University of Waterloo, protesters to undergo mediation talks to end 7-week encampment

Member of Occupy UWaterloo (from left) Nicholas Joseph, John-Lee Bannister and Sarah Ahmed spoke on Friday about the encampment on the University of Waterloo campus. They responded to the university's decision to sue some of the camp members for a combined $1.5 million. (Aastha Shetty/CBC - image credit)
Member of Occupy UWaterloo (from left) Nicholas Joseph, John-Lee Bannister and Sarah Ahmed spoke on Friday about the encampment on the University of Waterloo campus. They responded to the university's decision to sue some of the camp members for a combined $1.5 million. (Aastha Shetty/CBC - image credit)

The University of Waterloo and the members of a pro-Palestinian encampment on the campus are set to enter mediation talks.

"As part of our ongoing commitment to continue productive and respectful dialogue we are pleased that we have agreed to start confidential discussions with members of the encampment facilitated by a mediator," university spokesperson Rebecca Elming said in an emailed statement to CBC News.

"The university will only provide further updates that are agreed upon between both parties."

The mediation talks are expected to begin next week.

Encampment members confirmed they planned to enter mediation talks during a press conference Friday morning.

The move comes after the university began a legal process to end the encampment, which has been set up on a grassy area beside the Grad House since May 23.

On Monday, the school announced it had filed a statement of claim, which seeks an interlocutory injunction to compel protestors to dismantle their encampment. It also sues some members of the encampment for $1.5M for damages.

University spokesperson Rebecca Elming said in an email to CBC News that the "goal of this legal action is to bring an end to the encampment.

"It's primary objective is not about damages or punishing those on Grad House green," Elming said.

The Occupy UWaterloo group says it started the encampment because it wants the university to divest of any company that supports Israel as the war against Hamas in Gaza continues.

The university had issued a legal trespass notice to encampment members on June 21, after the school had issued a formal notice on May 23 telling them to end the protest.

Teachers' group 'alarmed' by lawsuit

The University of Waterloo's legal process differs from the University of Toronto, which filed an application for an injunction to remove its encampment. That process is still before the courts.

The lawsuit by the University of Waterloo was criticized by the Canadian Association of University Teachers. In a statement posted to its website on Wednesday, the group said it was "alarmed" over the university's tactics.

Executive director David Robinson said in the media release that the school "should be treading very carefully and with utmost restraint when it comes to matters of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression."

David Porreca, who is the president of association's local chapter called the Faculty Association of the University of Waterloo, said there were concerns the situation on campus was escalating because of the actions of both the school and the encampment members.

"I think both sides have pushed too far and sitting down and hearing each other out is probably the least worst thing that could happen," Porreca said in an interview.