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Demonstrators wearing cultural clothing listening to a speaker at the sit-in
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Toronto student activists organize pro-Palestine community sit-in at TMU 

By Lillie Coussée, Negin Khodayari, Jasmine Makar and Jerry Zhang

Note: All anonymous sources in this article are verified by The Eyeopener.

Student activists from across the city held a community sit-in at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) on April 30 to demand the full disclosure of the school’s investments, endowments and donors, among other calls to action.

“We are here to put pressure on TMU and other universities to disclose their investments,” a member* of the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM) said during their speech at the sit-in. 

“A way institutions like TMU will invest in Zionism is by investing in Israeli corporations that are built on stolen land,” they said. 

The sit-in held at Victoria and Gould Streets from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. was announced on some of the organizers’ Instagram accounts just before 2 p.m. Tuesday.

The emergency action came the same day TMU student demonstrators were allegedly removed from the university’s Board of Governors (BoG) meeting earlier in the day. 

A member** of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at TMU told The Eyeopener they attended the BoG meeting to present their demands to the university. 

“Students started by disrupting the Board of Governors meeting, and we invited our community to come join us for a sit-in to show TMU that we are going to keep showing up for Palestine,” they said. 

Students were allegedly forced out of the BoG meeting for live-streaming the event, although phones were not permitted. 

In an emailed statement sent to The Eye on April 30, the university said students “were allowed in and were present in the [BoG meeting].” However, they did not disclose whether students were removed from the room. 

Student organizers said they had filed a Freedom of Information request under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act in Ontario for TMU to disclose its investments but the university denied the request.

The Eye obtained parts of the university’s decision letter sent on April 2, which states, “Section 17(1) of FIPPA (third-party information): the University applied this section to the records as it contains information that reveals financial information supplied in confidence implicitly or explicitly to the University.”

According to section 17.1 of FIPPA, the university is allowed to deny an FOI request if it is sensitive to its commercial activities. 

The decision letter also outlines section 18.1 of FIPPA, “the University also applied this section to information in the records that the University has identified as financial information that has monetary value or potential monetary value where the disclosure could reasonably be expected to prejudice the economic interests or competitive position or be injurious to the financial interests of the University.”

The SJP member** told The Eye in an email on Wednesday that while the university ultimately responded to the FIPPA request, they haven’t responded to students asking them to disclose this information for the past few months.

“I see the genocide going on and I feel a moral imperative to do something”

Shortly after the BoG meeting and the sit-in announcement, community members received a TMU Safe alert about building restrictions due to “safety concerns” until further notice. 

Around the same time, TorontoMet Today released a statement to the TMU community titled “Ensuring a Safe Community for All.”

“TMU greatly values freedom of speech and academic freedom – the right to search for truth, knowledge and understanding – in ways that are free from discrimination, racism or hate,” the statement read. 

The statement further reads that the university is “wholly committed” to upholding community members’ right to peaceful protests so long as they comply with the university policies including the Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy and The Student Code of Non-Academic Conduct.

The sit-in was a community effort organized by various student movements in the Greater Toronto Area, including but not limited to PYM, SJP, Toronto 4 Palestine, Samidoun Palestinian Solidarity Network Toronto, TMU Divest, Jews Say No To Genocide and Independent Jewish Voices Toronto & York Region.

“This is a community and students effort. It’s not actually attributed to one group…Multiple groups have come together to put this forward,” the SJP member** said.  

A following post on the organizers’ Instagram listed their specific demands from the university. 

The demands ranged from the full disclosure of TMU’s investments, to the divestment from businesses, companies and corporations profiteering from the State of Israel and an academic boycott that “terminates study abroad programs research initiatives and relationships” with Israeli universities, among other points.

The sit-in at TMU comes as university encampments and protests opposing Israeli military action in Gaza and demanding schools to divest from companies they claim are profiting from the conflict spread across North America.  

