Photo of the plywood wall used as the UW Occupy encampment boarders, on the campus of the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. The message spray painted in red on the plywood reads "All Eyes on Gaza".
Photo by Umaymah Suhail

UW LAUNCHES LEGAL ACTION AGAINST STUDENTS IN OCCUPY UW ENCAMPMENT 

Almost two months after its start, University of Waterloo (UW) students continue the encampment by the Graduate House Green on campus. Campers maintain their call on UW to disclose, divest and boycott all relations with Israel considering the crisis in Gaza.   

On June 21, the university issued a legal trespass notice under the Trespass to Property Act to campers and posted copies around the encampment, which was written over by campers. The notice ordered members to leave the campus site and dismantle the encampment immediately.   

The notice said if members do not comply, the university will pursue consequences under both its policies and the law. It also said every person who engages in an activity prohibited under the act on the premises, like the encampment on campus, is guilty of an offence and liable upon conviction to a fine of under $10,000.  

In a statement released on June 21, the university said they have protected “everyone’s right to free speech and expression throughout this protest activity,” including “disruptive protest actions on campus since November.”   

This is referring to the largest protest in UW history which took place that month, held by the University of Waterloo Voices for Palestine student club and with over 1,200 protesters.  

“The right to protest does not mean people have the right to endlessly occupy a shared university space,” the statement said. “The behaviour of encampment members is becoming untenable and causing greater disruption to the normal business of the University.”  

The statement also said the university already disclosed its investment information and started two task forces to review their approach to partnerships, which was announced on June 3.   

The encampment remains and on June 25, the university released a university-wide email with another statement. The university filed a court-ordered interlocutory injunction and lawyers representing UW served campers with court documents to start a legal process to enforce the trespass notice and end the encampment.   

This includes a statement of claim in which the university declares $1.5 million in property damages from John Doe, Jane Doe, “persons unknown” and seven named students as defendants for trespassing, intimidation and ejectment.  

OccupyUW posted a statement to their Instagram on June 30 in response to the lawsuit. It said the university is the first in Canada to file a seven-figure lawsuit against its students at the encampment, which only adds to their trauma and financial strain.  

“These students have put everything on the line to stand up for justice,” the post said. “UW’s lawsuit seeks to intimidate students, imposing hefty fines and fees they cannot afford.”  

The post said the lawsuit takes advantage of students’ sensitive status and the university asking for police to enforce the injunction is an “extreme measure” that puts students’ safety and well-being at risk.   

Earlier on June 10, the university held a Senate Special Meeting on campus to discuss the encampment’s main demands, which includes severing ties between UW and the Technion Israel Institute of Technology. During the meeting, various people read personal statements out loud to the senate for their consideration.  

The meeting’s agenda package includes reports from organizations like the Network of Engaged Canadian Academics, B’nai Brith Canada, Jewish Faculty Network’s southwest Ontario chapter and UW’s Department of Communication Arts.   

It also includes letters from David Simakov, a UW associate professor in chemical engineering, Asher Cohen, president of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Uri Sivan, president of Technion.  

Nicolas Joseph, a fourth-year mathematics student and OccupyUW’s media liaison, spoke to the senate and provided an overview of Technion’s connections with the Israel Defense Forces and Israeli weapons manufacturers, leading to complicity in the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.   

In Joseph’s letter to the senate, he said Israel dropped 70,000 tons of bombs on Gaza Strip, which exceeds the number of World War II bombings in Dresden, Hamburg and London combined, according to the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor. He also said it will take 80 years to rebuild the Gaza strip, even if the violence ends now, according to a United Nations Development Programme report from May.  

“The number of people killed in Gaza is more than the entire student body here at UW,” he said in the letter.  

Dvir Zagury, a third-year mathematical physics international student who grew up in Israel, spoke to the senate about his perspective as an Israeli Jew on campus, including a personal testimony and the impact of cutting UW’s 30-year tie with Technion on academics.   

Zagury said he thinks the demand to boycott all Israeli-related groups is not realistic, especially if it includes the Rohr Chabad Centre for Jewish Life on campus. According to the centre’s website, there are no kosher restaurants in Kitchener-Waterloo, so they offer kosher catering to the community — and most kosher companies are Israeli.   

He said the Jewish communities in North America and Israel are intertwined. He said the two groups do not just share a religion, but also a language, history, texts and debates that have kept them connected for thousands of years.   

“If it comes in the future that we will be prosecuted again for the hundredth time, then we have a place to go that’s safe for us and where we will be with other Jewish people,” Zagury said.   

He said in his opinion, the encampment’s message behind their demands is to delegitimize every Israeli institution, along with his and his community’s presence on campus.   

“And that’s not something I’m comfortable with,” Zagury said.  

On May 23, OccupyUW, Palestine Solidarity KW, UW’s Indigenous Student Association, Palestinian Youth Movement Toronto, Wilfrid Laurier University’s Muslim Student Association and WLU Palestinian Justice Club co-posted an announcement on Instagram that Laurier students had officially joined the UW encampment.   

The post said Laurier and UW students can cross-register for courses and enroll in double degree programs. Many faculty staff are cross-appointed between the universities as well, so Laurier is also complicit in the genocide.  

Laurier students set up tents on UW’s campus to also call on the university to disclose, divest and boycott all connections to Israel.