President’s Statement to the Senate on June 10, 2024

Tabaret Hall
The president made the following statement to the Senate on June 10, 2024 :

For more than six weeks now, an encampment has been established at uOttawa.

Allow me to share a few thoughts on this.

We have tolerated the encampment so far and have sought to find peaceful ways of ending it.

Over the last few weeks, many meetings were held between representatives of the University at a senior level: Provost, Secretary General. Meaningful exchanges and good conversations took place. A negotiation is an exercise where there has to be some give-and-take in order to find a rightful solution. The parties must want to find a solution and eventually be ready to compromise.

The University has made numerous proposals: 

  1. For instance, it has disclosed its up-to-date list of holdings as of June 1st (which many universities refuse to do) and committed to doing so twice a year going forward.
  2. The University has proposed to give serious consideration to human rights issues in its holdings.
  3. It has proposed to set up special scholarships for Palestinian students, etc.

University proposals were conceived to better support Palestinian students and others forcibly displaced by war. 

Our proposals were dismissed without notice on Instagram, saying that they were “laughable”. 

There can be no resolution of the encampment if there is no willingness to work towards a solution. 

Since October 7th 2023, many groups have consistently been able to exercise their freedom of expression with regard to the Israel-Hamas conflict: conferences and various demonstrations have been held. They were allowed by the administration. 

Why? Because freedom of expression is fundamental to our mission, to what we are. However, in its application, freedom of expression is not always easy to navigate, but I think overall, we have done our best. I want to repeat what we have always said. There are limits to these freedoms. Those include others’ right to safety and security.

In the last few weeks there has been an escalation around the encampment. There have been repeated daily acts of vandalism on the campus as well as at the Shaw Center last weekend where a window was smashed. Intimidation around the encampment is a reality. Is this freedom of expression? Harassment and bullying have occurred repeatedly, including during the convocation ceremonies. Is this meaningful freedom of expression? A person has been assaulted this week. Is this freedom of expression? Access to the encampment zone is tightly controlled by protest organizers. Think about it. In a university, access to a space is restricted to certain persons depending on their political ideas. This plainly flies in the face of freedom of expression and academic freedom. This is very serious.

Personally, I do not think that an illegal encampment accompanied by repeated acts of vandalism are part of our cherished freedom of expression. I don’t think it brings any meaningful conversation per se. We certainly deserve better. I would invite senators to reflect on the seriousness of what is currently going on. We are a university where openness and freedoms should be the rule… and being able to speak with respect to each other should be the order of the day.

So, where does that leave us? The University is willing to restart the negotiation process, providing that there is a reasonable chance that it will lead to an agreement. Respect and the search of a solution must be at the heart of that peaceful process. I am confident that we can be successful and that we will not need to resort to other means. We have to get back to having a peaceful campus where everyone is comfortable and enjoys their full freedoms.