The widespread campus protests erupted after pro-Palestinian student protestors were arrested at Columbia University in New York City on April 18, according to The Washington Post

This lead to more pro-Palestinian campus encampments in North America including at McGill University and the University of British Columbia.

“As we’ve seen our comrades at Columbia University or McGill and across the globe start encampments and start escalating to get the administration to listen to them, we feel that it is now our duty to escalate as well to force [TMU] to listen to us,” the SJP member*** said.

This week at TMU, access to the Kerr Quad was restricted with fences and signs that read “Closed for spring maintenance and for protection due to concerns about unauthorized activity.” 

According to Al Jazeera, the death toll in Gaza has reached over 35,000 since Oct. 7, 2023.

A member*** of Samidoun Palestinian Solidarity Network Toronto said they’re rallying to support the student movement in North America.

“We’re here to support students who want their university to be free of investments that are related to the military-industrial complex to apartheid, to settler colonialism and genocide,” they said. 

“Part of our role and responsibility is to remind our institution to take the moral high ground”

The same Instagram post by the organizers also outlined a schedule for the day including activities, student and faculty speakers, as well as a film screening to end off the night. 

Among the speakers was Joshua Price, a professor and the graduate program director at the Department of Criminology in the Faculty of Arts.

“I see the genocide going on and I feel a moral imperative to do something but it’s deeply visceral and emotional and intellectual all at the same time,” he said.

Price was at the sit-in as a member Jewish Faculty Network’s TMU Chapter. He said it was important for him to be there to “not just distinguish between antisemitism and anti-Zionism,” but also to show that his “wellbeing is important to people [at the protest].” 

“There’s a lot of talk about Jewish students and Jewish faculty feeling unsafe on campus and it’s important to distinguish the subjective state of feeling unsafe from being unsafe,” Price said. 

A number of other TMU faculty members from either The Creative School or the Faculty of Arts were present at the demonstration as members of TMU Faculty for Palestine (TMU F4P). 

“Part of our role and responsibility is to remind our institution to take the moral high ground, and as educators, to remind our students and those that listen that this is part of a continued system of oppression, in which we have to understand the student movement and our voices as supporting the broader Palestinian Liberation,” said one of the TMU F4P members****.

Another TMU F4P member**** said they are proud of these students and it is “a dream” to see them practice social justice in “the real world.” 

At the height of the event, an estimated over one hundred community members were in attendance, with many wearing Keffiyehs and others holding signs in support of Palestinians. 

The crowd chanted slogans in support of Palestine including “It’s not war, it’s genocide,”  and “Why do children have to die?” While other chants, such as, “No tuition for destruction,”  targeted universities. 

  • An overhead shot of the sit-in held at Victoria and Gould Streets on April 30 where students are seen drawing slogans on posters.
  • Signs found on the floor of the sit-in at TMU which read "Arms embargo now," and "Let Gaza Live."
  • Colourful chal writing on which reads "TMU Alum say divest" the grounds of the sit-in
  • A sign which reads "Closed for spring maintenance and for protection due to concerns about unauthorized activity" put on the fences restricting access to the Kerr Quad

The grounds of campus were covered in colourful pavement chalk drawings and writings of pro-Palestine slogans. 

The SJP member** told The Eye that students are leading the movements for Palestine in North America. They said this movement is continuing to grow as more people become aware of the situation, changing the future of student activism.

“I think this is the start of a lifetime of activism for many people and I think it’s going to keep getting better and keep getting stronger.”

* This is a speaker from PYM who has remained anonymous to protect their privacy given the critical political circumstances. 

**This student is a member of SJP who has asked to remain anonymous to protect their privacy given the critical political circumstances.

***This source is a member of Samidoun Palestinian Solidarity Network Toronto who has asked to remain anonymous to protect their privacy given the critical political circumstances.

****These are TMU faculty members part of TMU Faculty for Palestine who have asked to remain anonymous to protect their jobs within the university.

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