University, protesters react as encampment established at Queen’s

The encampment at Richardson Hall on Queen’s University campus, where protesters are demanding the university disclose investments to and divest from companies that “profit from Israeli apartheid.” Photo by Liv Hudel.

A planned day-long protest on Queen’s University campus evolved into a small encampment over the weekend, as activists pressured the university to “divest from companies that facilitate Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.”

The events began on the morning of Friday, May 10, 2024, the first of two days the Queen’s Board of Trustees was meeting at Richardson Hall on the university campus. There, protesters gathered with plans to remain on site from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., according to posters and event information online prior to the protest. Kingstonist attended the protest on Friday afternoon and spoke with some of those in attendance.

The protesters, some of whom remain in a small encampment on campus, are demanding the Queen’s divest from “companies that profit from Israeli apartheid,” among other things centred on the ongoing conflict in the Middle East and the civilian deaths in Palestine.

While the events were peaceful on Friday afternoon, tensions escalated at some point after that, with a tussle involving protesters and what appeared to be Campus Security personnel at the main entrance to Richardson Hall. Video footage shared with Kingstonist by the two groups Queen’s University Faculty Observer’s Network and Queen’s Faculty and Staff for Palestine showed protesters, many of whom donned Palestinian keffiyeh (the most often black-and-white scarf associated with the State of Palestine), engaged in pushing and shoving inside the doorway. At one point in the video clip, one security guard is inside the door, pulling it shut, while another on the outside of the door pushes it. In the footage, protesters are tangled between the guards, and two people are seen pulling some of the protesters out of the doorway, one of whom gets shoved by a protester.

On Saturday, May 11, 2024, Queen’s Principal and Chancellor Patrick Deane issued a statement about the actions occurring on campus, referring first to other encampments at colleges and universities across North America that involve “groups of individuals occupying campus spaces and asserting demands of academic institutions regarding the war in the Middle East.”

“Yesterday, a group of people came together to make similar demands of Queen’s. A number of individuals at this gathering have now set up tents on campus and remain in place,” Deane continued in the statement, which can be read in full on the Queen’s University website.

“As I have said many times, our campus must be a place where all can feel safe, even when challenged in debate and discussion… 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 statement continued.

“Let me be clear, Queen’s will do everything it can both to responsibly uphold free expression and to protect the safety of our staff, students, and faculty. Harassment, discrimination, intimidation, restriction of movement and threats of violence will not be tolerated… To the Queen’s community — we all have a right to safety as we work and study on campus, and while respectful debate and discourse is encouraged, the safety and security of our staff, faculty and students is our priority.”

For their part, the Queen’s University Faculty Observer’s Network and the Queen’s Faculty and Staff for Palestine issued a joint statement on Monday, May 13, 2024, taking issue with Principal Deane’s statement. In their statement, the two groups refer to the area where they are protesting as “the Liberated Zone for Gaza” and say that the Queen’s University Faculty Observer ’s Network is “alarmed” by Dean’s May 11 statement.

“We object in the strongest possible terms to Principal Deane’s positioning of the protestors as a threat to — and thus outside of — the Queen’s community. This is not the first time Deane has characterized Palestine solidarity activists as threats while threatening protesters with police; and he has refused to change course despite our repeated attempts to address this with him. We are inspired by the students and heartened by their show of care, collaboration, and courage as they work towards peace and justice,” the statement attributed to the two organizations reads.

The statement goes on to say that “the only ‘aggressive acts or threats’ that [the organizations] have witnessed” during the protest “have come from campus security,” pointing to the below video referenced earlier in this article, “and the police.”

Video footage via Queen’s University Faculty Observer’s Network and Queen’s Faculty and Staff for Palestine.

Kingstonist asked Kingston Police whether they were called to the protest site at all over the weekend.

“We do not have a presence there and are not involved,” said Constable Anthony Colangeli, a Media Relations Officer with Kingston Police. Colangeli suggested Kingstonist speak with the university, who he said “are managing this.”

The statement from Queen’s University Faculty Observer’s Network and Queen’s Faculty and Staff for Palestine claims that, for the past six months, the groups have “made repeated attempts to communicate with Principal Deane about anti-Palestinian racism, academic freedom and freedom of expression, divestment, the Jerusalem definition of anti-semitism, and community oriented safety and security.”

