Politics

Protesters at UVic say they don’t feel safe after attacks by man

One UVic professor, who didn’t want to be named, described being pushed to the ground by the man, who is not part of the UVic community, on Tuesday evening.

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VICTORIA — Students and faculty at a pro-Palestinian encampment on the University of Victoria campus say they have been harassed and assaulted by a man hanging around the camp.

One UVic professor, who didn’t want to be named, described being pushed to the ground by the man, who isn’t part of the UVic community, on Tuesday evening.

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The man had a verbal altercation with someone in the camp shortly before the incident, the professor said. When he returned a few minutes later to the camp entrance, the professor stood in his way, trying to prevent him from reaching students.

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“He pushes up against me and kind of grabs me and shoves me into a pallet that was kind of on the inside of the encampment,” he said.

Later that evening, the same man returned to the camp and was blocked. The professor saw him throw punches at several people and at least one woman was hit in the face, he said.

Police responded, as well as campus security, who told the man he was banned from the campus.

The next day, a student arrived at the encampment covered in scratches on his face and body, and said he had been attacked by the man on his way to campus, he said.

The group talked to campus security and were told they couldn’t do much, the professor said. They were told to alert security if the man was seen on campus, so police could be called, he said.

“I’d like to see some kind of action taken by the UVic admin towards that. I certainly don’t feel safe in my own workplace right now,” the professor said, adding he fears an escalation in violence.

Eight faculty members have signed a letter to UVic president Kevin Hall calling on the university’s administration to ensure the safety of students in the encampment.

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They say the man has been circling the encampment with up to three large dogs, often off-leash, since May 1. He has shouted homophobic, xenophobic and anti-Palestinian comments at the group, they say.

They say the physical altercations have taken place in view of campus security and additional private security hired to keep students safe, but neither intervened to stop the assaults.

The person attacked in the third incident was taken to an emergency room with a bleeding nose and a severe concussion, the letter says.

Faculty members are asking the university to ensure the man doesn’t return to the campus and to notify the university community of the assaults.

Deputy Chief Robert Warren said in a statement Thursday afternoon that Saanich police have opened an assault investigation, and are encouraging anyone worried about safety on campus to contact campus security or police.

Situations that pose an immediate risk to public safety should be reported to 911, while non-emergency matters can be reported to Saanich police by calling 250-475-4321, cops said.

“We will continue in our efforts to engage with those choosing to participate in the encampment and encourage them to bring forward any safety and security questions or concerns that we can assist with,” Warren said.

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The university didn’t make someone available for an interview Thursday. In a statement, a spokesperson said the man was escorted off the campus after security was contacted Tuesday.

“We take the safety of our community very seriously. If anyone has concerns for their personal safety — both inside and out of the encampment — we encourage them to contact campus security,” the spokesperson said.

Those camping out on a central part of campus since May 1 want the university to divest from corporations supporting Israel, cut academic ties in Israel and “condemn the genocide and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians,” the camp’s Instagram page says.

The university says on its website it has been in contact with members of the encampment and is having continuing conversations with students about the university’s investment policy.

The university is limiting access to several buildings, including McPherson Library and the Elliot Lab Wing, with only front entrances open during business hours.

It says it’s working with Saanich police to keep everyone on the campus safe, including those in the camp. Many people have asked for an increased security presence and additional security support has been hired, the university’s website says.

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Pro-Palestinian protesters have set up encampments on campuses across North America, including at the University of B.C., the University of Ottawa and McGill University in Montreal.

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