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Calgary police chief addresses use of force at weekend protest


Chief Mark Neufeld of the Calgary Police Service says the actions officers took against community members during Saturday's rally in the Beltline was done in an effort to preserve public safety during a "very complex" situation where tensions were high.

Participants in the weekly rally against vaccine mandates made their way through the Beltline and onto 17th Avenue but the parade's progress was halted near 5A Street S.W. by dozens of people standing in opposition.

"On Saturday, our officers had the very difficult task of managing two separate, but related, protests that occurred on the streets of downtown Calgary," explained Neufeld.  "While we worked to negotiate alternative options and alternative routes prior to Saturday, ultimately both groups were insistent on their original plans which we knew would result in them coming together along 17th Avenue S.W.

"In the end, our plan to divert the larger group off of 17 Avenue failed when that larger group refused to follow the on-the-ground directions of our officers and to continue to march forward."

According to Neufeld, the two groups remained relatively stationary for nearly an hour save for some members of the larger group who made their way around the blockade via another street. The fact the smaller group, who Neufeld says was more than just Beltline residents and included participants with other agendas, now had opponents to both the east and the west increased tensions and the potential public safety risk.

The stalemate, with uniformed officers standing between the two sides, came to an end when police physically moved the counter-protesters. Some members were recorded using their CPS-issued bicycles as makeshift ramming devices, jamming the handlebars into the bodies of those stationary in their show of support for Beltline residents and businesses.

Neufeld says the scenario was complex, stating the members of the smaller group were initially asked by officers to move along before being told to disperse, but the group remained resolute.

"Any use of force is regrettable," said Neufeld of the actions to physically move the smaller group, before adding," The goal of the CPS is to ensure the safety of everyone involved."

Resident Meaghan Walsh was at the counter protest saying she and her partner were hit by police bikes.

“It was incredibly disheartening to see,” she said.

“In that moment I didn’t feel like our safety was prioritized and I feel it needs to be.”

Mayor Jyoti Gondek has also spoken out against the rallies, calling for enforcement of bylaws in an attempt to bring an end to the weekly disruptions.

Neufeld says CPS members were placed in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't situation" and the criticism some local politicians have directed toward officers is taking its toll.

"It's demoralizing for our officers," said Neufeld. "It's been over-simplified by officials, some of them appointed, some of them elected."

Neufeld it's unlikely that a resolution will be reached ahead of next weekend and he's calling on organizers to consider whether these protests need to happen, stating the communities need a break.

Many Beltline residents have expressed their frustration with the weekly rally that brings traffic snarls, parking headaches and excess noise to their neighbourhood.

'Disruptive' and 'divisive': Calgary Police Commission responds 

The Calgary Police Commission released a statement Monday saying members understand the frustration Beltline residents and businesses owners are feeling amid the ongoing protests.

"These protests are disruptive, divisive and are undermining many residents' ability to enjoy their homes, businesses and community," the statement read.

"This past weekend's events show a clear escalation in the situation that needs to be addressed, and everyone involved will continue working together this week to find a better path forward."

The commission says it has been in discussion with the CPS and city council to try to find a solution that respects people's charter rights to protest and peacefully assemble, while also stopping the disproportionate impact these protests are having on communities in the core.  

The commission is encouraging anyone who has concerns about police tactics used on Saturday to visit its website for information on how to report police conduct concerns.

'Driving customers away': Calgary Chamber of Commerce

The Calgary Chamber of Commerce says the ongoing protests are "driving customers away" and "severely disrupting" the ability businesses have to return to normal operations.

"As businesses throughout the city set their sights on recovery following two years of pandemic-related challenges – and the construction activities prior to that, which also impacted pedestrian and vehicular traffic — it is crucial they can do so, uninhibited," said a Monday news release.   

"Districts like 17th Avenue are hubs for commerce and community — they are vital employers, important contributors to our property tax base, and are places of community vibrancy and connection."

The chamber is urging protestors to move to a location that "doesn't impede commerce in our city."

“While the right to voice concerns is a democratic right, the ability to live and work freely and safely within our communities is also a right to which we are all entitled."

Protest group 'will not be applying for any permits'

In a statement to CTV News, an organizer of the ongoing protests said the group "will not be applying for any permits that would certainly be rejected by a completely biased city hall."

"This is a protest not a parade and we are exercising our charter rights. The mayor's attempts to demean us only strengthen our resolve," said Jake Eskesen. The statement also accused police of aiding the anti-protest group and said the route will not change going forward.

"It is unacceptable to us that a small group of anti-freedom protesters is being supported by the police to intentionally blockade the route of our protest," the statement read in part.

"Normally we pass through without issue in 20 or so minutes but thanks to this small group we were stuck there for over an hour, which we realize causes more disruption then we would like. We will not be bullied by this small, politically motivated group which consists of many well known BLM/far left activists such as Taylor McNally and NDP politicians like MLA Joe Ceci.

"We will do our best to have open dialog and continue to work with the Calgary Police Service but we will not be diverted from our route as it sets a precedent that these counter protesters can dictate what we do. They have the freedom to express there views just like us and that should be encouraged but intentionally obstructing us escalating the situation and putting people at risk is not the right way to go about things.

"We respectfully ask the opposition groups to allow us to march by unimpeded for the sake of the very Beltline residents they claim to represent."

Another protest organizer, Ryan Audette, said in a statement the rallies include speeches at Central Memorial Park from 1-2 p.m., followed by a march.

"The booths are mainly rally attendees selling shirts with homemade freedom prints, and freedom activist groups providing pamphlets and info," he said. "If the city has an issue with them, they would have to speak to them on an individual basis." Top Stories

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