Calgary’s mayor is calling for enforcement against anti-mandate marches through a downtown neighbourhood. Police say approximately 2,000 people took part in opposing protests Saturday.
Jyoti Gondek posted in a series of tweets that the disruption occurring every weekend in the Beltline neighbourhood is a “parade” and not a “protest,” yet it has no permits or licences.
Gondek says the demonstrations aren’t about mandates because those are gone, and she says the “standard response that this will ‘fizzle out’ is ”shameful.”
Opposing protesters got into a confrontation on Saturday, creating a blockage on 17 Ave. S.E., for more than an hour, police say.
Officers collected evidence at the scene and will work with investigators “to review the actions of all parties to determine any potential enforcement (actions).”
Gondek met with the chair of the Calgary Police Commission, along with Chief Mark Neufeld Sunday morning.
“The three of us are committed to make sure our organizations are working together to take care of the situation, but it’s going to require a collaborative effort and we need to listen to our residents,” she said.
Gondek added she understands people are upset about how police handled things.
“I would say that the situation escalated because you had 1500 people on one side and 50 on the other and if you were to ask the police service, I imagine they will tell you that it was easier to move 50 people then to try and tackle 1500 people… So we have to have a different measure than simply crowd control.”
Alberta’s pandemic vaccine passport was dropped in February and the province lifted the mask requirement for indoor public spaces at the beginning of March. Calgary immediately followed the province in lifting its masking requirement on March 1. It was dropped subsequently in Edmonton.
Despite that, weekend protests against pandemic restrictions have continued in Calgary and Edmonton. A march through downtown Edmonton on Saturday drew approximately 150 people.
Calgary police said officers worked to keep both sides safe on Saturday, noting it wasn’t easy.
“Our members worked with all parties in attempt to negotiate an alternative that allowed them to peacefully demonstrate, however after receiving limited cooperation and recognizing the volatility of the situation, officers had to take action to avoid further escalation of the crowd and minimize the disruption to nearby residents and businesses,” their statement said.
“We thank the downtown residents and businesses who worked with our officers on scene to ensure everyone’s safety.”
Rita Sirignano works in the area, but says during the protests, getting anything done has become “untenable,” so she joined the counter protestors near Western High School on Saturday.
“There were two lines of police,” said Sirignano. “At some point, the police basically allowed many of the protesters to come around the school, so at one point … this group of protesters comes behind us and we were basically surrounded.”
Half of her group were senior citizens, she said and one person’s walker was pushed over. She said that’s when things turned ugly.
“At which point … you have police officers using bicycles to bash against the front line of counter protesters who were basically standing there. I saw no one provoke a police officer… I was scared. I was really scared.”
Sirignano said she didn’t see any violence from counter protesters and hopes the police actions are thoroughly investigated.
She’s also hoping this is a turning point in the whole situation.
“I don’t know why nothing has been done prior to this and that it had to come to this. I was thinking to myself: ‘What really has to happen?’ Does someone have to be killed?”
Patience has run its course with neighbourhood residents
The president of the Beltline Neighbourhoods Association (BNA) says residents have run out of patience when it comes to the weekly protests.
Peter Oliver said many have contacted him since the Saturday incident, including surrounding neighbourhood associations, to express their frustration not only with protesters, but also the lack of bylaw enforcement from the police.
He said police have helped redirect other protests, helped organizers make routes less disruptive to residents and it baffles him why police are “choosing not to take action now.”
“And in fact, they’re actually taking action against Beltline residents who are fed up and have had enough of this,” Oliver explained.
“I think it should be a concern to everyone in the city — whether you live in the beltline or not — because it comes down to the accountability of Calgary Police Service, which we all pay taxes for and who they actually serve.”
Oliver said he’s been made aware of “a number of residents” who were “physically assaulted by police for no clear reason” and said he tried his best to work with officers on Saturday to create a line of separation between the two groups, but in his opinion, they refused to help mitigate the situation by telling beltline residents to go home.
“(Police) turned to residents asking that they leave, that they didn’t belong there, that they should go home and quite frankly — this is our home,” he said.
He hopes a police town hall planned for Tuesday will provide more answers as to what took place Saturday afternoon.
The Calgary Police Commission released a statement Sunday afternoon, saying Saturday’s “events show a clear escalation in the situation that needs to be addressed, and everyone involved will continue working together to find a better path forward.”
The statement goes on to say “These protests are disruptive and divisive, and are undermining many residents’ ability to enjoy their homes, businesses and community“.
The commission is working with CPS and city council to work on a solution.
In a statement to Global News, anti-mandate rally organizers said the protests will continue for several reasons, including calling for the resignation of Alberta’s premier and wanting an investigation into the provincial COVID-19 response.
— With files from The Canadian Press