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UVic faculty group concerned about surveillance of pro-Palestinian camp

The university says campus buildings will now be closed daily from 5 p.m.-7 a.m., with some entrances locked throughout the day.

The acting president of the University of Victoria Faculty Association says her group is concerned about “the high levels of security and surveillance” for a pro-Palestinian encampment established on the university grounds on Wednesday.

That surveillance has included campus security representatives keeping a watch on those entering university buildings.

“We’re hearing reports that librarians are being checked as they enter the library,” Monica Prendergast said Thursday. “There’s a lot of campus security and there has been police presence on campus.”

UVic Students’ Society spokesperson Isabelle Easton said she has similar concerns about police surveillance, although her group is not involved with the camp.

Prendergast said the faculty association, which represents more than 1,000 members, recognizes the students’ right to protest “as a principle of academic freedom.” They have a right to speak “in response to the horrific events that are happening in Gaza,” she said.

Both the faculty association and students’ society say their main concern is keeping everyone on campus safe.

The protesters are demanding that the university divest from corporations supporting Israel and cut academic ties to Israel. They’re also calling for the end of “the ongoing genocide of Palestinians.”

The camp remained in place Thursday even though erecting tents, temporary structures and overnight encampments is contrary to university policy, but the university said campus buildings will now be closed daily from 5 p.m.-7 a.m., with some entrances locked throughout the day, citing safety reasons.

Protesters have been accessing bathrooms in the buildings.

“Decisions on next steps are still being determined,” UVic said in a statement. “We are aiming to provide updates each day as this continues to develop.”

The university said it supports peaceful demonstrations “and the right to freedom of expression.”

A camp spokesperson who did not want to give his name said Thursday that about 150 people have been coming and going from the camp, with around 40 staying overnight Wednesday.

While a few people had dropped by the encampment to voice their concerns, there has been no serious friction, said the 26-year-old, a UVic grad student of Palestinian descent.

He said people at the camp are students “for the most part,” although non-students have been there to show support and drop off supplies.

A man was at the camp entrance around noon Thursday sometimes loudly debating protesters, but left after speaking with campus security.

Saanich police paid a visit soon after. The camp spokesperson said police were also watching from the roof of the nearby McPherson Library on Wednesday night.

There has not yet been any direct contact with UVic officials, “which are the people we want to communicate with,” he said.

UVic said in its statement that it is “open to dialogue.”

“We are hopeful that we can continue the productive dialogue we have begun on the topic of divestment.”

Similar encampments linked to the Israel-Hamas war have been established at Vancouver Island University, the University of British Columbia, the University of Ottawa, Montreal’s McGill University and the University of Toronto.

Protest camps were also set up on campuses in the United States, including New York’s Columbia University, where the encampment was raided by police on Tuesday and more than 100 people were arrested, and the University of California in Los Angeles, where about 200 protesters were arrested early Thursday.

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