U of T encampment organizers raise concerns about illegal surveillance

Pro-Palestinian protesters at the University of Toronto encampment are sounding the alarm about surveillance tactics they claim are being used against them. Tina Yazdani has the response from Toronto police and the university.

Nearly two weeks into the pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Toronto, protesters continue to clash with police and school administration with the latest controversy involving surveillance.

Organizers tell CityNews they are concerned about cameras pointing directly at the encampment set up at King’s College Circle, claiming they have been recently installed in order to monitor protesters.

“The university is actively surveilling students and continues to lie about this fact and work in tandem with the Toronto Police Service,” Kalliopé Anvar McCall, a fourth-year student at the school tells CityNews.

“You’re going see that there is one camera pointing directly at the encampment. That camera also has a microphone on it. We believe that’s being used for audio and visual surveillance,” adds Avi, another fourth-year student.

Both the university and Toronto police say no surveillance is being used to track protesters.

In a statement, university officials say all video equipment in the area has been there a long time as part of usual campus safety practices and is being used as such.

“Neither the University nor Toronto Police have added anything new in recent weeks. None of the equipment is capturing audio, and the university is not using any form of facial recognition technology or artificial intelligence for surveillance.”

As for specific concerns about a camera at the south end of the encampment, the university says that was installed several years ago and belongs to a construction company still working in that area.

Toronto police add that unless there is a security or public safety concern, their involvement at the encampment will only occur at the request of the university.

Organizers of the encampment accuse the police of lying, claiming the surveillance is a violation of their privacy and freedom of expression rights.

“Face surveillance is the most dangerous of the many new technologies used by law enforcement,” said Robyn Maynard, an assistant professor at U of T and an expert on policing, surveillance and criminalization. “It’s particularly a risk posed to Black and racialized people.”

Meanwhile, organizers say they’re making no headway with the university on their demands that the university disclose ties with the Israeli government and divest from Israeli companies.

“What we’ve seen so far day 10 is this bureaucratic slowdown of any possibility of conversation,” said Avi.

Onlookers tell CityNews they wish the space were more inclusive of those with different views on the conflict.

“I would feel great if every 40th sign was ‘free the hostages’ or ‘peace’ ‘two-state solution.’ I just don’t see anything of that,” said Bryan Greenbaum, a teacher at York University. “So it’s hurtful to me as a Jew but I still respect their right to be there.”

Organizers of the pro-Palestinian encampment have said their demonstration is multi-racial, multi-faith and that they oppose all forms of hate and discrimination, including antisemitism.

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