ontario news watch

Pro-Palestinian protesters and counter-protesters face off at new Montreal encampment

MONTREAL — Pro-Palestinian protesters and counter-protesters faced off on Tuesday afternoon at a downtown Montreal square, where a new encampment tied to the war in the Gaza Strip was set up over the weekend.

The two sides were separated by a line of police officers at Victoria Square, about one kilometre south of a similar encampment on the lower field of McGill University’s downtown campus, which was set up in late April.

Earlier in the day, protesters at Victoria Square demanded Quebec’s pension fund manager — Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec — divest from investments tied to Israel and for the provincial government to close its office in the Middle East country.

Benoît Allard, spokesperson for the encampment, says the protesters are asking for the immediate divestment from 87 companies “complicit with Israeli occupation and ongoing genocide.” He says the Caisse de dépôt has more than $14 billion in investments linked to Israel.

“We are trying to expand the movement started by students on campuses,” said Allard, adding that Victoria Square is on public land. He also confirmed that on Monday night, protesters tried to take down the statue of Queen Victoria, located on the square named after the late monarch. Allard said the statue is a symbol of colonialism.

Rabbi Reuben Poupko, one of the counter-protesters gathered at the square on Tuesday, said the presence of the encampment in a public space was “disheartening” and that Quebec’s pension fund manager should embrace Israel because of the country’s prosperity and democratic values.

“Any person with any business sense would invest in Israel,” he said, adding that Israel is defending itself in the war in Gaza.

In a statement, the Caisse de dépôt said it is “not making any new investments in war zones until further notice.” The Caisse said its total investments in Israel represent less than one per cent of its portfolio, but the fund manager didn’t say it would divest from the country.

The Montreal police said in a statement it has officers on the ground monitoring the new encampment. “The role of police officers in such a situation is to ensure peace, good order and the safety of all involved, while respecting rights and freedoms,” the force said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 25, 2024.

Joe Bongiorno, The Canadian Press