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Protesters remove tents from U of T encampment, spray paint ‘We will return’ on grass

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Patches of grass that were entirely covered by tents were once again visible at King’s College Circle Wednesday as protesters at the pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Toronto (U of T) campus cleared out before a court-enforced deadline came into effect.

The protesters left a parting message, spray-painting the words, “We will return,” on the grass where the encampment used to be.

Mohammad Yassim, the spokesperson for Occupy U of T, said they would be departing the encampment before the 6 p.m. deadline.

“We are leaving on our terms to protect our community from the violence of the University of Toronto is eager is clearly eager to unleash upon us,” said Yassim.

“Our continued occupation through the summer convocation period was a massive victory,” added Yassim.

U of T President Meric Gertler said that he is pleased that protesters ended the encampment peacefully.

“Members of our community continue to be free to exercise their right to free speech and lawful protest at the University of Toronto,” read his statement.

A group of pro-Palestinian protestors moved from U of T campus onto College Street before heading up to Yonge and Bloor Streets where they eventually dispersed.

Participants were seen removing personal valuables and supplies from the encampment earlier on Wednesday.

Student protestor Sara Rasikh said Wednesday that regardless of whether or not the encampment comes down, they will continue their activism on campus.

“The encampment has proven to be an extremely powerful tactic. It took for us to establish this encampment for U of T to even approach the negotiating table, for them to even utter the word ‘Palestine,’” she said.

“Going forward into the future of course at some point this encampment will have to come down. That does not mean that we are leaving, we will continue applying pressure on this very campus.”

An Ontario judge granted the university the injunction it was seeking on Tuesday.

“The court orders that the respondents and any and all persons of this order having knowledge of this Order, no later than 6 p.m. on July 3 shall remove all structures, tents, encampments and items of personal property placed or created or imposed by them at Front Campus and King’s College Circle,” read the decision by Justice Markus Koehnen.

Koehnen added that while there is no evidence the encampment participants have been violent or antisemitic, the demonstration has taken away the university’s ability to control what happens in the area known as King’s College Circle. 

He said property owners generally decide what happens on their property, and if protesters can take that power for themselves, there is nothing to stop a stronger group from coming and taking over the space from the current protesters. 

He said that leads to chaos, and his order gives police the authority to arrest and remove anyone who knows about it and contradicts it. 

Koehnen’s decision does not prevent protests on campus, but does prevent them from camping overnight or erecting structures that block access to university property.

In a brief statement on Tuesday, police said they would enforce the order, adding that they won’t disclose operational details. However, they noted that the court order states that police action is at their discretion. 

On Wednesday afternoon, Toronto Police asked protestors to “please leave voluntarily” in a post on X.

As the deadline neared, they issued another warning via X at around 3:00 p.m. saying “refusing to leave disobeys a court order and ostructs police in their duty to enforce. Both are criminal offences”

“Having a criminal record has serious long-term consequences. Please leave voluntarily to avoid police action,” the post said.

If the encampment is not voluntarily cleared by 6 p.m., participants could face forcible removement by police, disciplinary sanctions from the university and prosecution for trespassing.

The protesters set up camp on May 2 and previously said they would stay put until the school agrees to their demands, which include disclosing and divesting from investments in companies profiting from Israel’s offensive in Gaza.

The court ruling said the university has procedures in place to consider divestment requests and has offered the protesters an expedited process.

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