Several Edmontonians are not happy over the level of enforcement by police in Saturday’s trucker convoy.
While many people are disappointed in the noise that came about amid an injunction to stop it, how police handled a counter-protest pushed some people to their tipping point.
Bradley Lafortune is one of more than a dozen people who blocked a convoy of truckers trying to access downtown Edmonton Saturday.
But instead of backlash from people in the convoy, it was the response from police that’s grabbing attention and concern — including from Coun. Michael Janz.
“They brought down two paddy wagons and over 20 officers with billy clubs to crack down on a small group of peaceful parents with signs saying, ‘Just let our children sleep,'” Ward Papastew Coun. Michael Janz said.
“When I saw that last unit deployed with batons and that they were facing off to us, I felt a little bit escalated. I felt a little bit scared,” Lafortune said.
Lafortune said the group was confronted by police and threatened with fines if people did not leave and unblock the road, so they moved.
“There was a clear message they were going to engage with us over and above a convoy,” Lafortune said.
Janz said his office is getting numerous complaints about how the incident was handled.
“When you see the police turn in on protesters with billy clubs while doing nothing to the big rigs behind them, that is beyond the pale,” Janz said.
Janz said this is even more disappointing, considering an injunction was in place with the intent to reduce the noise from the convoy.
“Friday, we were overjoyed when we heard about the injunction. We thought that, finally, this will mean a little bit of rule of law,” Janz said.
But the convoy still rolled in and there was honking. Police issued 10 tickets in person and another 60 are being sent in the mail.
“The police, by not cracking down on the protester, are undermining the rule of law and the confidence in the police by other citizens throughout our community,” Janz said.
In a statement, police said: “Policing during a public demonstration is a complex task that includes upholding multiple laws while balancing fundamental rights for all demonstrators set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Our priority is always to uphold public safety and order.”
The Edmonton Police Service said its objectives during Saturday’s demonstration included restoring the flow of traffic in the safest manner possible while mitigating any disorderly conduct.
“Citizens were advised on Friday, Feb. 11 that mitigation could include verbal warnings, tickets, arrests and gathering of evidence for follow-up investigations. Due to both officer and public safety concerns, it is not always safe to issue a ticket at the time of an alleged offence. Specifically, when it is imperative to keep traffic flowing to ensure emergency vehicles (EMS, fire and police) can respond to calls for service,” police said.
“Citizens who were intentionally blocking traffic on River Valley Road were asked to move onto the sidewalk to ensure their safety and to allow traffic to flow. The citizens were told they could continue their demonstration from the side of the road while allowing traffic to move freely. Blocking traffic not only impacts those involved in the demonstration but impacts all motorists. The citizens were co-operative with our request to move onto the sidewalk, and officers did not conduct any enforcement.
“Yesterday’s demonstration was closely monitored by EPS and its municipal and provincial partners throughout the day. We continue to adapt our response to each individual situation and demonstration to ensure public safety for all citizens of Edmonton.”
Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said Monday he heard from Edmontonians on Saturday who had concerns about how police were responding to the third Saturday protest.
“I raised that with the chair of the police commission when I met with them the evening of Saturday.”
Sohi said he will continue to follow up with the Edmonton Police Commission.
“We don’t have the direct ability and authority to tell police how they run their business and how they operationalize their responses.”
The mayor said he understands why Edmontonians — particularly those who live or work downtown — are frustrated.
However, he said counter-protests “are not productive.”
“I worry about the wellbeing of the people participating in the counter-protests,” Sohi said. “I don’t want my city’s residents to be in danger.
“Let law enforcement deal with these issues and please do not get involved in any way.”
Janz said the issue of enforcement will be raised at the next police commission meeting.
“We need a full public inquiry. We need the police to crack down. We need the police to hear the message loud and clear that Edmontonians are furious,” Janz said.
If noise and disruptions continue, Lafortune said more counter-protests might be planned.
“We know that it’s going to be important for downtown residents and Edmontonians generally to stand up together for ourselves,” Lafortune said.
— with files from Emily Mertz, Global News