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People look towards a student encampment for Pro-Palestinian protesters is shown at the University of British Columbia campus in Vancouver on April 30.Chuck Chiang/The Canadian Press

The president of the University of British Columbia says its endowment fund doesn’t directly own any stocks that are the target of divestment demands by pro-Palestinian protesters who have set up an encampment on the Vancouver campus.

Benoit-Antoine Bacon says the targeted companies are instead part of “pooled funds and managed by external investment managers,” making up 0.28 per cent of the endowment fund UBC says is worth about $2.8 billion.

He says in a message posted online that the university would welcome a “respectful and robust discussion” with its students about the investments.

Bacon says the encampment that began at UBC’s MacInnes Field on April 29 now involves about 100 people and 75 tents.

He says UBC values peaceful protest but anyone expressing views about the “violence unfolding in Israel and Palestine” needs to be “exceptionally careful” how they convey their thoughts.

The UBC protests are part of a movement that has roiled academic campuses in the United States and Canada, with some, including Ontario Premier Doug Ford, calling for the encampments to end.

Protesters say they want UBC to divest from Israeli companies they say are complicit in “oppression and genocide” of Palestinians. They also want an academic boycott of Israeli universities and other institutions.

Bacon says UBC is “actively monitoring the situation” at MacInnes Field and “prioritizing the safety of all our community members and visitors.”

“It is absolutely essential that the university remains a place of reasoned debate where conflicting views can peacefully co-exist. Our academic and social mission depends on it,” he says in Tuesday’s statement.

Bacon adds that the university’s expectations of the protesters have been “made clear.”

“I want to stress again that protest actions must be conducted with respect for others and within the boundaries of UBC policy and the law, and any action that contravenes this will be taken very seriously,” he says.

The message tells staff managers they should print it out and display it in a work common area.

There are also encampments at other B.C. institutions including the University of Victoria and Vancouver Island University.

A statement from the University of Victoria on Tuesday says the school supports peaceful demonstrations and the right to freedom of expression.

“We encourage thoughtful, reasoned and academic discourse on current issues and maintain that these discussions must take place in an environment free from discrimination, harassment and hate speech of any kind,” the statement says.

On Monday, B.C. Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender called on universities and colleges to protect the rights of students and staff taking part in “peaceful encampments,” and said she was worried about people who “speak up in solidarity with Gaza” being penalized.

Editor’s note: This is a corrected story. A previous version said the encampment at UBC began May 29. In fact, it began April 29.

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