“All but one of these letters have gone unanswered and our repeated offers to meet with university leadership and provide our knowledge and expertise as they navigate student demands have been ignored. We are dismayed by the administration’s ongoing failure to respond responsibly to an international crisis in the capacity of an educational institution. The administration should have engaged faculty with expertise in the area to offer background to our students and to affirm their rights to academic freedom and freedom of expression,” the statement continues.

“We affirm our support for the students and we stand in solidarity with them as they continue to demand that Queen’s cut ties with all corporations and institutions complicit in genocide, settler-colonialism, apartheid, and ethnic cleansing against Palestinians; disclose and divest from investments in companies that profit from Israeli apartheid; boycott all Israeli academic institutions; vigorously protect academic freedom and end surveillance and policing of Palestinians and allies on our campus; and recognize and adopt the Arab Canadian Lawyers Association definition of anti-Palestinian racism… Our commitment to our students’ safety and to the Palestinian people is unshakable.”

Kingstonist reached out to the organizations for comment, as well as for clarification over when the incident captured on the video footage above occurred, whether anyone was injured, and whether anyone was arrested. No response was received by time of publication.

In response to Kingstonist inquiries regarding the situation on campus, Queen’s University instead offered the following statement, which is comprised in the following six paragraphs:

“On Friday, May 10, a group of people gathered in front of Richardson Hall, and made demands of the university regarding the war in the Middle East, similar to demands recently seen in numerous colleges and universities across North America. 

Some of those individuals later set up tents in the campus courtyard between Richardson Hall and Mackintosh-Corry Hall. Those tents remain in place. On Saturday, May 11, Principal Deane issued a statement regarding the encampment.

While this encampment is largely peaceful at the moment, there were reports of aggressive acts and threats made during the earlier protest. The encampment area is now contained and secure, and the university has advised staff and faculty to exercise their best judgement [sic] when accessing the courtyard area. 

While we encourage respectful discourse and debate on our campus, we will not tolerate harassment, discrimination, intimidation, threats of violence, or illegal acts, and we will use the tools at our disposal to address them. The safety and wellbeing of our staff, faculty and students is our priority. Everyone should feel safe working and studying on campus.  

Members of University administration have had a number of meetings with protestors [sic], and in advance of last week’s meeting of the Board of Trustees, and in accordance with our Responsible Investing Policy, a group of Queen’s community members provided a written request that the university consider divestment. This request was received by the University Secretariat and is being reviewed in accordance with the procedure. The procedure outlines a process for members of the university community to submit a written case, accompanied by a petition of at least 200 individual signatures, for a proposed action through the University Secretariat. The documents are then reviewed by both the University Secretariat and forwarded to the Principal, who convenes an independent Review Committee. That committee will then conduct a thorough examination of the matter, including in-depth consultations to ensure it considers the wide range of perspectives of its faculty, staff, students, alumni and retirees. 

Queen’s will do everything it can to protect and support our students, faculty, and staff and has a wide variety of supports available for those that need them. We continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure the safety of the community.”

According to an Instagram post from ‘Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights – Queen’s’ and ‘Queen’s University Apartheid Divest Coalition,’ more than two dozen organizations have signed to “support the demands and principles emphasized by the coalition,” including Queen’s Classics and Archaeology Graduate Council, Queen’s Department of Health Sciences, Queen’s Women Investors, Queen’s Quantum Computing Club, a number of unions and activist organizations, and the Graduate Student Council of the School of Kinesiology and Health Sciences.

Screenshot of the organizations listed as supporting the Queen’s University Apartheid Divest Coalition’s demands. Image via ‘Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights — Queen’s’ on Instagram.

This remains a developing story. Kingstonist will continue to provide updated coverage as more information becomes available.

3 thoughts on “University, protesters react as encampment established at Queen’s

  • Since the protesters clearly have very passionate views, and I’m sure have done their research, for the sake of clarity and a more balanced view perhaps the group can share and publicize a list of the top 20 companies and institutions they consider Queen’s should divest their interest in?

    • Hi Derek,
      I just wanted to point out that in this article there is a link to a 33-page report about the demands being made around divestment, which was also referenced in the article before this one on the protest starting on Friday, May 10, 2024.
      The link to the report is here

      Just thought that might offer some further insight around those demands and the companies the activists are pointing to!

      Hope that helps,

      Tori Stafford
      Editor-in-Chief
      Kingstonist

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