Pro-Palestinian protesters face off with counter-protesters at Victoria Square encampment

On the fourth day of the encampment at Victoria Square, representatives of the Désinvestir pour la Palestine collective and civil society organizations demanded that the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec divest from companies with ties to Israel.  (Brittany Henriques/CBC - image credit)
On the fourth day of the encampment at Victoria Square, representatives of the Désinvestir pour la Palestine collective and civil society organizations demanded that the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec divest from companies with ties to Israel. (Brittany Henriques/CBC - image credit)

On Day 4 of the pro-Palestinian encampment at Victoria Square in Montreal's financial district, protesters were confronted with a counter-protest that wants the encampment taken down.

On Saturday, pro-Palestinian protesters set up tents near the offices of the Caisse dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) and Quebec's International Relations Ministry.

The collective Désinvestir pour la Palestine and other civil society organizations are urging the CDPQ, which manages Quebec's public pensions, to divest $14.2 billion from 87 companies connected to Israel.

"How many dead people, how many unpunished crimes will it take before our institutions acknowledge the genocide in progress and stand on the right side of history?" asked Benoît Allard, a spokesperson for the collective at a press conference on Tuesday morning.

On Tuesday afternoon, pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered at the encampment to demand a ceasefire in Gaza.

Pro-Palestinian protesters demanded a ceasefire in Gaza on Tuesday. (Brittany Henriques/CBC)

They were met by counter-demonstrators from what appeared to be two different groups: a pro-Israeli group and an anti-encampment group.

Eva Derhy, one of the counter-protesters, said she wants to get her "city back."

"We just want our peace and order back in our city. Why is Mayor Plante not dismantling this? Why is she allowing people to sleep in the street without getting fined?" she asked.

Montreal police stood between the groups on Tuesday afternoon — blocking any face-to-face confrontation.

'We're here to stay until our demands are met' 

The activist groups slammed the CDPQ for investing in Lockheed Martin, a weapons manufacturer with direct ties to the Israel Defence Forces (IDF).

The pro-Palestinian organizations also criticized the CDPQ's investment in WSP Global Inc., a Montreal-based consulting firm that has ties with Israel.

In a statement, the CDPQ acknowledged that it invested more than $5 billion in WSP and Alstom, which protesters have also denounced due to its business interests in Israel.

The CDPQ, which manages funds for more than six million Quebecers, told CBC News in an email that WSP holds an "inherited" contract from an "acquisition" that is linked to Israeli settlements.

"Our direct exposure to Israel represents less than 0.1 per cent of our portfolio," read the statement. It said it would not be making any new investments in a "war zone" for the time being.

Allard said the pro-Palestinian groups are asking the CDPQ to put in place a transparent process that would prevent future investments associated with "companies complicit in violations of human rights and international law."

Calls to close Tel Aviv office

The pro-Palestinian groups are also asking Quebec to close its new office in Israel.

In February, two petitions, sponsored by Québec Solidaire's Ruba Ghazal, gathered almost 12,000 signatures against the opening of an International Relations Ministry office in Tel Aviv.

But the government has no intention of closing it.

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The pro-Palestinian demonstrators were faced with two groups of counter-protesters calling for an end to the encampments in the city. (Brittany Henriques/CBC)

"The presence of the Quebec office in the Canadian embassy in Tel Aviv should not be interpreted as taking a stand in the conflict between Israel and Hamas," read a statement sent to Radio-Canada by the office of Martine Biron, Quebec's Minister of International Relations.

It said the office will serve as a "gateway" to the Middle East and "support companies wishing to do business there."

But pro-Palestinian groups promise not to back down so easily.

"We're here to stay until our demands are met," said Allard.

"We don't want Quebecers' money to be stained with the blood of oppressed peoples," he added.

'Petitions don't cut it' 

Many student encampments have sprung up across the world to demand the end of Israel's bombing campaign and ground invasion which the Gaza health ministry says has killed more than 37,000 people after Hamas-led attacks in southern Israel.

Israel said that 1,200 people were killed in the Oct. 7 attack, and about 250 more were taken hostage.

In Montreal, McGill University's encampment has been in place for nearly two months.

"If all we needed to do was sign petitions, we would've signed petitions. But obviously, petitions don't cut it," said Scott Weinstein, a spokesperson for Independent Jewish Voices' Montreal chapter.

He feels close to the Palestinian people and hopes for both Jewish and Palestinian people to live together.

"I have been to Palestine twice. When I look at Palestinians, they look like me, they talk like me, they act like me," he said.