UW installs surveillance cameras surrounding Grad House green encampments


Early Wednesday morning, May 15, UW students saw a change in the campus landscape — multiple security cameras were installed on the roofs of several key buildings, including the Dana Porter Library and the Tatham Centre. Positioned to overlook the Grad House green, these cameras directly face the area where students have established an encampment in solidarity with the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Nicholas Joseph, media liaison for protestors, provided context to the camera installations, linking them to broader concerns about surveillance on Canadian campuses. “The University of Waterloo has been surveilling and even censoring Palestinian activity for many months,” Joseph said. He recalled an incident that underscores this point: “In November, the student club Voice for Palestine hosted the biggest on-campus demonstration in Waterloo history. And of course, the university didn’t even mention it — there was no response to anything like that.”

Similar sentiments are echoed at the University of Toronto, where students have also raised alarms over perceived intrusive surveillance. This pattern suggests a broader issue of trust and privacy concerns across campuses nationwide.

These installations come after the university released a statement via email on Monday to all students reaffirming their support for student’s rights to protest. The university stated, “All members of our community are free to express their views, but we must aim to maintain a supportive, respectful and tolerant environment for everyone.”

However, the lack of communication regarding the surveillance has caused unease. When asked for a comment on the situation, Rebecca Elming, UW media relations director said, “Our top priority is the safety of our entire campus community. Cameras and clear signage were installed to ensure that everyone feels secure in the space.”

Joseph articulated the encampment’s stance, reflecting a deep-seated frustration with how the university has handled their protests and demands. “We’ve had large demonstrations… and not a single instance of violence or hate or anything happened,” Joseph remarked, emphasizing the peaceful nature of the activism. “This focus on safety is sort of an illusion, it’s sort of a way to detract from what they’re (university administration) really doing, which is Palestinian surveillance.”

The protesters remain steadfast, anchored by specific demands for transparency and policy changes concerning the university’s affiliation and investments. From their Instagram account, the encampment outlined their demands clearly: disclose the full list of the university’s investments, divest from all companies on the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) list, and divest from all defence contractors and weapons manufacturers; and boycott all academic and cultural ties with Israeli companies and universities. 

“I just think that it’s our moral duty as students and as human beings to respond to these calls to action,” Joseph concluded. “And I think everyone should try and help out if they can. I encourage other universities to do the same.”

What is apparent is this is indicative of a larger national conversation about the role of surveillance in public spaces and institutions of higher education. It reflects the delicate balance between safeguarding security and preserving the fundamental rights to privacy and free expression. As the situation evolves, both the university and its students are navigating a complex landscape of policy, privacy and protest.