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VIU says it won't punish protesters in pro-Palestinian encampment

A letter delivered to the encampment by campus security on May 2 had warned students they could face arrests and expulsions for their participation
Palestinian flags flutter at a protest encampment on Vancouver Island University’s Nanaimo campus this week. COURTESY CHRIS ALEMANY

Vancouver Island University will not punish students for participating in a pro-Palestinian encampment, its president said Friday.

Protesters set up the encampment on May 1, asking that the university call for a ceasefire and issue a statement “acknowledging the genocide of Palestinians.”

Other demands included disclosing university investments linked to Israel, removing Starbucks — which has become a popular boycott target for pro-Palestinian protesters — from campus, and a commitment to no disciplinary action for students involved in the protest.

VIU president Deborah Saucier said the university has not taken any punitive action toward any member of the campus community for participating in the encampment and has no plans to do so.

Saucier said VIU “joins the global call for a ceasefire and an end to the violence in the Middle East.”

A letter delivered to the encampment by campus security on May 2 had warned students they could face arrests and expulsions for their participation.

Prior to Saucier’s comments, protesters said talks were at an impasse because VIU refused to retract the letter, which also threatened prohibition from graduation for students involved with the encampment.

An encampment representative did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.

Saucier said VIU continues to be open to in-person negotiations, but will not tolerate any activities that would result in an unsafe work or learning environment, or that contravene the student code of conduct, university policies or the law.

She said a closed board of governors meeting had to be relocated after encampment members used a megaphone at “dangerously high sound levels” for 45 minutes in a confined space as part of a protest.

Several formal complaints have been made since the encampment started, including some WorkSafeBC complaints, a VIU spokesperson said in a statement, although the university would not reveal specifics.

The on-campus Starbucks has been closed since the second week of the protest.

An encampment spokesperson told the Times Colonist the store was likely closed because of a chalk statement in front that accused Starbucks of supporting genocide.

Protesters said in a separate video statement on Thursday that the university is blurring the line between discomfort and actual threats.

“Protests are meant to be uncomfortable and disruptive, but that does not equate to being unsafe. What is truly unsafe is the situation in Palestine.”

On Friday, VIU’s faculty association executive announced the group would drop “any and all” investments with companies involved in the “violence, occupation, and dispossession occurring in Gaza and the West Bank.”

“We unequivocally condemn the attacks against innocent civilians,” the statement sent out to members said. “We denounce all acts of violence, hate, and discrimination.”

The statement called for VIU to ensure reasonable security measures on campus and for protesters to comply with security measures that don’t restrict peaceful protest.

The association said it began preliminary work on divestment on May 9.

Meanwhile, University of Victoria representatives have met twice with students from an encampment on campus this week.

Provost and vice-president academic Elizabeth Croft and Kristi Simpson, vice-president finance and operations, had a lengthy conversation with members of the People’s Park UVic encampment on Wednesday regarding their demands, the two said Thursday.

A spokesperson for the UVic encampment said Friday the Wednesday talks resulted in no firm commitments from UVic.

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