If the University of Ottawa moves to put an end to the pro-Palestinian encampment in front of Tabaret Hall, members of the school’s faculty and the local labour movement say any police action would have to go through professors, workers and community members first. 

This declaration was prompted by concerns that the university administration had been threatening to call the occupation trespassing if the encampment did not end. The pro-Palestinian encampment has been in place for more than two months.

Capital Current learned from encampment organizers and supportive faculty that the university administration had notified the students to clear out by Wednesday, otherwise the occupation will be considered trespassing. Such a move would seem to raise the possibility of police involvement. 

Although the deadline has passed, no official action has been taken yet. 

When the students were threatened with eviction by the University of Toronto, union members said that if the university called on the police “they will have to go through the workers first. And I can tell you that’s what we will do here as well,” said Hassan Husseini, national student committee member of Labour for Palestine in Canada.

“We stand fully and unconditionally behind the students, and behind their efforts to compel the university to disclose and divest. These are legitimate demands,” he added.

Husseini, who has been a labour negotiator for years, believes that the university has not been engaging with the students in good faith.

He also pointed out that the school’s pension fund does not belong to anybody except the workers who contributed to it, and that money should not be invested in wars.

“It is not too late for the university to come back to the table. It is not too late for the university to listen to the legitimate demands of the students to disclose and divest,” Husseini said. The local labour movement includes more than 45 unions in Ottawa. The organizations willl stand behind the students until they achieve their full demands, he added.

“Workers across the country have confirmed they will move to support the students if the police crackdown.”

UOttawa Criminology Prof. Justin Piche echoed Husseini saying that if the university sent the police to arrest the students, they will have to arrest some professors first.

Speaking on behalf of the Faculty for Palestine, Piche urged the university to resume negotiations.

“People here should not be threatened by office holders. The students, staff, faculty and allies here do not need a police siege of the kind we have seen at Columbia University or elsewhere,” he said

“If this happens, when the space for dialogue and negotiation exists, President Jacques Frémont and your team, you will have to resign.”

Pro-Palestinian supporters were out in force at the uOttawa encampment during Thursday’s media conference. [Photo @ Ali Al Ashoor]

Dr. Yipeng Ge, a primary care physician and a former member of uOttawa’s faculty of medicine, told the crowd it was necessary to support the students’ rights to protest war crimes.

Ge, who was suspended by the university last November for pro-Palestinian posts on X, asked the university to adopt the Arab-Canadian Lawyers Association (ACLA) definition of anti-Palestinian racism as “a form of anti-Arab racism that silences, excludes, erases, stereotypes, defames or dehumanizes Palestinians or their narratives. Anti-Palestinian racism takes various forms.” Ge was later reinstated by the university but he refused the reinstatement and resigned from his post.

The students’ main demands are full disclosure of investments, divestment from organizations that are connected to the Israeli government and to the Gaza invasion, and cutting ties with academic institutions operating in the occupied Palestinian territories or that are complicit in the war.

“Despite multiple meetings in what seemed like initial willingness to reach an agreement, the uOttawa administration has consistently undermined our efforts, offering empty deals designed to stall and disperse us,” said Sumayya Kheireddine, president of INSAF, one of the organizations behind the encampment.

Kheireddine said the encampment organizers has received an email from the university stating that the administration does not see any point in further discussing the student demands.

“It is deeply disappointing they made us wait only to provide this dismissive response,” she said.

“Hiding behind the argument of neutrality and academic freedom is unacceptable. The university’s insistence that the divestment is impossible has been contradicted by their previous divestment from fossil fuel.”

A member of the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM) Sarah Abdul-Karim reiterated what other speakers said during the conference, announcing the PYM’s full commitment to support the students.

The conference ended with passionate cheering by a crowd of pro-Palestinian supporters, repeating “Disclose, Divest, We Will Not Stop, We Will Not Rest”

Pro-Palestinian demonstrations have erupted over the country as Israel has carried out its war on the Gaza Strip, which has killing more than 37,000 people so far, according to the health ministry in Gaza. The war began on Oct. 7 when Hamas militants attacked inside Israel killing some 1,200 people, and taking 250 hostages.