At 4:00 am on May 2, 50 students removed part of the fence surrounding King’s College Circle and set up an encampment, which they refer to as the “People’s Circle for Palestine.”

Members of the protest — organized by UofT Occupy for Palestine (O4P) — are calling on the university to divest from companies supplying the Israeli military and terminate partnerships with Israeli academic institutions. Over the past ten days, U of T raised safety concerns over the encampment, protesters received community supportUTSU issued a statement in solidarity with the students, and students felt unheard in talks with U of T. 

As O4P continues their encampment in King’s College Circle, until the university publicly commits to meeting their demands, The Varsity is providing coverage of the camp for five days.

With files from Olya Fedossenko, Isabella Reny, Kaisa Kasekamp, Rubin Beshi, and Georgia Kelly.  

Disclosure: Naomi Klein served as The Varsity’s Features Editor and Editor-in-Chief from 1991-1992 and 1992-1993, respectively.

May 11, 2024 (Day 10)

  • 6:30 pm — O4P holds a Nakba Day Vigil to commemorate the 1948 Nakba, which refers to the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Around 200 people surround the encampment in front of Simcoe Hall in honour of the vigil.
  • 12:40 pm —  O4P spokespeople Aviral (Avi) Dhamija and Kalliopé Anvar McCall, U of T professor Robyn Maynard, and Klein begin a press conference in front of Simcoe Hall.
    • Klein says that “when antisemitism is misrepresented as a political stance against genocide [and] against a government that is committing war crimes before the eyes of the world… it actually empowers real antisemitism.” She also says that she’s “never seen the kind of repression” that the encampment has faced after being part of two divestment movements at U of T, including the South African apartheid and the fossil fuel divestments.
  • 12:22 pm — O4P spokesperson Sara Rasikh confirms that around 150 people stayed in the encampment overnight.

May 10, 2024 (Day 9)

  • 10:10 pm — O4P organizers begin to project news from Gaza to the campers staying overnight at the encampment.
  • 7:15 pm — U of T alum and Jewish Faculty Network member Naomi Klein visits the encampment to express her solidarity with the students. “Every minute, every hour, every day that this camp stands, it stands for something,” Klein says in a speech to the protesters. “It obviously stands in solidarity with Palestine, with Palestinians in Gaza, in Rafah, under attack, under assault, under genocidal fury…But it also, I think, stands for a vision of the future.”
    • Klein tells students that her wish for the encampment is for students to stay safe, not be repressed, and not face state violence for their morals and ethics. “The situation is absolutely untenable and you’re on the right side of history,” she says.
  • 3:35 pm — A counter protester forcibly enters the encampment and starts harassing the protesters. The protesters form a U-shape barricade around the counter protester to protect the other campers’ identities. A Campus Safety officer intervenes and tells the counter protester that the encampment is a “peaceful protest,” escorting them off of the premises.
  • 1:35 pm — O4P member Desai leads the Jummah prayer. In an interview with The Varsity, he explains that Jummah is an obligatory prayer that takes place once a week, usually in mosques, meant to remind Muslims of how to uphold their “values and belief systems.” The prayers will continue as long as the encampment stands.
    • Members from U of T’s Muslim Student Association (MSA) helped Desai by cleaning up the gathering place and scheduling prayer times. 
    • While the MSA is not directly involved in organizing the encampment or having a formal presence within the space, they are in support of the protesters. On May 7, the MSA posted an open letter addressed to U of T President Meric Gertler and Welsh, endorsing O4P’s demands to the university. As of May 10, 58 U of T student clubs and unions have signed the open letter.
  • 10:25 am — O4P spokesperson Mackey confirms that 200 people stayed at the encampment overnight, with around 120 tents remaining set up on the field of King’s College Circle.

May 9, 2024 (Day 8)

  • 5:00 pm —  O4P holds a Tatreez session in the encampment. Tatreez is both a “traditional Palestinian embroidery” and a skill that some Palestinian women learn as young girls and “practice into adulthood.”
  • 3:00 pm — South African human rights lawyer Fatima Hassan visits the encampment to speak about Canada’s involvement in “divestment and sanctions, and connections to Palestine.”
  • 12:50 pm — O4P spokesperson Mackey confirms that around 200 students stayed at the encampment overnight, with approximately 120 tents set up in the field.
  • 11:30 am — The Movement Defence Committee — a group of legal experts who provide legal support to organizations and activists in Toronto — and Community Justice Collective — legal experts who provide free legal services to groups in the GTA — host a “Know Your Rights session” for protesters at the encampment. The O4P’s medic team holds a “medical safety” session as well.

May 8, 2024 (Day 7)

