Support pours into U of T encampment

May 6, 2024

Support pours into U of T encampment

As the Peoples’ Circle for Palestine encampment grows, the University of Toronto continues warning against violence breaking out. But four days in, demonstrators and their supporters continued celebrating peacefully while restating their demands and drowning out a counter-protest.

The encampment at the University of Toronto’s King’s College Circle, referred to by those there as the Peoples’ Circle for Palestine, had grown to nearly 200 tents by its fourth day, May 5, up from the initial 55 when students took over the area. They are demanding the university divest from companies and institutions with ties to Israel and its military.

Donated food, water and even tents have also continued pouring into the encampment from the general public, to the point that the organizing students have had to re-donate much of it to local food banks. 

“We want to make sure that we're sharing the love and ensuring that unhoused folks also have what they need,” says Erin Mackey, a fourth year student and spokesperson with Occupy U of T For Palestine.   

On social media channels, some who criticize the encampments have raised questions as to who is funding them, going as far as to make baseless accusations that Hamas and “professional protesters” are behind them.

Mackey laughs those claims off.

“We're getting [support] from the community. People are reaching their networks and into their pockets, because they want to end this university’s complicity in this genocide,” she told The Media Co-op at the encampment. “The amount of support has been overwhelming but really heartwarming, because there's so many people who are standing together.”

In honour of the National Day for Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit People (MMIWG2S), also known as #RedDressDay, a group of Indigenous demonstrators also ended their rally on May 5 at the encampment to show their support.

As people entered the encampment, they were greeted at an onboarding table, where organizers let them know of the various events and programs set up to honour #RedDressDay and what Mackey calls “cross-movement solidarity.” Among these were a sacred fire and a drumming circle. 

“The energy today in particular has just been really, really beautiful,” says Mackey. “It really reminded me of what exactly we're fighting for and the world that we want to build, and that includes … standing in solidarity with Indigenous people across Turtle Island and beyond.”

Small counter protest

Outside the encampment, a small group of 10 to 20 counter protesters flying Israeli flags showed up in the early afternoon. 

Among them were members of the former Jewish Defence League, a far-right organization promoting Jewish nationalism whose members engage in anti-Palestinian racism, often clashing violenting with demonstrators. Though former director of the Canadian branch, Meir Weinstein, stepped down in 2021, former JDL members now under the banner of Israel Now have continued showing up, , though with a very diminished presence. 

The group yelled insults like “terrorists” and for pro-Palestinian demonstrators, including Indigenous supporters and international students, to “get out of our country,” while also intermittently singing the Canadian national anthem. 


They were mostly drowned out by the pro-Palestinian demonstrators and their supporters, who were separated from the counter protesters by a line of security guards. The small group disbanded about an hour or so later.

While that counter protest took place, the entrance to the encampment was kept closed to the general public and media as a safety measure. A video has circulated afterwards of a Jewish professor complaining that they were being blocked from getting inside, “because I am Jewish.” 

In the video, Marshals at the entrance are heard repeatedly telling him that they would “check with folks inside” and let him know what the protocols are. Everyone going into the encampment, including media, is vetted at the entrance for the safety of those inside.

Critics on social media have claimed that he was denied entrance because of his religion. However, many Jewish professors, including members of the Faculty Jewish Network, and Jewish students have been inside the encampment from the first day. 

“As a member of @FacultyJewish, I was at the camp & asked to speak with this prof,” professor Deborah Cowen tweeted, noting the person had shown up “at the exact time of a planned JDL counter protest.”  

“I assure you it was his bad behaviour that led them to close the gate,” Cowen added.

‘We keep us safe’

The U of T Vice-Provost of Students has told the student organizers they would be allowed to stay as long as they remained peaceful. However, the VP expressed concerns of the growing number of supporters showing up who were not students.

Mackey says that as a public institution located in the heart of Toronto’s downtown, the university is home to many people who are “active members of the U of T community who are also part of communities in other places.” 

Additionally, she says there are strict guidelines that everyone who enters the encampment is primed on. She says there is zero tolerance for anti-Palestinian racism, anti-black racism, Islamophobia or antisemitism, which has been respected by the overwhelming majority inside the encampment, organizers say.

While some critics have tried to paint students in encampments across Canada and the United States and their supporters as violent, Mackey says they are simply “perpetuating a false narrative” that distracts from “the real violence that is happening in Palestine.” 

It has arguably also perpetuated and justified the violent police repression that demonstrators have seen across U.S. campuses. 

The “real agitators,” says Mackey, are the “corporations, weapons manufacturers, and Israeli companies who are complicit in this genocide.”

As the encampments continue to grow and gain momentum, Mackey says they’re confident the students and all their supporters are ultimately the ones keeping them safe — not the administration, nor the police.

“We’ve been able to keep each other safe because of how strong this community is.”

Far from engaging with their demands, Mackey says over the last several days the university has only rehashed their old positions regarding not having direct investments, which the students “wholeheartedly discredit.” 

“We're not really interested in conversations. We've had those before,” says Mackey. “We’re interested in commitments. And we’re interested in the University of Toronto to divest from Israeli apartheid.”

Creative Commons Licence