How to end the university encampments

In a Liberal Democracy as we have in Canada and the US, people have the right to protest, to demonstrate, and to say almost anything they want. However, there are limits to all rights. You can’t yell “Fire!” in a crowed theatre if there is no fire. Your freedom of expression ends when your fist hits my nose. Those are just two of the examples that lawyers learn in law school. But what about occupying land on a university campus? Is that legitimate protest or trespassing?

Some progressive academics have argued that university property is not private in the sense that your front yard is. However, in several cases, jurisprudence has shown that  it is private property. The same progressives have argued that even if it is private, universities should be a place for debate and protests are legitimate free expression.

There are serious problems with these arguments. First, they consider an occupation to be a legal protest as long as it is peaceful. The McGill encampment has forced McGill to move graduation ceremonies at a cost of $700,000. Who gave these self-appointed defenders of the Gazans the right to do this. Students (Jewish and others) who do not agree with the occupiers have felt intimidated. All students who have paid tuition have lost the right to enjoy the campus grounds for over a month already. We have laws to prevent trespassing and the occupation of the property that others own. Why have they not been enforced?

If you get permission from the authorities, you can stage a protest rally or march but illegal occupation is another matter. Occupations involve taking what is not yours and using it as you, and you alone, see fit. That is the law of the jungle, not how it should be in a civil society where laws should be respected.

Where have McGill and many other universities failed?

I will use McGill as an example but my suggestions apply to all the universities who have negotiated with the occupiers. First, you do NOT negotiate with those who are breaking the law and even worse won’t identify themselves. Many are not even students. That was shown in cases in the US where demonstrators were arrested and forced to identify themselves. About 50% were outside agitators.

Why not negotiate in an effort to find common ground? Well, it doesn’t work. It only leads to more aggressive action and more similar protests in the future. That has happened at McGill. The occupiers won’t compromise and have escalated to occupying the lawns of university administrators. Now they have hung Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in effigy from the Roddick Gates. The police watched and did nothing. Further, this weakness encourages other useful idiots to do even more dangerous stuff like shooting at Jewish schools and institutions. Must we wait till someone is killed?

So, the first step is absolutely no negotiations. One example where this strategy worked is the University of Denver. According to a report by CBS, “After a meeting with DU administration, the group said they decided to close the camp when they realized the DU chancellor was not going to ‘engage seriously with student concerns and demands.’” Sometimes a “No” is all you need.

Declare that the occupiers are trespassing

Officially announce that the occupiers are trespassing and must leave immediately or face arrest and for students, suspension or expulsion. Even as the Mayor of Hampstead, I had the right to have the police evict anyone who was disruptive at council meetings. All I had to do was call the police and sign a document that the person or persons were trespassing. I only had to do that once and the police removed the offender and he never came back. What is happening at McGill is far worse so the principal should sign the necessary document and have the police remove the occupiers.

Instead, McGill sought an emergency injunction. That was a very bad strategic error and a way to try to pass the buck to the courts. Of course, the judge said there was no emergency, argue the merits of the case in July. Trespassing does not require a court order, only for the principal to have the political will and courage to identify the occupiers as trespassers and ask the police to remove them. As I write this, I see the University of Toronto has just done that.

But what if the police refuse to act?

So far, the police have taken a hands-off approach unless there is violence or streets are blocked. The politicians can say that they can’t tell the police what to do but that is a half-truth. They can’t say to arrest someone but they can say that the law must be enforced. I know because I served on the Montreal Agglomeration Public Security commission for six years, three as VP. In short, what the Montreal Mayor wants, gets done. So, if the police won’t remove protesters, McGill must write an open letter to Mayor Plante demanding that the police do their jobs. The press will cover the issue and that should be enough but if Plante still refuses to act, McGill should appeal to Premier Legault and ask for the help of the SQ. Both Legault and the Minister of Higher Education, Pascale Déry, have said the encampments must be dismantled. Finally, McGill can ask Prime Minister Trudeau for the RCMP to clear the encampments. No need for the Emergency Measures Act. With all the negative publicity, I doubt that it will go that far.

Other occupations

My suggestions apply to all illegal occupations including the Occupy Montreal/ Toronto/etc encampments, the truckers protest in Ottawa, and any others that may happen. The cause is not the issue. I disagree with the Occupy Montreal protest and, of course, the anti-Semitic, anti-Israel manifestations on university campuses but I sympathize with the truckers. However, regardless of the cause, illegal occupations must be met with no negotiations and removal immediately. Those who refuse to go should be arrested.

The alternative is a lawless society where mobs rule. Appeasement didn’t work in 1939. It never works.

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  1. Dear Bill.
    Extremely well written Thanks for sharing your thoughts, which I will share with others.
    Best regards,

  2. Thank you. If anyone can contact the McGill principal or Chancellor, they are the ones who need to see this.

    For the record, the writer of the above comment is Gerry Weiner, not Weinet. I’ll try to fix my database.

  3. Very well said and written, but unfortunately a bit too late since McGill gave in to the demands of these hooligans.

  4. Unless something happened today (Sunday), my understanding is that McGill’s “concessions” are very minor and unimportant but as I said in the article, there should be no negotiations and no concessions.

  5. Great article.

    A worldwide network of “protesters for hire” exists. Today offensive protests and provocations; the future does not look pretty.

  6. I agree about the worldwide network of protesters and it is worrisome but when Israel wins the war with Hamas, things will change. Nations do what is in their best interests (politically, economically, etc) and more and more will resume doing business with Israel.

    The key now is for Israel to ignore the pressure from the US and other countries and to carry on to total victory. Most Americans including those in Congress support that (but not Biden). Most Israelis also understand that.

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Dr. Bill Steinberg

Dr. Steinberg has a BSc from McGill University, a PhD in Psychology from Northwestern University, and was a professor at Concordia University. He was Mayor of the Town of Hampstead for 16 years and led the demerger battle. He was was awarded the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal and is currently President of the Cochlear Implant Recipients Association.

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