  • 8:57 pm — In their 5:55 pm email to students, Welsh and Hannah-Moffat called on the protesters to “urgently address concerning safety issues,” including firewood piles and two burning fires in the encampment. Erin Mackey, a fifth-year student studying environmental justice and political science and an O4P spokesperson, told The Varsity that in the student representatives’ meeting with the administration, the students had given the university “prior notice” of the fires within the encampment. Mackey explained that Indigenous elders have been staying at the encampment in solidarity with students, and the fires are sacred and for “religious and spiritual purposes.” 
  • 8:34 pm — Some of the protesters in the encampment took part in a Maghrib prayer for those who have lost their loved ones and lives in Gaza as well as in the recent bombings in Rafah.
  • 8:18 pm — The counter protesters dispersed after O4P organizers called on fellow protesters to disengage and no longer continue chanting against them. Most of the protesters moved toward the centre of the camp, with some guarding the entrance to the encampment.
  • 7:20 pm — Approximately seven Toronto Police Service (TPS) officers formed a line with eight special constables between the counterprotesters and protesters as they came face-to-face with each other outside of the encampment. Chants continued from both sides, while more officers came to the scene to stand between the protests and monitor the situation.
  • 7:14 pm — One counter protester, a PhD student at U of T — who requested anonymity due to potential threats of “professional repercussions” — said that it’s been “challenging to find a voice to express my feelings … about what’s been happening in the Middle East [and] on campus.” They explained that they needed to show their support and attend the counter protest against the student encampment. Another counter protester — who requested anonymity due to safety concerns — said that the goal of the counter protest was to “stand strong in the face of hate.”
    • Members of O4P have stated that they have been providing people entering the camp with “community guidelines,” that prohibit any forms of hate speech within the encampment, including antisemitism.
  • 7:04 pm — Around 200 counter protesters convened behind Sid Smith, with plans to march towards King’s College Circle and protest outside of the encampment.
  • 5:55 pm
    • Vice-Provost, Students Sandy Welsh and Vice-President, People Strategy, Equity and Culture Professor Kelly Hannah-Moffat sent an email update on the encampment to students. They wrote that they are continuing to work “towards dialogue” with O4P protesters, but want to “urgently address concerning safety issues before any further discussions take place.” The statement mentions concerns over hateful speeches, altercations, fires in the encampment, significant tent density, and a vehicle driving into the encampment. 
    • They also discussed the impacts of two recent O4P demonstrations that included smoke bombs involving “thousands” of students in the evening. They noted that some community members feel unwelcomed, and that U of T “encourages the widest range of debate, and has a high threshold for expression, including speech and imagery that is uncomfortable and offensive to some,” however they noted that “discrimination and harassment exceed this threshold.” 
    • The university “look[s] forward to resolving these concerns and moving on to substantive discussions as quickly as possible.”
  • 2:00 pm — O4P holds a reading circle at their library tent. Its organizer, Abdurraheem Desai, a student studying philosophy — who requested not to disclose their year of study due to safety concerns amid protesters receiving threats of violence — is from the Watermelon Coalition. The coalition originated in November 2023 and has set up reading circles within the encampment to provide the protesters’ with books — including The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine and The Wretched of the Earth. The readings’ purpose is to give students context without having to take specific courses to improve their understanding. “The idea there is to try understanding the context of the Palestinian people. And also, to some extent, understanding what exactly resistance means for Palestinian people,” said Desai. He found that the meetings have been successful, with around 15 to 20 people in attendance. The encampment also has a library made up of donations from a variety of different genres.
  • 12:30 pm — O4P publishes an Instagram post, stating that the “University of Toronto Refuses to Discuss Divestment.” The post writes that O4P has met with the administration “twice about safety and sanitation concerns, hoping to move beyond them into substantive discussions” but that U of T is making it difficult for O4P to do so. The post states that O4P refuses to discuss anything other than their demands.
  • 11:33 am — Press conference concludes.
  • 11:29 am — O4P’s media liaison and graduate student Sara Rasikh highlights in her response to a reporter that “reducing the Palestinian resistance movement to hate speech is hate speech” and that students have been using “soft approaches” against the university for six months in asking for divestment but the university has been “unresponsive.”
  • 11:15 am — As O4P live streams their press conference on Instagram, assistant professor Robyn Maynard of the Department of Historical and Cultural Studies emphasizes that “students are not a threat to safety.”
  • 11:00 am — O4P began a press conference in the centre of King’s College Circle. Student protesters emphasize that they will not rest until U of T addresses divestment demands. Professor Deborah Cowen of the Department of Geography and Planning raises concerns over Campus Safety and Toronto Police Services surveillance that they claim to be focusing on what happens inside the encampment rather than counterprotesters outside.
  • 8:00 am — Around 200 students remained in the encampment overnight, and 150 tents are set up.

May 7, 2024 (Day 6)

  • 10:25 pm — Chants concluded and the protest dissolved.
  • 10:00 pm — A crowd of around 250 protesters — both inside and outside the King’s College Circle fences — remain in front of Simcoe Hall, chanting “Viva, Viva Palestina” (long live Palestine) and “divest your institution, this is the revolution.”
  • 9:50 pm — Around eight Toronto Police Services (TPS) officers are on bikes in between Simcoe Hall and Knox College, as protesters wave Palestinian flags and continue to chant, “there is only one solution, it’s the student revolution.”
  • 9:35 pm — Five TPS cars are parked at the intersection of College Street and St. George Street.
  • 9:25 pm — No campus safety officers are visibly present in front of Simcoe Hall.
  • 9:10 pm — Protesters continue to chant “disclose, divest, we will not stop, we will not rest,” before one protester speaks to the crowd through a megaphone that, “We will not move, we will not be pushed aside, we will not rest until our demands are met.”
  • 8:55 pm — Crowd of around 500 protesters of the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM) Toronto — a grassroots youth organization aiming to unite Palestinians in North America — is gathered in front of Simcoe Hall and chanting alongside around 100 protesters within the encampment in King’s College Circle.
  • 12:25 pm — O4P posts daily programming schedule of two events on Instagram stories: a reading discussion group by assistant professor of the Department of Anthropology, Zoë Wool at 11:00 am and the PYM Toronto emergency rally condemning the violence in Rafah at the Toronto Consulate General of Israel at 6:00 pm.
  • 12:00 pm — Around 200 student protesters are estimated to have stayed overnight at the student encampment. Approximately 150 tents are set up on the field.