Benjamin Netanyahu was scheduled to speak at Concordia University today. There was, as advertised, a student-activist led protest, which succeeded in effecting the cancellation of the address.
Police presence was unavoidable in the few blocks surrounding the Hall Building and the Library Building, which, facing each other across a busy avenue, form the nucleus of the university's downtown campus. Access to the general area was obstructed to varying extents at various points throughout the day. A line of nine diagonally-parked police vans and one wagon parked along the western edge of the library. Personal searches were carried out for at least part of the day, generally at entrances to school property or at barricaded streets. Classes in the Hall Building -- the primary classroom venue -- were cancelled, as were (eventually) all other classes. Employees were informed they were free to leave work at any time. You are reading this because the library staff chose to stay.
The main entrance to the Hall Building, which opens onto the street space between itself and the library, was the central location of the demonstration, which was displaced when police moved into and took over the space. As in past rallies, some protestors reconvened one block to the west on a small, triangular boulevard centered by a statue of Norman Bethune (although only on the edges, as the area immediately surrounding Bethune is pigeon territory, and they protect it).
Police began leaving the area in significant numbers shortly before 4 pm. The crowd, which might have peaked at 1500 (more than half of which at any given time seemed to be spectators rather than direct participants) lost its center and began to disperse as well. (By this stage in protest politics, it's a pretty formalized mechanic.) Critical mass had been disrupted hours earlier when police used tear gas and pepper spray. At least five arrests have been reported thus far. A metal street-barricade was thrown through the exterior window of a side-facing room in the Hall Building, behind which could be seen a panel of various badges and emblems; some news reports claim that activists, frustrated at being denied access to the interior of the building, broke in.
According to the Globe and Mail website ( http://www.globeandmail.com ), Netanyahu criticized security for the invitation-only lecture, suggesting that "the most violent protesters could have been arrested prior to the event".
Afterward, the liveliest exchanges were not between the usual factions but among those against student-union backing of such protests, frustrated at paying for overtly political representation as much as for missed classes, against those arguing in favor of a broader definition of "education".
Salut, Montreal, hello! Concordia has come back to school!
Personal editorial comment: Happily, a lot of people seem to be linking from here to "freedom of speech" memes, which (hopefully) means I've managed to maintain a relatively neutral tone, as was my intention.
Second editorial comment: Of course, the ideologues are never far behind, sadly.
Update: There was actually a big clash inside the building as well; protestors got inside, and some of the audience was already there. Windows were definitely broken, chairs and tables were thrown at police from an upper floor, and people on higher floors were escorted out.
The Rector posted a message that read -- and here, it is possible that I am paraphrasing somewhat -- "Tsk tsk. Bad students. No talking about the Middle East in organized groups on campus until I say you can come out of your corner." Mr Netanyahu said unguestworthy things about the school, the city, the police, the mayor, freedom of assembly, and the room service at his hotel. (Okay, I'm lying about that last part.)
Next stop, Toronto! Then, Winnipeg -- which is almost enough to make me wish I still lived there. (Okay, I'm lying about that last part.)