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'People certainly were scared': University of Waterloo reacts after Occupy UW disrupts meeting


Occupy UW, a group protesting the war in Gaza at the University of Waterloo (UW) campus, disrupted a board of governors meeting on Tuesday afternoon.

The group set up an encampment on campus May 13, as part of a massive wave of pro-Palestinian demonstrations at post-secondary institutions across Canada and the United States.

In videos sent from Occupy UW, a tent set up at the door of the meeting can be seen, and the group is heard chanting.

“This action follows weeks of bad faith engagements, refusals to negotiate, lies, and repeated smears about the encampment,” said a media release from the group.

Waterloo regional police were called in during the protest.

“The administration claims to engage in good faith but has left the students with no options,” they said.

The group has been asking to boycott Technion, a school said to be the research arm of Israeli Defense Forces.

“We demand that the university boycott from all Israeli institutions and goods, and we demand that the university divest from all companies on the BDS list, as well as all weapons manufacturers and defence contractors," said Sarah Ahmed, a member of Occupy UW, in an interview Wednesday.

Just over a week ago, UW’s senate approved three motions regarding investment disclosure, institutional partnerships and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors. A boycott of Technion was not included in the approved motions.

UW responds

The university said the disruption on Tuesday resulted in safety concerns for the staff and board members present in the senate room.

“The university has protected everyone’s right to free speech and expression throughout this protest activity, including more than 15 disruptive protest actions on campus since Nov. 2023,” a spokesperson for the university said in a email to CTV News. “The university took no action to interfere with any of these expressions, but the protestors’ actions today were unacceptable.”

The school went on to mention the three motions recently approved.

“The actions we are taking are reasonable ways to address the issues being raised within the structures of the University and our mandate to advance learning through scholarship, teaching and research within a spirit of free enquiry and expression,” the school said.

The university said the meeting will be rescheduled.

In an interview on Wednesday, Nick Manning, a university spokesperson, talked more about the growing concern and added that though police were called, they did not have to intervene. 

"Some people certainly were scared and the university had a concern for the safety of everybody involved,” said Manning.

School staff said they have been engaging in conversations with encampment members, but added change can’t happen overnight.

“We can’t simply divest unilaterally. That’s antithetical to the university’s mandate and mission and our purpose of creating an environment where everybody here feels that they can belong,” Manning said.

Manning said the school supports students’ rights to freedom of speech and expression, but added Tuesday’s demonstration went too far. Top Stories

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