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U of T encampment trespass notice sets Monday deadline, negotiations set for Sunday

TORONTO — The University of Toronto issued a trespass notice Friday to a pro-Palestinian encampment on campus, vowing to take "all necessary legal steps" if protesters did not clear out by Monday morning.
Demonstrators stage a protest at a pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Toronto in Toronto, on Thursday, May 23, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

TORONTO — The University of Toronto issued a trespass notice Friday to a pro-Palestinian encampment on campus, vowing to take "all necessary legal steps" if protesters did not clear out by Monday morning.

Despite the notice, encampment organizers said university administrators had also agreed to meet on Sunday at 5 p.m. for continued negotiations.

"There's lots of room between now and then. And we implore the administration to do the right thing, to be on the right side of history," said Erin Mackey, a spokesperson for the encampment.

"We'll continue to be here, and we'll continue to demand divestment."

The notice comes after the university made an offer Thursday, with a 24-hour deadline, to end the weeks-long protest. Organizers called the offer an "ultimatum" with little meaningful response to their demands.

The trespass notice, meanwhile, calls Thursday's offer "full and fair" and gives a deadline of Monday at 8 a.m. for protesters to leave. It threatens to seek a court order against the camp and warns protest participants may be subject to disciplinary action, up to an expulsion recommendation for students and termination for faculty and staff.

"The encampment has created an environment on campus that is contrary to the university’s commitment to fostering a welcoming and safe community for all members to partake of and express themselves freely," the notice said.

The encampment was set up on May 2 at the heart of the university's downtown campus, part of a massive wave of pro-Palestinian demonstrations at post-secondary institutions in Canada and the United States. Organizers called on the university to cut its ties with Israel, divest from companies profiting from Israel's offensive in Gaza, and terminate partnerships with the country's academic institutions deemed complicit in the war.

Organizers say the university's offer was presented to them at the same time president Meric Gertler held a hastily arranged press conference Thursday publicizing its terms and imposing a Friday deadline to accept.

The university's offer said it would form a working group to consider options for the disclosure of the school's investments, but it would not end any partnerships with Israeli universities.

On divestment, the university said it would strike an advisory committee to review the students' request under existing school policies.

The committee would be tasked with presenting its findings by the end of October. The president would then make a decision "in a timely manner," the offer said. Students could "suggest" advisers, but final approval would be with the university's executive committee, on the president's recommendation.

At a news conference earlier Friday, Mackey said the students want "upfront commitments" on divestments and disclosure, not "vague committees" to study the matter. She noted that in 2016 Gertler turned down an advisory committee's recommendation for the school to divest from fossil fuel holdings, only to reverse course years later.

"In this current moment, it is up to the administration, whether they are willing to be serious to engage in a genuine conversation about commitments towards divestment or they're going to continue to give us big committees that ultimately will lead us nowhere," said Mackey.

Sara Rasikh, a master’s student and another spokesperson for the encampment, said organizers are preparing a counteroffer to present to the university at Sunday's meeting.

"We are hoping that they will be receptive to this, to actually listen to their students," she said.

Rasikh said protesters hope the university will not call in the police to clear the camp.

Earlier this month, police officers forcibly removed a group of demonstrators from an encampment set up on the University of Calgary campus.

Pro-Palestinian protesters remain encamped on other campuses in the country, including at McGill University in Montreal and several universities in British Columbia.

In B.C., tents first went up on a field at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver on April 29. Since then, similar encampments have emerged at the University of Victoria and Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo.

In an update on Thursday, the University of Victoria called the protesters’ demands “complex” while promising to support “peaceful expression” and faculty members’ academic freedom to engage both Israeli and Palestinian academics.

UBC president Benoit-Antoine Bacon said last week that the school must remain neutral on the conflict in Gaza in response to demands from encampment organizers.

— With files from Sonja Puzic in Toronto and Chuck Chiang in Vancouver

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 24, 2024.

Jordan Omstead and Rianna Lim, The Canadian Press