Ontario university reaches deal with protesters calling for divestment

An Ontario university is the first major educational institution in Canada to reach a deal with protesters on campus and promise not to invest in companies that profit from the war in Gaza.

Administrators and organizers of the Ontario Tech University camp in Oshawa said Monday they had reached an agreement, ending protests on campus against investments related to Israel’s military.

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

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

In the agreement, signed by president and vice-chancellor Dr. Steven Murphy, the school says it will publish a report in the fall that will outline all of its investments and financial holdings.

The agreement states that while the university “is not aware of investments in any company that is benefiting” from the ongoing war in Gaza, it will establish a working group to review best practices and make recommendations on any future investments with “special attention to companies.” involved in the manufacture and delivery of weapons and/or benefiting from military actions in Palestine.”

Saleh said students have been protesting in the rain and sun outside the university’s campus in north Oshawa, and are relieved to have reached an agreement. He said the students were forced to continue protesting until an agreement was reached due to the scale and severity of the war and humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

“I think the only thing that really kept us going were the scenes, the videos and the stories of what we heard from Gaza about what is happening to civilians, citizens and 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 with the fall semester. The school has also stated that all students and teachers who participated in the camp will be protected from “academic and/or employment retaliation.”

Protests and encampments have emerged at universities across Canada in response to Israel’s military attack on Gaza, which began late last year. The United Nations has reported that more than 35,000 people have died in Gaza since the war began.

Student protesters across the country are calling on their universities to stop investing in companies that supply 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 several major companies operating in apartheid South Africa.

On the University of Toronto’s downtown campus, hundreds of students remain camped out, as several rounds of negotiations between camp leaders and the school have failed to lead to an agreement.