Quebec’s higher education minister is calling for calm after a clash between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian students at Concordia University ended with an arrest and several injuries Wednesday.
“Too many students fear for their safety, we cannot tolerate these excesses,” Pascale Déry wrote in a social media post, adding that she spoke with the university’s principal “to ensure that order is restored on campus.”
The Montreal police say officers were called to the university’s downtown campus around 1:30 p.m. to assist security guards trying to manage a confrontation between students.
“According to initial information, a conflict related to events in the Middle East had degenerated between two groups of students,” police spokesperson Caroline Chèvrefils wrote in an email response.
Police say a 22-year-old female student was arrested for assaulting a 54-year-old security guard.
A 19-year-old security guard and 23-year-old student were also injured in the melee, but none of the injuries were severe enough to require hospital care.
It wasn’t immediately clear Wednesday what led to the confrontation erupting.
Videos circulated online show shoving matches between students and tense face-offs. Duelling chants are heard in the background as security guards scramble to keep people separated.
In one video, students fight over what appears to be an Israeli flag near a table set up with posters calling for the release of hostages held by Hamas.
In a statement, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said the confrontation started after Jewish students set up the table in an area sanctioned for student activities.
“Jewish students were shoved, harassed, and faced a barrage of hate speech including racial slurs such as ‘k-ke,’” the centre said.
By Wednesday evening, several groups were denouncing a video they allege shows a student using the ethnic slur during the confrontations.
In an interview with the Montreal Gazette, the student adamantly denied ever using the word, insisting they instead said “c-nt.”
“I didn’t even know what that word meant before this blew up,” said the 29-year-old student, who uses the pronouns they/them.
Given the online backlash over the video, the student asked not to be identified for safety concerns.
The student explained they arrived at campus for class when they heard the dispute going on.
They were told a group of pro-Palestinian students were holding a fundraiser when a group of pro-Israel students started heckling them.
The student made their way over to the pro-Palestinian side. As tensions grew, a woman asked if they were gay, the student said.
“I said, ‘What does that matter?’ And she said, ’You know they would f—ing rape you,’” the student explained.
“After that was said, well that would be the video,” the student said. “Which is me saying, ’Just so you know, that’s pinkwashing and you’re a c-nt.
“That’s more or less the context of the video,” they added. “I’m very adamant I did not use that word. I did not.”
In an email response Wednesday evening, Concordia University spokesperson Vannina Maestracci said police were called to help clear the protesters when one of the university’s security agents was injured.
Maestracci noted there were Concordia students among the pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups present but also people who don’t attend the university.
“We do not tolerate intimidation or violence on our campus and we will be looking further into today’s incident,” Maestracci wrote. “The safety of our community is our priority.”
The incident comes after a synagogue and Jewish community centre were firebombed in Montreal’s West Island this week.
Mayor Valérie Plante condemned both incidents in a social media post Wednesday evening.
“Acts of violence such as those that affected Concordia students today and the attack on a synagogue yesterday are unacceptable,” Plante wrote on X (formerly Twitter).
“These acts of hatred have absolutely no place in Montreal, a city of peace, security and kindness,” Plante added. “More than ever, we must resist violence, remain united and demonstrate for peace.”
Montreal Member of Parliament Marc Miller also criticized what happened at Concordia.
“It is sickening to see the violent targeting of Jewish students take place at Concordia University today,” Miller wrote on social media. “In no way is this behaviour acceptable in any context. It must cease immediately!”
Several groups have spoken out about tensions caused by the Israel-Hamas war being felt in Montreal since the conflict erupted.
Over the last month, the city has seen a series of pro-Israel protests demanding the hostages be released.
There have also been several pro-Palestinian rallies calling for an immediate ceasefire in the conflict and denouncing the response by Israeli forces.
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