Council outlines concerns with Beltline protests in letter to Calgary Police Commission

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Council outlines concerns with Beltline protests in letter to Calgary Police Commission
Calgary city council is sending a letter to the Calgary Police Commission in an effort to outline impacts to Beltline residents and businesses caused by ongoing protests. Adam MacVicar reports. – Mar 15, 2022

In an effort to raise concerns of Beltline residents amid ongoing protests in the area, Calgary city council has drafted a letter to the city’s police commission.

The Calgary Police Commission is an independent citizen oversight board of the Calgary Police Service that provides direction and creates policies. City council does not have the authority to direct either organization.

The letter, which is penned by Mayor Jyoti Gondek and some councillors and addressed to the commission chair, Shawn Cornett, was the subject of debate during a special meeting of council Tuesday afternoon.

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In the letter, council requests clarification on roles and responsibilities, asks to advocate on behalf of residents in the Beltline and requests regular updates from the police commission to council on the ongoing protests.

“What we have outlined as a council is that we need to hear from commission what they are going to do with the police service to strengthen our resolve and to make sure their community is not disrupted again this weekend,” Gondek told reporters after the meeting.

“What does that look like? We’re waiting to hear.”

Nearly every Saturday, thousands of protesters are drawn to Central Memorial Park in the city’s downtown to rally against government mandates and health measures. The demonstration is followed by a march that snakes through the streets of the area.

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Despite the lifting of health measures in Alberta, the protests have continued.

Protesters clashed with a group of counterprotesters on 17 Avenue last weekend.

Click to play video: 'Calgary police chief Mark Neufeld discusses possible new guidelines for weekend protests'
Calgary police chief Mark Neufeld discusses possible new guidelines for weekend protests

The letter also urges the police commission to consider “the damaging impacts to Calgarians who have been exposed to persistent protest activity over a prolonged period of time.”

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According to the letter, the ongoing protests have impacted the “mental health and wellbeing” of Beltline residents, and caused businesses to lose between 15 to 20 per cent of revenue.

“We’re hearing shoppers, and guests are feeling intimidated. They’re feeling unwelcome,” Calgary Chamber of Commerce president Deborah Yedlin told Global News.

“We see this as being very unhelpful in terms of where we’re at in the economic recovery, we really need to have businesses feel like they can open safely… And that’s not what’s going on right now as a result of these activities.”

Ward 13 Coun. Dan McLean said he is opposed to city council getting involved in the situation in the Beltline.

McLean said he is concerned that social media posts from the mayor and some councillors about the protests appear as an attempt to direct Calgary Police.

“I think we’re inciting or inflaming the situation,” McLean told reporters. “At the end of the day, my whole point is that politicians should stay out of this and let the police handle it because that’s their job.”

Ward 2 Coun. Jennifer Wyness introduced a motion at Tuesday’s meeting to hold a public hearing or engagement session with those impacted by the weekend protests.

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Wyness said she was concerned about an escalation of violence and wanted to find a solution to de-escalate the situation.

However, there were concerns that would open the door to giving anti-mandate protesters a platform at city hall.

“It’s really easy to represent people that agree with you, but it’s a lot harder when you don’t agree with the people,” Wyness said to reporters. “This is where we need to dig deep as a council and find a solution.”

After a short but tense debate, Wyness withdrew her motion.

“I cannot move forward with allowing hate to come into these chambers and to set us back,” Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner said in her opposition.

Beltline Neighbourhoods Association president Peter Oliver said he wants to see police redirect protesters to an area “outside the Beltline where there’s less impact.”

Oliver told Global News he hopes council can direct bylaw officers to enforce permits.

“We’re hoping that (council) are doing whatever they can to make sure that bylaw are using all the tools that they have to mitigate all these damaging impacts,” Oliver said.

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According to Gondek, bylaw officers have the ability to enforce the need for permits and other bylaws but adds to do so effectively they need the support of Calgary Police.

The mayor said she’s hoping to see a different approach by police, after several critical comments directed at the police response to the protests from her and some councillors.

“Something needs to change; what has been the practice is not working,” Gondek said. “Crowd control did not work.”

Doug King, a Justice professor at Mount Royal University, said he is concerned about violence escalating at the protests.

According to King, police should’ve taken more decisive action sooner, and now find themselves in a difficult situation.

“I have some sympathy for the police. It is their job, incidentally, to engage in this kind of action,” King said. “I think they’ve mishandled it in some ways, and they’re now kind of reaping the consequences of that.”

“My message to Beltline residents: this is not over yet,” Gondek said.

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