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Nearly half of Canadians oppose Pro-Palestine encampments at Canadian universities

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More Canadians oppose than support the pro-Palestine encampments that have sprung up in universities across Canada, while one-third support them, according to a newly released survey. 

Nearly half (48 percent) of Canadians surveyed oppose the pro-Palestine protest encampments. Thirty-one percent support them, and nearly a quarter (21 percent) of Canadians said they did not know what to think about the situation that has captured campuses across North America.

According to Leger’s new survey, opposition to the Canadian university encampments is held mostly by Canadians aged 55 and up (66 percent), while nearly half of younger Canadians aged 18 to 34 (45 percent) support them. This young-old split between protest support and opposition is typical for social movements throughout history. 

By province, Manitoba and Saskatchewan combined saw the largest portion of provincial opposition (56 percent). Alberta saw the largest amount of support for the encampments (34 percent). 

The online poll of just over 1,500 Canadians aged 18 and older was conducted between May 3 and May 5.

Since April 27th, students and other supporters at McGill University began setting up encampments on school grounds. This was followed by encampments forming at the University of British Columbia, the University of Ottawa, the University of Victoria, Vancouver Island University, the University of Toronto, Western University, and McMaster University. Late last week, police in Alberta swiftly and forcefully broke up an encampment at the University of Calgary.

The ongoing encampments are in protest of their universities’ investment in companies that they claim support Israel’s military. Many also want their post-secondary institutions to cut all ties with Israeli universities. 

Meanwhile in the United States, on April 30 the New York Police Department arrested around 300 protestors at Columbia University and the City College of New York. At the University of California, Los Angeles officers there arrested over 200 protestors. At Brown University, the school administration agreed to vote on divestment, and their encampment was taken down.

The survey also asked respondents how they felt the encampments should be dealt with. Nearly half of respondents (44 percent) agreed that encampments should be immediately dismantled since they threaten campus safety and students. Meanwhile, 33 percent agreed the encampments should only be dismantled if protestors voice antisemitic views or hate speech. Nearly a quarter (23 percent) agreed that they should be completely tolerated as a form of freedom of speech and association. Only 17 percent of Canadians reported having heard antisemitic comments since October 7th.

These student protests have stirred public debate about Canadian freedom of speech and the use of campus space. Some, including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Amnesty International, and Unifor, have recently made statements supporting students' and academics' right to peacefully protest within campus grounds. Others, including The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and lawyers for McGill University, say that the encampments threaten the well-being and academic success of the majority of students not taking part, and must be removed. The latter are currently seeking an injunction to dismantle McGill’s encampment. 

On May 8, Liberal MP Anthony Housefather appeared on Parliament Hill alongside six students from schools in Ontario, Quebec, and Alberta who said they were being forced to conceal their Jewish identity on campus and feared for their safety. Housefather has since initiated a parliamentary committee study supported by all parties to take a closer look at antisemitism, Islamophobia and the rise of both on Canadian campuses.  

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While other countries ramp up defence spending for a dangerous world, Canada and its allies stall

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Over the past two decades, countries close to historic and emerging areas of conflict have rapidly increased their military spending much faster than Canada and other Western countries in anticipation of a more dangerous world.

According to information gathered by The Hub from the World Bank, over the twenty-year period between 2002 and 2022, the world saw significant growth in defence spending by Western adversaries like China, Russia, and Iran. These three countries saw average annual increases in military spending of 12, 11, and 8 percent respectively. Russia and China today have Europe and Asia’s largest militaries.

The most significant increases in military spending during this twenty-year period were in countries threatened by the military growth of China, Russia and India. 

In 2022, France, Germany, and the U.K. individually spent between $53 billion and $68 billion on defence compared to Russia’s $86 billion. In the two decades previous, the military spending of these traditional Western allies only grew an average of 3, 4 and 2.5 percent per year respectively, compared to Russia’s 11 percent growth. If the U.K., for instance, had increased its defence spending by an average of 3.6 percent annually from 2002, rather than 2.6 percent, its military expenditure would be $86 billion in 2022 or equal to that of Russia.

Canada and the United States' spending rates were a little higher, but not by much. Since 2002, if Canada had grown its defence spending by an average of 9 percent annually rather than 6 percent, its total military in 2022 would have been $53 billion and on par with France. 

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members in Eastern Europe like Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania saw double-digit annual growth in military spending over those two decades. NATO asks its members to spend a minimum of 2 percent of their GDP on defence.

In March, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda reiterated a request to increase NATO’s military-to-GDP spending target to 3 percent. His country, invaded twice during the Second World War, raised its military spending by 8 percent between 2002 and 2022. 

Meanwhile, British Defence Secretary Grant Shapps told U.K. media he would like to see NATO countries contribute 2.5 percent of their GDP to national defence, thus ensuring NATO-mutual defence. 

Countries with South China Sea claims like the Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia ramped up their military spending to try and catch up to 12 percent annual growth in China. Since 2015, China has had the largest navy in the world.

Countries close to zones of conflict seem to be preparing for more dangerous, competitive, and even expansionary statecraft. 

“The world is becoming increasingly dangerous,” said Canada’s Minister of National Defence Bill Blair in a speech last week at the Economic Club of Canada before a one-on-one interview with The Hub. He was pitching Canada’s new defence policy to a crowd of industry representatives.

The plan, entitled “Our North, Strong and Free” contains several overarching goals. The main one is raising Canada’s defence spending from its current 1.3 percent of GDP ($37.8 billion) to 1.8 percent by 2029, an additional $8.1 billion. Currently, Canada has the fourth lowest spending by share of GDP in NATO, directly behind Italy, Portugal and Czechia. The second goal is to assert Canadian sovereignty over the Arctic. 

Blair has admitted previously that he has struggled to convince the Liberal cabinet and Canadians that meeting the NATO target is a worthy goal, “because nobody knows what it means.”

He was mindful, he said, of Canada’s obligations in NATO, the Indo-Pacific, and, “most importantly,” the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), given Russia’s ambitions in the Arctic. 

Minister Blair told The Hub he’s been asked if the intent of the new defence policy is to win the next war.

“It’s not. My intent is to prevent the next war,” Blair said. “We’re not looking to impose our will or force on anyone else. But we will defend those rules that have kept the world safe. We need to be able to show strength and resolve to matter in that defence.”

For a historical analysis of Canada’s military spending, read The Hub’s latest DeepDive: “Just how bad is Canada’s defence spending problem? Downright disastrous—with little hope in sight.”