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“Yesterday’s actions set back years of progress”: Campus community reacts to encampment and police confrontation with protests and condemnation 

By Nazeefa Ahmed and Julieanne Acosta, May 10 2024—

On the evening of May 9, the Calgary Police Service (CPS) confronted the student-led encampment led by the Mohkinstsis (Calgary) Student Movement. The group began camping at 5 a.m. and were disbanded at around midnight the same day. From last night, there were five arrests made with three of the individuals charged under the Trespass to Premise Act. 

Photo credit Darren Makowichuk//Postmedia

As of May 10, there are no official plans for another encampment. 

Despite it being a peaceful protest, the confrontation began with a demand to move from the premises and disband the encampment. The police marched into the student crowd with shields, ultimately resorting to tear gas and throwing flashbangs according to coverage from Alejandro Melgar, a City News reporter on site.

Calgary police face-off and use force against a pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Calgary in Calgary on Thursday, May 9, 2024. (Alejandro Melgar, CityNews).
Photo courtesy Alejandro Melgar (@alejomelgar)//Instagram

Calgary Police Services (CPS) Statement

On May 10, the CPS released a statement explaining that they enforced a trespass order and used non-lethal munitions to remove the remaining protestors towards the end of the night. 

Photo courtesy @CanadianCMF//X formerly known as Twitter.

“The CPS worked with the University and the protestors on site to safely resolve this situation throughout the day. It is estimated crowds peaked at 150. Police clearly communicated the consequences of staying and provided further opportunity to leave. Without compliance, police were required to move in to enforce the trespass order,” read the statement.

“At approximately 11:15 p.m., the remaining protestors were removed from the park by way of arrest. Projectiles and assaultive behaviour by the remaining protestors triggered the use of non-lethal munitions by officers. No injuries have been reported. The number of arrests, tickets and charges will be made publicly available tomorrow.” 

Encampment group response

Protestor Julia Lee was one of the students on the ground at the protest and described what she observed.

“Several people fell over and were beaten with batons and riot shields,” said Lee. “Several people were arrested while people were on top of them.” 

Encampments at the University of Calgary in Calgary on Thursday, May 9, 2024. (Alejandro Melgar).

After the encampment, the group posted a statement on their Instagram account stating that they plan to continue their advocacy.

“Tonight may have appeared a failure, but it was a huge success. We’ve shown admin we’re onto them. We’ve shown them who we as students are made of. We’ve exhausted the police’s resources. We will rebuild. We will grow from here,” read the statement on their Instagram story. 

Photo credit @uofc_divest4pal//Instagram.

University of Calgary response

In a statement to the Gauntlet, the University of Calgary stated that students were free to protest but an encampment like the one on May 9 is against their policy to not permit temporary structures. 

“We are aware that the Calgary Police Service responded to our request regarding individuals gathered on campus today. They were informed multiple times yesterday of our policy not to permit temporary structures. Members of the campus community are free to protest, but they are not free to camp,” read the statement. 

Photo by Dianne Miranda from May 9 2024.

Students were also emailed a statement from the Office of the President in the afternoon of May 10, where President Ed McCauley provided his perspective on the events that occurred that evening. 

“My commitment, and the commitment of this administration, is to apply the rules evenly and with consideration to the safety and operation of this university. I want to underline that you are free to use your voice on campus. And I am happy to receive all feedback you have on this matter.”

Students’ Union (SU) response

The Students’ Union (SU) President Ermia Rezaei-Afsah provided a statement stating that the university’s response called into question their priorities.

“The fact the university president felt more comfortable calling the police than engaging with a protest on campus really raises a lot of questions about what his priorities are,” said Rezaei-Afsah.

“Yesterday’s actions set back years of progress that was built towards strong relations between administration and students leaving students to ask how they are supposed to feel safe exercising their rights on campus if the first response is to call the police,” Rezaei-Afsah continued. 

Calgary police tear down the pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Calgary grounds by MacEwan Hall in Calgary on Thursday, May 9, 2024. (Alejandro Melgar, CityNews).

Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) Response

GSA Vice President External Hunter Yaworski described how many graduate students were impacted by the police confrontation of May 9. 

“It’s saddening and it is upsetting,” said Yaworski. “I think that it is very disturbing to see that students exercising the right to assemble and the right to express themselves are being met with violence.”

Photo by Daman Singh

Yaworski was present at the encampment as an observer until 11 p.m. He encourages graduate students to reach out if they need support. 

“What I saw was students assembling as a community,” said Yaworski. “It was disturbing to see that in contrast with the response of the police.”

Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) Response

Photo by Daman Singh

The Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) hosted a protest that began at 2 p.m. today after the Friday Juma Prayer. In a statement to the Gauntlet, they condemned the actions of the police. 

“The MSA  at the University of Calgary unequivocally condemns the actions taken by the University Administration and the Calgary Police Service against the Mohkinstis Student Encampment. Instead of engaging and conversing on Student Demands, the University resorted to colonial violence at its first opportunity. The use of tear gas, flash bombs, rubber bullets and arrests targeting individuals who were peacefully protesting is a violation of our fundamental Canadian rights. We affirm our right to peacefully protest, assemble, and encamp as protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” read the statement. 

Photo by Daman Singh

The protest included a speech from the imam, a Muslim religious leader, followed by a prayer and then several hours of demonstration outside of MacEwan Hall. 

Photo by Daman Singh

This article is being updated as the situation progresses. 

Last updated May 10 at 7:51 p.m.

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