m., protesters marched through Main Mall and down to the UBC Bookstore, where the demonstration ended.

A protester thanked those who came out and said this showed UBC that there is “no business as usual when there is a genocide.”