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Occupy UW calls university's court order a 'scare tactic' to silence students

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Members of a pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Waterloo have broken their silence surrounding a lawsuit and injunction filed by the school on Tuesday.

The statement of claim lists several demands, including the immediate termination and removal of the encampment from campus grounds. The damage estimate, pegged at $1.5 million, was for “trespass, damage to property, intimidation and ejectment.”

The university later clarified, in an email to CTV News, that “the goal of this legal action is to bring an end to the encampment on the university’s campus – its primary objective is not about damages or punishing those on Grad House Green.”

On Friday, students spoke out about the court order.

“This $1.5 million litigation is nothing more than a scare tactic to try and silence the students that have been speaking out,” stated John Bannister, a member of the encampment and also the chairman of Public Service Alliance of Canada Local 902, the union that represents teaching assistants and graduate students at Wilfrid Laurier University.

Bannister is one of seven defendants identified by name in the University of Waterloo’s injunction.

“This is not money that students have,” Nicholas Joseph, another member of Occupy University of Waterloo Coalition (Occupy UW), said.

Tents, signs and fences first went up on May 13.

“Our encampment has become a place where students take the things they were taught in school and apply them to the street,” Bannister explained.

The university’s lawsuit calls the encampment illegal and in violation of numerous university policies.

It said that after a formal notice was issued for the encampment’s removal on May 20, “tensions have escalated on campus, presenting risks to the health, safety, security and wellbeing of members of the university and community that the university cannot ignore.”

The injunction also described how, on June 18, protestors created a blockade within a university building, preventing staff from attending a Board of Governor’s meeting. That prompted a call to Waterloo Regional Police for help.

Students believe they’ve been mischaracterized in the court order.

“Our encampment is a safe and welcoming space but the admin’s attempt to paint it as violent and harmful is disingenuous and dangerous,” Bannister said.

The seven students feel that being publicly identified in this way has opened them up to harassment. The injunction also indicates there are numerous other participants that the university hasn’t been able to identify.

“We will not be deterred,” said Sarah Ahmed, another member of Occupy UW and another student named in the court order. “We will not waver, because our courage comes from the brave people of Palestine who have to deal with the constant threat of bombs over their heads.”

Members of Occupy UW would not answer media questions following their statements on Friday.

The University of Waterloo has maintained that the purpose of pursuing legal action is to bring an end to the encampment, and is not focused on damages or punishing those taking part in the protest.

There has been one new promising new development.

“[Thursday] night we agreed to enter confidential mediation with members of the protest encampment,” Nick Manning, the associate vice-president of communications at the University of Waterloo, said Friday. “It’s very much aligned with our goal that has been in place since the encampment started: to engage in productive and respectful dialogue to end the encampment.”

No details were shared about when those meetings would begin.

While these talks will happen in tandem with legal proceedings, they are not technically related.

The university said they have a court hearing scheduled for Thursday, July 4.

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