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Calgary police chief defends handling of pro-Palestinian protest at University of Calgary

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Calgary’s police chief is defending the way officers handled a pro-Palestinian protest at the University of Calgary earlier this month.

Chief Mark Neufeld told the city’s police commission Wednesday that officers were repeatedly antagonized and ignored before moving in on the crowd.

He claims many in the group, about 150 people at its peak, were there to “mix it up with police.”

Pro-Palestinian protestors set up a small encampment on the university campus on May 9. They, like thousands of others in post-secondary institutions across the world, were there to protest Israel’s military action in the Middle East. 

A handful of Calgarians arrived early in the morning with tents and fencing, according to Neufeld. 

He says CPS tried throughout the day to negotiate and get them to leave the private property at the behest of the university. 

But after limited success, police moved in around sunset. 

Police on site at a pro-Palestine rally at the University of Calgary

Students have accused officers of using excessive force and injuring some of the protesters. 

But that’s not what Neufeld claims.

The chief told the police commission Wednesday officers were repeatedly pushed by some on scene and had bottles thrown at them. 

“The situation was anything but spontaneous and anything but a surprise to the 25 or so people who decided to stay and mix it up with police,” Neufeld said. 

Eventually, 15 pepper balls — which contain pepper spray — and an OC grenade – a loud irritant that explodes in a flash of light and burst of sound – were used.

CPS said in an ensuing report that "the intervention was effective as intended in deescalating the situation."

“We didn’t use rubber bullets or riot gear,” Neufeld told the commission. “The point of (the OC grenades) was to get the crowd to move.”

The chief applauded his team’s “professionalism” and pointed out no officers were injured. 

“We know the actions we take as well as the actions we don’t take will be polarizing,” Neufeld said. “Some people in groups will be very angry and others will be enthusiastically positive, and that’s the complex environment that we’re in. Being the police though means not taking sides.”

Four tickets were passed out — all for trespassing on private property and not criminal in nature. 

ASIRT is now investigating the entire incident.

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