Videos show pro-Palestinian protesters storming school board meeting in Ontario

‘There were trustees who were terrified. Some sitting there frozen. Trustees were saying this isn’t right’

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A crowd of pro-Palestinian demonstrators broke up a school board meeting in Ontario’s Peel region, Wednesday, drowning out elected trustees with chanting, and later stormed past security into a locked room where trustees had retreated to reconvene the meeting.

“Somebody was just trying to let this young student trustee out to go to the bathroom, they pushed down the security guard and they grabbed the door,” said David Green, chair of the Peel District School Board.

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“They stormed the room.

“The staff that was standing up there got knocked down, and another was pushed down, trampled all over. One lady she just came — it was like at a wrestling match — she ran past everybody and came straight for me.

“It was horrible,” Green said in an interview.

“There were trustees who were terrified. Some sitting there frozen. Trustees were saying this isn’t right, they were afraid.

“In my 21 years as a trustee, we’ve had challenging situations in our boardroom but we’ve never had anything like this, when staff and trustees are put in a place where they are fearful to the point where people are assaulted.”

Green said he was told people came to the building and told the crowd “they’re in that room, bang it down, kick it down if you have to.”

The disturbance erupted at the regularly scheduled board meeting of trustees for the Peel District School Board, in its headquarters in Mississauga, west of Toronto.

A social media account in the days before the meeting urged “students, parents and concerned community members” to attend the meeting, in a “call to action” post asking people to “bring your flags, keffiyehs, and signs.”

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The large, multi-tiered public gallery at the board hall filled with people before the meeting began. Some held Palestinian flags and signs.

Most of the meeting was broadcast live online by the board, but that feed stopped when the meeting fell into chaos.

The meeting started normally, with Green calling it to order and thanking the gallery for its patience for starting late.

Green asked people to stand for an Indigenous land acknowledgement and the playing of Canada’s national anthem.

Most people in the public gallery stood for the land acknowledge but sat down when the national anthem began, the meeting video shows.

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

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About 15 minutes into the meeting, a member of the audience started calling out to speak, followed by applause from the crowd. Many in the gallery stood and waved flags and signs.

“I’m going to ask you, please do not disturb the meeting,” Green said. “If you have something to say, I’ll stay back (afterwards) and we’ll have a conversation.”

Shouting from the crowd continued.

As Green tried to continue the meeting, shouts and calls from the gallery grew.

“Let them speak, let them speak,” the crowd chanted.

Green told trustees that representatives of a group had previously asked to speak at the meeting and were told the board’s process for delegations from the public, and the board had not heard back from them.

About 20 minutes into the meeting, the trustees were drowned out by chanting. Green asked for order from the gallery five times.

He then called a recess and trustees filed out of the room as the crowd jeered and chanted “Free, free Palestine.”

The board later reconvened the meeting in a smaller, private conference room, behind locked doors and outside of the public access area.

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“Someone sent them to attack the doors,” Green said.

For about 20 minutes the board continued through its agenda until knocking was heard at the door. Some trustees turned to look at the door as the meeting continued.

A few minutes later the knocking turned to loud pounding. Twice a trustee opened the door a bit and appeared to talk to the crowd or security outside before closing it again.

“If they’re banging on the door that hard, it means they got past security,” said Green in an interview Thursday. “My intention was to end the meeting as quick as possible and get staff and trustees upstairs into a secure area where they can be safe. That didn’t happen.”

The meeting ground to a halt as pounding and shouting grew significantly.

“Is that reasonable?” a trustee can be heard asking.

“No,” said another.

“Security can’t stop them knocking on the door?” one asked.

Someone inside the room again went to the door.

“This is not great,” someone inside the room said.

The board’s meeting broadcast then ended.

Green said a student trustee needed to go to the bathroom.

“A staff member was trying to open the door slightly so he could go out to go to the bathroom. They just rushed in the room,” he said.

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Videos taken from outside the room and shared online, show what happened next: demonstrators — most of those visible near the front had their face covered with keffiyehs, a headscarf often used as a symbol of Palestinian nationalism — surged past security, pushing a large guard into the room.

Green said police were not called at the time but the board is discussing what will happen. He said that after things calmed down, he met with some of the protesters in the board building. He also had a meeting with some representatives Thursday.

He said one of those he met with on Wednesday read a statement of demands from his phone.

Green said the demands included the board issue statements declaring they stand with Palestinians in the current crisis and calling to stop genocide.

They also demanded that the board ensure no staff or student would be disciplined for defending or putting up Palestinian flags. They also mentioned a specific staff issue that Green said he couldn’t discuss for privacy reasons.

“We’re here in the business to educate kids, we don’t get involved in this,” Green said Thursday. “We’re not into politics.”

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An Instagram account by someone who was encouraging people to attend the meeting in the days before the meeting described the event.

“Students across PDSB organized to demand the mic at the monthly PDSB meetings because their requested delegation was denied,” a post said. “Students had demands for PDSB, they asked the board to listen, but over 60+ community members and students were neglected.

“As the crowd got louder to make sure we are placed on the agenda, the entire board walked out on us and decided to proceed their meeting in their own private space.

“The community decided to continue their demand to be heard, so we moved towards their meeting room. The entire board ran away and had security come in to push us out.

“We as a community didn’t back down, we stood strongly, and we will continue to be not backed down.”

The post said the confrontation was “the first of many.”

Const. Tyler Bell, spokesman for Peel Regional Police, said police were not called to the board office Wednesday night. On Thursday, police contacted the board and were told it was handled by private security and police involvement was not expected.

“These constant attacks on school board trustees for doing our job and standing up for students has to stop,” Green said.

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