Rights watchdog tells B.C. colleges: protect Gaza protesters at peaceful encampments

VANCOUVER — British Columbia's human rights commissioner is calling on universities and colleges to protect the rights of students and staff taking part in "peaceful encampments," saying she's worried about people who "speak up in solidarity with Gaza" being penalized.

Kasari Govender said in a statement Monday that campus communities have a right to "peaceful and lawful assembly and free expression."

She said there's no place in B.C. for antisemitism, anti-Palestinian racism, Islamophobia or public incitement and, as long as those limits aren't breached, universities and colleges should protect the rights of protesters.

"How decision-makers react to student protests now will mark the strength of our democracy and our human rights protections long into the future," she said.

Pro-Palestinian protest camps sprang up at several campuses across Canada last week, including at the University of British Columbia and the University of Victoria. Neither school immediately provided responses to Govender's statement.

Some protest organizers have said they want universities to support the Palestinian cause by divesting from companies linked to Israel, joining a "global academic boycott" of Israeli schools and publicly condemning Israeli actions in Gaza.

Pressure has been building on protesters to end their encampments elsewhere in Canada.

Montreal's McGill University said late Monday that it was seeking a "timely and peaceful" end to the protest there.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford told reporters Monday that he is "not in favour" of the encampments in his province, saying "they need to move."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2024.

The Canadian Press