Cycling advocates are condemning Halifax Regional Police for using their bicycles as weapons and barricades during a protest over the removal of encampments being used by people without homes last week.
Videos and images posted to social media show a line of officers using their bicycles to shove and block people who were protesting during the incident on Wednesday.
“We believe that bicycles are tools of freedom, and should not be used for oppression or violence,” said a statement from the Halifax Cycling Coalition and the city’s bicycle mayor.
“Mobility justice and cycling issues are inextricably linked to accessible affordable housing. As such, we stand in solidarity with those calling for improved access to affordable housing.”
The statement called on Halifax police to stop using their bicycles as weapons. It also called on all levels of government to ensure appropriate housing is available to people who need it.
In an email, Halifax Regional Police said its Bicycle Rapid Response Team is comprised of trained officers who work within the public safety unit.
“Bicycles can be used by police for community policing as well as public safety deployments and activities,” it said. “As always, we encourage anyone who has concerns about a police interaction to reach out to our Professional Standards Division.”
The police response on Wednesday, which involved officers pepper spraying people, including a 10-year-old girl, has drawn criticism from the province’s NDP leader and Halifax’s municipal workers union, among others.
Halifax Regional Police chief Dan Kinsella has said officers were dealing with an “assaultive” and “hostile” crowd, where some were armed with sensory irritants and projectiles.
However, the police narrative of events does not line up with what many of the demonstrators have said, with a spokesperson for Halifax Mutual Aid saying officers escalated the confrontation themselves and no one showed up to the Spring Garden encampment prepared for violence or pepper spray.