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5 people arrested following pro-Palestinian protest at University of Calgary

Calgary police Chief Mark Neufeld says people had “ample opportunity” to leave a pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Calgary before officers used force to remove remaining demonstrators on Thursday night.

City police say no civilians or officers were injured

Police with shields clash with protesters.

Calgary police Chief Mark Neufeld says people had "ample opportunity" to leave a pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Calgary before officers used force to remove remaining demonstrators Thursday night.

"This isn't something we enjoy doing, but it is something that is very necessary when individuals refuse to comply with lawful direction," said Neufeld during a news conference Friday afternoon.

"I'm proud of the way that our officers handled themselves throughout the situation … and ultimately escalating in tactics only in response to an increase in resistance."

Five people were arrested under the Trespass to Premises Act, three of whom were charged. All have since been released. It is not known if those arrested were students or members of the public.

Neufeld added that further investigations will continue and additional charges are possible, but more serious charges related to Thursday night's events are unlikely.

Campus protests across North America

This is just one of many protests and encampments that have been popping up at university campuses across North America.

The protests come after the Hamas attack on Israel last fall led to the capture of more than 250 hostages and killed around 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials. According to the Gaza Health Ministry, Israel's retaliatory bombing campaign and ground offensive have killed more than 34,000 Palestinians — many of them civilians, including children.

Neufeld says the Calgary Police Service (CPS) has had conversations with post-secondary institutions in preparation for the encampments appearing in Calgary. He says Calgary police will continue to enforce the law surrounding trespassing.

In a statement sent via email on Friday, the president and vice-chancellor of the University of Calgary, Ed McCauley, said all members of the university's community "have the right to free speech and the right to protest."

WATCH | Police forcibly remove protesters from U of C encampment:

Police forcibly remove pro-Palestinian protesters at the University of Calgary

20 hours ago

Duration 0:30

See the moments just after police gave their final warning to those who remained on campus after police removed an encampment. WARNING: Foul language.

McCauley's statement also said that "for safety and operational reasons, temporary structures as part of protests and overnight protests are not permitted," and protests can't occur between the hours of 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.

He says individuals were provided a written summary of the university's policies and procedures, and the individuals who refused to take down their structures were issued a trespass notice.

The statement said the police service's "decision to enforce a trespass order is based on assessment of the risk to public safety as determined through things such as protester actions, communications [including social media monitoring] and analysis."

In addition, McCauley's statement to the U of C community said counter-protesters also appeared Thursday night.

"Unfortunately, counter-protesters showed up — also putting themselves in violation of our policies and in [a] trespass situation — and the situation very quickly devolved into shoving, projectiles being thrown at officers, and — ultimately — flash-bangs and arrests," it reads.

"It is certainly possible counter-protesters only became aware of the encampment because of reporting on the large police presence."

A media relations officer for the Calgary police told CBC News that a small group of counter-protesters arrived near the end of the protest.

Neufeld says that, in terms of the police response, "the counter-protest didn't play any part at all."

The police chief says it was clear the original protest was non-compliant to begin with, as organizers had issued demands to the university and began to set up encampments outside of the MacEwan Student Centre.

Protest invokes heavy police response

Like other recent university protests, those involved say students are demonstrating to demand officials disclose and sever any ties the school has with Israel.

At the University of Calgary, there are also calls to adopt a definition of anti-Palestinian racism on campus, and provide support for Palestinian students' mental wellness and academic success.

The police arrived on campus early Thursday evening after being called by campus security.

According to both police and the university, protesters were warned that occupants of the encampment were trespassing. An officer assured one of the protesters that no one would be arrested if they left.

The majority of those occupying the encampment began packing up their belongings and preparing to leave following a police warning at approximately 10 p.m. MT. But a smaller group refused to leave, with some singing "we shall not be moved."

After giving a five-minute warning, police used their shields and bicycles to push the remaining protesters out of the encampment area.

Some still attempted to resist the police action. Officers responded by throwing flash-bangs, which produced loud noises and smoke. Ten minutes after beginning their efforts, police had completely emptied the area.

Police say there were no injuries to civilians or officers.

Neufeld told reporters that the last time Calgary police had to use what he called "non-lethal munitions" was in the fall, during a violent clash in the community of Falconridge, where 11 people were charged.

WATCH | Police response using flash-bangs at U of C encampment:

Flashbang explosive deployed at University of Calgary campus

4 hours ago

Duration 0:09

Calgary police say 'projectiles and assaultive behaviour' by remaining pro-Palestinian protestors left after an encampment was removed triggered the use of 'non-lethal munitions' by officers, such as flashbang explosives.

Neufeld says many people at the encampment were concerned about geopolitical events and the police understand that.

"There is no question that they did not want to charge a bunch of people who didn't need to be charged, and they didn't do that," said Neufeld.

"People were throwing projectiles at the police.… Enough was enough. We'd been there long enough."

The protesters are allowed to return to campus but are not allowed to bring any encampments, barricades or obstructions, according to both police and the university.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, speaking at an unrelated news conference in Calgary, says she's pleased the University of Calgary moved to have police dismantle an on-campus pro-Palestinian protest.

"I'm glad that the University of Calgary made the decision that they did," Smith said.

"In this case, it's private property. And the university made it very clear that you can't trespass and that you can't camp. I think people should follow the law. If you have an opportunity to do peaceful protest, follow the parameters, I guess, is the lesson on this."

WATCH | Police issue warning to protesters about throwing items:

Police warn U of C pro-Palestinian protesters to not throw items

2 hours ago

Duration 1:10

A protester is seen throwing something at police as they make arrests on the University of Calgary campus. The exchange came right before flashbang explosives were used to clear the area.

She also said her government is on hand to help if asked but will otherwise leave decisions of what to do with the protest encampments up to the universities.

"There are people who are going through a criminal process because of the Coutts blockade. We have laws in the province saying you cannot block critical infrastructure," she said.

Students are 'traumatized'

Some students are feeling frustrated about the events of Thursday night.

The U of C Students' Union president, Ermia Rezaei-Afsah, believes the situation represents a failure on the part of the university's executive leadership team.

"We think that there should have been more room for dialogue. We think that the university should have given a chance to students to speak, and to actually engage with them," he said Friday, speaking on behalf of the students' union.

"In all the other universities around Canada, we have not seen anything like this.… Our students have a Charter right to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. And that was, in my eyes, denied yesterday."

Rezaei-Afsah says he's hearing that students are feeling scared after Thursday's events, calling the police response "egregious."

"They're traumatized."

The students' union says it "unequivocally condemns the actions taken against students," according to a statement released Friday afternoon.

The statement called Thursday's events an "extreme response" from police that was requested by president McCauley and the university administration, and that it was "an invitation for violence against students."

"It is our belief that without this, the protest would have remained peaceful."

According to the statement, student protesters sought to create a dialogue with university administration but were "rebuffed."

The statement also disputes claims that counter-protesters were present when CPS escalated its tactics.

"We vehemently dispute the accuracy of the statement released by the Office of the President that the protest only 'devolved' with the arrival of counter-protesters."

The students' union says Thursday's events will have students asking "how they are supposed to feel safe exercising their rights on campus if the first response is to call the police."

Demonstrators returned to campus on Friday to hold a pro-Palestinian rally.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lily Dupuis

Reporter

Lily Dupuis joined CBC News as a researcher for the 2023 Alberta provincial election. She can be reached at lily.dupuis@cbc.ca.

With files from Erin Collins, James Young, Jim Brown and The Canadian Press

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Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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