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EPS stands behind tactics used during pro-Palestinian camp clearing at U of A

The Edmonton Police Service stands behind the actions of officers involved in clearing a protest camp at University of Alberta.

EPS Chief Dale McFee and Deputy Chief Devin LaForce addressed the police response at a press conference Friday afternoon, defending the use of force and the need to clear the encampment. 

“There’s things that need to be abided by when safety is a concern, and the university made a call on that,” McFee said. “It was probably a really good call on their part when they have to protect thousands of students.”

The camp was set up on May 9 to pressure the university to cease support for Israel and any other companies “complicit in occupation, apartheid and genocide” in Gaza.

That night it reached 120 people in 40 tents, according to EPS. When police moved in on the camp early on May 1 on the request of the university, EPS estimates that number dropped to around 50 people.

Video and images posted to social media showed police using batons and pepper bullets against protesters, but EPS said that use of force was “minimal.”

Edmonton police use batons while clearing a protest at the University of Alberta in Edmonton the early morning of May 11, 2024. The camp-in protest was organized by students to condemn the war in Gaza and demand the university divest from companies “complicit in occupation, and apartheid and genocide” there. (Source: Instagram / university4palestine.yeg)“The unpleasantness of watching any video of a use of force doesn’t mean that the use of force was excessive,” he added. “Completely reasonable uses of force will be uncomfortable for most people to watch.” 

Three people were arrested. EPS said none were students.

LaForce said video taken by police shows – contrary to reports from protesters – campers were awake and waiting for police.

“All of the tents that police came across were empty. All of the occupiers were standing and refusing lawful direction,” LaForce said. “They weren’t laying down. They weren’t resting.”

“EPS claims to have cleared those tents – they did not,” said Nour Salhi, an organizer and spokesperson for the camp. “Community members keeping each other safe did so.”

The camp’s organizers maintain there was no need to call in police on the protest. Salhi said the camp was safe and peaceful, and tools cited by the U of A as potential weapons were tools for camping.

“We were not a group of violent individuals,” Salhi said. “At no point were we a threat to any members of the U of A community, including ourselves.”

EPS said the growing number of protesters and the gathering of tools and supplies suggested plans for a long-term occupation that was a “major concern” for the university.

EPS also said fire extinguishers on site posed a threat, as they could be used to “blind and to bludgeon” police.

“Those fire extinguishers, one actually offered by the university, were there to address concerns brought up by the institution,” Salhi rebutted.

Edmonton police say a report from the University of Illinois titled Defending the Camp found at the U of A camp was proof of organizers’ intent to further entrench. (Galen McDougall/CTV News Edmonton)A report from the University of Illinois titled Defending the Camp found at the camp, EPS said, was proof of organizers’ intentions to “be defiant and continue to resist.”

“If the camp were to become further entrenched, then this would subsequently require a more dynamic and resource heavy response that could result in the potential of more people being hurt and certainly a greater threat to public safety,” LaForce said.

EPS maintains no injuries were reported during the clearing and that a paramedic was on scene for anyone wanting medical care, while organizers reported minor injuries and one person needing urgent care in hospital.

While Premier Danielle Smith has expressed support for the clearing of the U of A camp, and a similar camp at the University of Calgary, she said her government would direct Alberta’s police watchdog to investigate alleged injuries caused by police during the clearing.

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