Day-long protest demands Queen’s University ‘divest from genocide’

A ‘sit-in’ protest took place at Richardson Hall on Queen’s University campus on Friday, May 10, 2024. Photo by Cris Vilela/Kingstonist.

As the Queen’s University Board of Trustees sat for their first of two days of meetings, protesters gathered near the meeting to demand the university “divest from genocide.”

The sit-in protest, planned by at least three different organizations, was scheduled to take place from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. at Richardson Hall, according to an event poster published on social media by the Kingston Peace Council.

It is unclear if all of those protesting were students; however, one of the participating groups associates with the university in nomenclature: The Queen’s University Apartheid Divest (QUAD) Coalition. This month, QUAD published a 33-page report entitled “Divestment recommendations for companies that facilitate Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories: A special requests report on the basis of responsible investing policy to the Queen’s University Board of Trustees and Investments Committee.”

“Queen’s University historically divested $23.3 million from South African Apartheid in September 1987, following mass sit-ins, chanting for divestment at Board of Trustee meetings (1986), heated debates, and referendums on campus between 1978 and 1987. Why would Queen’s University not follow its own precedence by pursuing divestment from Israeli Apartheid?” the first page of the report reads.

“Moreover, Queen’s has implemented academic boycotts against Russia due to its ongoing war crimes in Ukraine. In its duty of solidarity to Ukrainian academic freedoms, where is the outrage and necessary action for Palestinian education amidst Palestinian scholasticide?”

The report goes on to say that QUAD urges Queen’s to “endorse the Boycott, Divestments, and Sanctions (BDS) movement; a shared call echoed by Jewish advocates, Palestinians, and many prominent human rights organizations,” noting that the BDS movement is “grassroots,” “non-violent,” and “Palestinian-led.”

Still other groups were represented at the protest. Baraa Abuzayed, who spoke with Kingstonist amid chants of “Disclose, divest, we will not stop, we will not rest,” said she was with the group Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights.

“We are doing a sit-in from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. because today there is there’s a Board of Trustees meeting happening, and they’re the ones who are in charge of the investments that go in to Queen’s and come out of the institution,” Abuzayed said.

“So we’re here doing a sit-in, demanding that Queen’s divest from companies that are complicit in Israel’s crimes and in genocide.”

Abuzayed said that many such businesses are weapons or defence companies, such as Elbit Systems, Lockheed Martin, and General Dynamics. But she also pointed to those like Caterpillar Inc., which was “involved in demolishing houses.”

The protesters denied that they have tried to enter Richardson Hall forcefully, with one participant telling Kingstonist, “There’s security everywhere; that would be impossible.” They said they’re following suit with universities like Columbia in the U.S.

“We’re demanding that Queen’s invest in education and divest from genocide,” Abuzayed reiterated.

Asked for comment on the protest, Queen’s University offered the following statement:

“Queen’s is deeply focused on the safety and security of our entire community. We recognize the situation in the Middle East is an extremely difficult and personal issue for many. 

Queen’s University’s policy on Free Expression at Queen’s University affirms the university’s position on the rights and responsibilities of individuals associated with free expression. 

That includes the right of any person, group, or community to communicate opinions and ideas without interference, censorship, or sanction, including the right to engage in peaceful protest.

Free expression is not absolute and remains subject to the university’s policies that address and prohibit harassing, discriminatory and unsafe behaviors. 

Queen’s is a diverse community, reflecting a variety of often differing perspectives. The university’s primary focus where people are exercising freedom of expression is to ensure it is exercised safely and in accordance with all applicable laws and policies. 

The safety and wellbeing of each member of the Queen’s community is of utmost importance.”

This is a developing story. Kingstonist will provide further coverage as more information becomes available.

With files from Cris Vilela.

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