Students, teachers, unions and NDP united in denouncement of police raids at U of A and U of C

Students and faculty are calling for boycotts and the NDP are issuing fierce denouncements after police violently raided pro-Palestine demonstrations at the University of Alberta and University of Calgary this weekend.

Edmonton police raid the pro-Palestine demonstration at the University of Alberta on May 11. Image clipped from the People's University for Palestine YEG Instagram

Administrators at both schools called in police to disperse the protesters, and the Edmonton and Calgary police services (EPS and CPS) dutifully complied, showing up to attack students and allies with batons, flash grenades, gas and pepper bullets.

The protesters had gathered to urge both schools to disclose and divest from investments that tied the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary to the ongoing genocide in Palestine.

In similar statements, administrators for both schools claimed that the protests, which were setting up tents and preparing for a long stay, presented a danger to students. EPS and CPS both claimed that the demonstrations were dispersed without injuries.

But an overwhelming number of sources dispute all those claims.

Euan Thomson, an activist in Calgary whose work focuses on the opioid poisoning crisis, was among the first to post pictures of the injuries he received at the hands of the police.

I have yet to verify all of the claims that have been made online this weekend, such as the allegation that Calgary police assaulted and broke the ribs of Dr. Raheleh Tarani, but injuries would match up with the now widely-available video documentation of the raids. 

Here are some shots that Edmonton activists captured of EPS attacking protesters and beating them with batons.

University of Alberta president Bill Flanagan doubled down on his defense of the raids in a statement released Sunday that would be a laugh if we weren’t talking about police beating the hell out of peaceful dissenters at my alma mater.

In his statement, Flanagan argues that the protests were obviously an “imminent risk of potential violence” because, after dismantling them, the police found “boxes of syringes”—that is, Naloxone kits; “potential weapons including axes, hammers, and screwdrivers”—tools for building signs and setting up tents; and “wood pallets located within 150 meters of the encampment.”

Flanagan claims in his letter that “only 25% of the protesters were U of A students,” a piece of information it is impossible for him to have, since no one from the university was checking ID or running any kind of sign-in sheet. If you’ve been online at all in the past few days, I’m sure you’ve seen this unsubstantiated claim about outside agitators repeated uncritically by at least a few dumbass Facebook uncles already.

My colleagues Duncan and Jeremy visited the protest site at the University of Alberta on Saturday, hours before the police raided it. Duncan even brought his family. The story that administrators and the cops are telling of chaotic, violent demonstrators is a lie. 

What we’re talking about here is a group of people camping out, chatting, sharing meals and connecting. Literal kumbaya peace activist drum circle stuff. On Friday night, the U of A group, which had a significant Jewish presence, held a Shabbat dinner.

The unnecessary and disproportionate crackdown on these protests immediately backfired. Palestinian solidarity marches over the weekend were more well-attended than ever, and demonstrators returned to both campuses in even greater numbers.

Academics from both schools are calling for boycotts of the universities and censure of the administration through an open letter campaign and are calling for signatures from staff and alumni.

At the University of Alberta, the students’ union, the graduate students’ association, and both unions representing faculty and staff are demanding an emergency meeting with the university president over their “shock at the use of force to remove peaceful protesters.”

Alberta’s NDP opposition firmly denounced the raid on the University of Alberta protests on Saturday, and leadership candidate Kathleen Ganley criticized both raids herself. They were joined in their criticism by several NDP MLAs, including Janis Irwin, Brooks Arcand-Paul, Shannon Phillips, David Shepherd, Rhiannon Hoyle and Nathan Ip. However, the topic was completely absent from the Alberta NDP leadership debate in Calgary on Saturday, an omission that former NDP cabinet minister Brian Mason called “absolutely gutless.”

Legal scholars pointed out over the weekend that the raids likely violated protesters’ Charter rights. Universities are not simple private properties, able to throw out anyone they like: Alberta’s courts have found that they serve a quasi-public function and are legitimate sites for political demonstration.

Why would administrators at these universities flout the Charter, and the universities’ own supposed dedication to debate and inquiry, and call for students and faculty to be beat and gassed and shot with pepper pellets?

While there is no doubt that Canada’s own foundation in colonial dispossession and violence has a lot to do with why so many of our institutions are so bad on the Israel-Palestine issue, there’s also a more proximate cause.

The administrations at the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary are lousy with conservative political appointees. In a Progress Report investigation last fall, we found that administrators appointed to university boards during the Kenney and Smith administrations have donated tens of thousands of dollars to the UCP since 2017.


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