Police fire tear gas and clear U of C encampment

As protesters and journalists alike were stamped across the campus by shouting police officers, several fiery flash bangs exploded, their concussion urging on those fleeing

Published May 10, 2024Last updated 5 hours ago5 minute read

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City police brought a pro-Palestinian encampment on the University of Calgary campus to a swift end in a barrage of tear gas and flash bangs late Thursday.

The protesters had set up a tent camp surrounded by wooden pallets on MacEwan Hall’s south lawn early Thursday morning and had engaged in peaceful activism calling for the university to divest itself of any Israeli-linked investments during the course of a warm, sunny day.

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But the activists galvanized by Israeli attacks on Gaza had been warned by both police and U of C officials that they were trespassing and their encampment would be removed. Participating students said they were also threatened with sanctions from the U of C.

“Members of the campus community are free to protest but they are not free to camp,” the university said in a statement earlier Thursday.

At around 8:30 pm, police officers including tactical team members and others equipped in riot gear and appeared to be armed with rubber bullet rifles moved into the camp’s southern perimeter, pulling down some of the pallets and hurling aside a few of the roughly 20 tents erected by demonstrators.

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Police cleared an encampment at the University of Calgary on Thursday, May 9, 2024. Jim Wells/Postmedia

That began a standoff that lasted for nearly three hours as activists and police discussed bringing an end to the encampment while activists chanted and taunted police who showed up in considerable numbers as a CPS helicopter circled overhead.

“This is not a negotiation,” said one officer.

That same officer who spoke to activists in urging them to depart said peaceful protest on campus was fine but their barricades wouldn’t be tolerated.

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Calgary police remove the free Palestine encampment at the University of Calgary in Calgary on Thursday, May 9, 2024. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia Photo by Darren Makowichuk /DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia

By 10:30 pm, the number of protesters that had grown to about 150 had thinned considerably and all of their tents removed by them but a group of about 20 activists remained linking arms as they faced a line of riot and bicycle-mounted police, chanting “we will not be moved.”

Then at around 11:10, after numerous warnings by police that arrests were imminent if protesters did not leave the campus, officers began forcefully pushing back the line of activists with their shields before releasing tear gas.

Some of the activists tried to resist being shoved back.

encampment
Calgary police remove the free Palestine encampment at the University of Calgary in Calgary on Thursday, May 9, 2024. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia Photo by Darren Makowichuk /DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia

As protesters and journalists alike were stamped across the campus by shouting police officers, several fiery flash bangs exploded, their concussion urging on those fleeing.

“It’s insane, we were negotiating,” said winded Wesam Cooley, who’d been trying to defuse the situation with police.

“A flash bang exploded under my feet.”

But those protesting the war in Gaza and what they call Canadians’ complicity in it won’t be deterred, said Cooley, who’s been an organizer of months of downtown protests since October and been arrested during some of them.

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A woman in the final line of protesters facing down police said she wasn’t afraid of what the officers would do.

“I still have my life, compared to those in Gaza,” said Ryn Laroux.

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Protests at the University of Calgary end with a number of arrests in Calgary on Thursday, May 9, 2024.

Over the course of nearly three hours, this reporter counted two to three water bottles hurled at police that bounced off their shields.

Cooley said it appeared several of the protesters were arrested by police who’d bowled them over and surrounded them, including one man in a gas mask standing behind a sign reading “All Eyes on Rafah.”

“We were peaceful and they showed up in riot gear,” said activist Salam Kafri, just before the final police push.

Many of the protesters blamed U of C administrators for the show of force.

“They are also complicit in this, they are a wing of the state,” said Deigo Loboguerroro.

The activists were stunned by the swiftness of the police action, insisting other encampments on Canadian and US campuses had been allowed to remain far longer.

In a press release issued by CPS shortly after the standoff ended, police said their use of weapons was prompted by items thrown at them.

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Protests at the University of Calgary end with a number of arrests in Calgary on Thursday, May 9, 2024. Jim Wells/Postmedia Jim Wells/Postmedia

“Projectiles and assaultive behavior by the remaining protesters triggered the use of non-lethal munitions by officers. No injuries have been reported,” they said.

“The number of arrests, tickets and charges will be made publicly available tomorrow.”

Numerous opportunities were afforded protesters to end their encampment and leaveand many did without further issue,” said CPS.

“Without compliance, police were required to move in to enforce the trespass order…police clearly communicated the consequences of staying.”

Some of the activists’ supporters had been trying throughout the night to convince all of their colleagues to leave but some were defiant.

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“The police aren’t listening and the students aren’t listening,” said Ryad Abusalim, adding he’d been in contact with provincial government officials in finding a way to end the showdown.

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“We’re trying to look for alternatives for protesting but it’s up to (the activists)…if we leave, it’s a step back (for our cause) for sure.”

Before the tear gas and stun grenades, some of the protesters said they’d be back to resume their activism on the campus even though the encampment had been dismantled.

Danielle Smith spoke on Friday regarding the protest, saying “there are reasonable ways to protest,” but “trespass and camping is not acceptable” on university grounds.

“I’m glad the University of Calgary made the decision that they made,” Smith said.

Smith acknowledged similar demonstrations happening across Canada, “we’ve been watching what’s been happening across the country, and it’s already out of control.”

An encampment has formed at Edmonton’s University of Alberta, which Smith condemns. She said her government is on standby to provide assistance to the U of A regarding the encampment, they should ask.

Last December, police chief Mark Neufeld said there’d be no tolerance for disruptive demonstrations. He suggested there would be more arrests of any law-breaking protesters at rallies he predicted would be active in 2024 due to the ongoing violence in Gaza that’s now dragged on for seven months.

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