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Ontario university first in Canada to reach agreement with protesters calling for divestment

An Ontario university is the first major educational institution in Canada to reach an agreement with on-campus protestors and vows not to invest in companies benefitting from the war in Gaza.

Administrators and encampment organizers at Ontario Tech University in Oshawa said Monday that they had reached an agreement, bringing the campus protests against investments connected to Israel’s military to an end.

“We worked with students to address their humanitarian support requests and subsequently reached an agreement. The encampment will be dismantled on May 20, 2024,” the university said in a statement. “We were able to reach an agreement with our students by establishing a Presidential Advisory Committee, primarily composed of diverse students, to explore the development of responsible investment practices.”

Ontario Tech University is the first major educational institution in Canada to reach an agreement with protesters. Encampment organizer Waddah Saleh said the university was open to having meaningful conversations with students from the start, which helped bring about the agreement.

In the agreement, signed by President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Steven Murphy, the school says it will publish a report by fall outlining all its investments and financial holdings.

The agreement states that while the university “is not aware of investments in any companies that are benefiting” from the ongoing war in Gaza, it will establish a working group to review best practices and make recommendations about any future investments with “particular attention to companies involved in arms manufacturing and delivery and/or benefitting from military action in Palestine.”

Saleh said that students have been protesting through rain and sunshine outside the university’s north Oshawa campus, and are relieved to have reached a deal. He said students were driven to keep on protesting until an agreement was reached due to the scale and severity of the war and humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

“I think the one thing that really kept us going was the scenes and the videos and the stories of what we hear coming out of Gaza of what’s happening to civilians, the citizens, the children,” he said. “You see this and you wonder what can we do?”

The university has also committed to funding three undergraduate scholarships for Palestinians displaced by the war, beginning in the fall semester. The school has also stated that any students and faculty who participated in the encampment will be protected from “academic and/or employment-based retaliation.”

Protests and encampments have sprung up on campuses across Canada in response to Israel’s military assault on Gaza, which began late last year. The United Nations has reported that more than 35,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the war started.

Student protesters across the country are calling on their universities to divest from companies supplying weapons or other materials to the Israeli government. Their actions mirror similar protest methods from the early 1980s that successfully pressured universities across North America to divest from a number of major companies that operated in apartheid South Africa.

At the University of Toronto’s downtown campus, hundreds of students remain camped out, as several rounds of negotiations between encampment leaders and the school have not led to an agreement.

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