Student-Led Protests in Canada are Demanding Action for Gaza

by Mwangala Matakala | May 27, 2024
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Student-Led Protests in Canada are Demanding Action for Gaza

by Mwangala Matakala | May 27, 2024
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Over the past few weeks, campuses have erupted with calls for peace and justice as Pro-Palestinian student-led protests and encampments have sprung up across Canadian universities from Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, and Toronto to Montreal. What may appear as impulsive acts to some are, in reality, carefully considered responses. These occupations stem from deep frustration after numerous failed attempts to provoke meaningful action by those who have the power to influence what is happening in Gaza. Months of calling for a ceasefire and urging Canada to halt arms shipments to Israel have yielded nothing but half-hearted promises and contradictions.

Seven Months of Horror

Every week seems to bring a new term to encapsulate the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. Just last week, the United Nations humanitarian chief warned that the massive aid shortage in Gaza could have “apocalyptic” consequences for the Palestinian enclave as the flow of aid has once again come to a halt with the invasion of Rafah and the border closed. Palestinians in Gaza are desperately trying to find some refuge and scraps of food while 4,500 trucks are lined up at the border with supplies rotting inside.


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Despite the Canadian Parliament's vote in March 2024 to stop arms exports to Israel, Canadians remain in the dark about the arms trade. Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, after approving a surge in weapons exports during the initial months of the conflict, has yet to provide public information about these sales and the current status of export permits.

The Right to Protest and the Need for Peace

The protests on Canadian campuses bring together a diversity of people around a common aim: a unified call for a ceasefire that resonates from every corner of our public institutions. These protests have gained momentum as a response to Israel’s relentless violence in Gaza and the role of our government in this conflict in providing arms and other military equipment. Peaceful protests are a fundamental pillar of human rights law. Yet, on May 9th, Calgary police used shields, batons and flash-bang explosives to forcibly remove protesters from the peaceful encampment at the University of Calgary. This heavy-handed approach mirrors the troubling trends seen across other North American universities. Although the McGill student protest in Quebec has been entirely peaceful and the Quebec Superior Court twice rejected requests to dismantle the occupation, Premier François Legault has called on police to clear the encampments. Similarly, Ontario Premier Doug Ford has demanded the same in his province.  History has shown us time and time again that heavy-handed policing can escalate tensions and disproportionately impact marginalized communities.

Going Further, Together

This moment calls for us to reaffirm our commitment to the rights of free expression and the urgent need for a meaningful response to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Our calls are not isolated acts; we are a connected global movement that is all calling for the same: peace and justice. It is people power that makes change possible. But it is not enough. Our leaders must do more to support a complete, lasting ceasefire in Gaza and protect the right to protest on Canadian campuses.

Oxfam Canada will continue to focus on the people of Gaza through our advocacy and humanitarian efforts. We are committed to intensifying our work to advocate for a permanent ceasefire and for Canada to uphold humanitarian and international human rights law by ceasing all arms exports to Israel. We will push for an end to the occupation and for a future where both Palestinians and Israelis can live in peace and dignity. The words of June Jordan, American poet and activist, ring truer every day:

“Palestine is a moral litmus test for struggles against injustice everywhere in the world.”

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