One person was arrested and at least three people were injured at Concordia University after an altercation related to the Israel-Hamas war lasted nearly three hours and turned violent, police said Wednesday.
Montreal police (SPVM) said they were called to the university in downtown Montreal at around 1:30 p.m. and helped security guards manage two groups of students at the Henry F. Hall Building.
Police say the conflict “degenerated” between the two student groups. Concordia confirmed the clash involved “Pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups, including students but also people from outside our community.”
Several videos posted on social media show students shoving and swearing during violent exchanges.
One of the videos shows what appears to be a booth set up in the building to raise awareness about the missing Israeli citizens who were taken hostage on Oct. 7 by Hamas, which Canada has designated as a terrorist organization.
The SPVM said the police intervention ended at around 4:15 p.m.
A 22-year-old student was arrested for assaulting a 54-year-old security guard, the SPVM said. The student was released on a promise to appear in court.
A 19-year-old security guard, as well as a 23-year-old student, were also injured “as a result of assaults” during the altercation.
Police say all three people suffered non-life-threatening injuries and did not need to go to hospital.
The police investigation is ongoing.
“We do not tolerate intimidation or violence on our campus and we will be looking further into today’s incident. The safety of our community is our priority,” wrote a spokesperson for Concordia in an emailed statement.
WITNESSES SPEAK OUT
Two people who were at Concordia when the clashes broke out shared what they saw with CTV News.
Eitan Kovac, a third-year political science student, said the StartUp Nation group helped set up a table in the Hall building to express solidarity with the hostages taken by Hamas. He said shortly after the event started, a group of Pro-Palestinian students showed up and started shouting at them.
Concordia University student Eitan Kovac. (CTV News)
Things escalated from there, he said, describing it as “A flagrant excuse to target Jews.”
“People were seconds away from assailing others, throwing stuff. We had a few incidents where people were throwing water bottles at us or decided to come to our booth and try to remove the Israeli flag or to remove pictures or posters of children, infants, elderly or anyone in between that is currently kidnapped and in Gaza,” Kovac said in an interview.
Sarah Shamy, who is not a Concordia student, said she went to the university Wednesday afternoon to buy a keffiyeh, a traditional Palestinian headdress, from a charity that was raising funds for humanitarian aid in Gaza.
Shamy, also a spokesperson for the Palestinian Youth Movement, said the group selling them had booked tables in the same area as the Jewish student group at the same time.
“The pro-Israel students were very hostile and were using anti-Palestinian names, they were calling people names, they were provoking students, they were getting in people’s faces,” Shamy said.
The pro-Palestinian group started to chant, and “that’s when things got physically violent,” she said, adding that pro-Palestinian students were attacked.
Shamy and Kovac said students on both sides have been feeling unsafe at Concordia since the fighting in the Middle East escalated last month.
POLITICIANS APPEAL FOR CALM
The Concordia incident comes after recent condemnation from Jewish leaders over the attempted arson at a Montreal synagogue and elected officials appealing for calm as the deadly war in the Middle East rages on.
Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante called both events “unacceptable” in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Quebec’s higher education minister, Pascale Déry, said on X that she spoke with the head of Concordia “to ensure that order is restored on campus.”
“Too many students fear for their safety, and we cannot tolerate these outbursts,” she wrote.
Before the altercation broke out, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also commented on the “unacceptable” rise in hate surfacing in Canada since the Israel-Hamas war broke out on Oct. 7.
“We’re seeing right now a rise in antisemitism that is terrifying. Molotov cocktails thrown at synagogues, horrific threats of violence, targeting Jewish businesses, targeting Jewish daycares with hate. This needs to stop. This is something that is not acceptable in Canada, period,” Trudeau said on his way into a Liberal caucus meeting Wednesday.
“And period, the rise of Islamophobia we’re seeing across this country and around the world, is also unacceptable. The expressions of hate against Muslims, against Palestinians, against anyone waving a Palestinian flag. This is unacceptable. This is not who we are as Canadians.”
According to figures from Montreal police, there have been 25 hate-motivated incidents targeting Arab-Muslim communities since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.
There have been 73 such incidents targeting Jewish communities, for a total of 98, from Oct. 7 to Nov. 7.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) condemned the Concordia incident and called on the university to make the campus safe for Jewish students.
“What we witnessed today at Concordia University was an undisguised display of antisemitism. Jewish students raising awareness of innocent civilian hostages held by a terrorist group were targeted with intimidation, threats, and physical aggression. Such behaviour is completely contrary to our Quebec values,” said the organization’s vice-president, Eta Yudin.