Montreal police remove protesters from pro-Palestinian encampment at Victoria Square

Police move into a protest encampment in Victoria Square on Friday July 5, 2024. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC - image credit)
Police move into a protest encampment in Victoria Square on Friday July 5, 2024. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC - image credit)

Montreal police in riot gear kicked protesters out of a pro-Palestinian encampment in Victoria Square early Friday morning.

The police operation began around 5 a.m., when police wearing helmets, carrying shields and some on horseback moved into the square.

The 15 protesters who were in the camp emerged from their tents, some of them carrying sleeping bags. The operation appeared to take place peacefully and in relative calm. Police said one 18-year-old man was arrested for allegedly pointing a laser-pointer at police on June 25.

Montreal police called the encampment illegal and said they were enforcing city bylaws. A city of Montreal spokesperson confirmed that the encampment was being dismantled and, by 8:30 a.m., city workers arrived to remove the tents, tarps and signs.

The city invoked a Ville-Marie borough bylaw that bans unauthorized use of public space. The bylaw is also used to authorize the dismantlement of homeless encampments.

The Victoria Square encampment appeared on June 22. Protesters there wanted Quebec's public pension fund manager, the Caisse de Dépôt et Placement du Québec (CDPQ) to divest from 87 companies with ties to Israel.

After the police raid, Emma Jaubert, 20, a protester who said she had spent every night at the camp since it was established, stood on the street nearby. She and the other protesters had been kicked out of the camp, but most had not been arrested. Police told them they could "just leave," she said.

Emma Jaubert was among the protesters kicked out of the encampment.
Emma Jaubert was among the protesters kicked out of the encampment.

Emma Jaubert was among the protesters kicked out of the encampment. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC)

"It was not extremely violent but it was still pretty violent," she said. "They were very aggressive with us, with how they dismantled us."

Jaubert's morning began when a police officer used a megaphone to warn the protesters of the imminent operation, followed shortly by the arrival of riot police shouting "leave," Jaubert said.

"I think it's because it's in a public place instead of a university campus so its a lot easier for them to do it without an injunction. It's a lot more in the eye of the public," she said.

"I think we're putting a lot of pressure on the government right now and they probably really don't like that."

Police later escorted the protesters back into the encampment to retrieve their personal items.

Mayor Valérie Plante released a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter, saying that the encampment prevented others from using the park.

"Don't get me wrong, you can't permanently occupy a public place, no matter what the cause. Public space must remain public," she wrote in French.

"Just as we can't accept as a society that public space becomes a hospital or open-air housing, we can't accept that public space becomes the headquarters of a cause, whatever it may be."

Plante held a press conference Friday morning to respond to questions about the dismantling of the encampment, but it was delayed by a protester shouting "Free Palestine" and accusing her of caving to political pressure.

She described the police operation as professional and that the decision to remove the camp was not taken lightly.

In a statement, Yair Szlak, the president and CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), characterized the McGill and Victoria Square encampments as antisemitic and called the dismantling of the Victoria Square encampment "a good start."

"Today, we call on the municipal officials to demonstrate leadership and finally deal with the encampment at McGill and to put an end once and for all to the unchecked hate on our streets," the statement said.

Montreal police walk in Victoria Square as city workers finish cleaning up the remnants of a pro-Palestinian protest encampment.
Montreal police walk in Victoria Square as city workers finish cleaning up the remnants of a pro-Palestinian protest encampment.

Montreal police walk in Victoria Square as city workers finish cleaning up the remnants of a pro-Palestinian protest encampment. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC)

Earlier this week, after protesters tied to the Square Victoria camp vandalized the CDPQ offices, François Bonnardel, Quebec's public security minister, took to X to criticize the city's inaction toward the encampment.

"I'm surprised the city of Montreal hasn't said more about the encampment issue," he said. "On our side, we have made our position clear. We are starting to see the consequences of this passive approach."

Friday's operation stood in stark contrast to the police response to an encampment at McGill University's downtown campus, where student groups are camping in protest of the university's investments in weapons companies and companies with ties to Israel.

Two Quebec Superior Court judges have so far rejected provisional injunctions to have the McGill encampment removed and police have said they will not act against it until they receive judicial authorization.