Calgary police held a press conference Thursday to address public safety concerns around protests planned for this weekend that affect the Muslim community, while emphasizing citizens’ right to free speech.
“The Calgary Police Service is aware of three unrelated controversial protests planned in the downtown this weekend,” Supt. Cliff O’Brien from the criminal operations & technical support division said. “At this point we have no intelligence, no information that suggests there will be any violence or any criminal activity at these events.
“The purpose here is this has caused angst among our Muslim community and really I want to assure them that we will have a presence there and they will be safe.”
Police declined to name the groups in question, but said one was happening Friday evening downtown to mark Al Quds and then “opposing groups” would have additional demonstrations downtown Saturday and Sunday.
Social media posts show Hussainia (a Shia group in Calgary) is hosting an Al Quds rally at Calgary City Hall for Palestinian Human Rights on Friday night.
Originally planned for Saturday, the Worldwide Coalition Against Islam (WCAI) plans to march starting at Olympic Plaza on Sunday. Calling the event the Patriotic Unity Mega Festival, the group’s Facebook page includes a banner that reads: “Canada is a democratic country not an Islamic country. Islam has no right to change our Canadian way of life. Get out of our country!”
Pro-Muslim events have been planned in response, including one called Say NO to Hate and Racism Festival to “show peace, unity, love and diversity is what makes Canada.”
A post from local activist Saima Jamal also urged Muslims and visible minorities to avoid going downtown Sunday during the WCAI protest over concerns they would be “looking for chances to provoke any Muslims walking in downtown.”
WATCH: CPS Supt. Cliff O’Brien says they have no information to suggest violence at rallies to be held in downtown Calgary.
O’Brien said the diversity resource unit and criminal intelligence unit have been working closely with organizers of all three events.
“They’ve been co-operating with us and they show a desire to keep these protests legal and peaceful, which is exactly what we’d expect in this community.”
He said the organizers in question have held several protests in the past without incident.
“All Calgarians should feel safe to visit the downtown this weekend. We are confident that we have the right plans in place for these events to ensure everyone can express their views peacefully while allowing others to enjoy our city’s core at the same time.”
“One of the great things about this country is that we have the fundamental freedom of speech, so one of our jobs is to make sure we protect that right.”
O’Brien said messages from the organizers of the groups have been reviewed by police and don’t meet the threshold for a criminal offence. He suggested “media reports on social media” have been part of the cause for concern ahead of this weekend.
He added there can be a fine line between criminal hate speech and offensive language.
“Criminal hate speech — there are things that have to be in place for that charge,” he said. “It has to be targeted toward an identifiable group, it has to be in public, and it’s likely to lead to harm against individuals.
“We do have plans in place as far as when we would intervene.”