CALGARY -- Calling it "disgusting behaviour" that needs to be "denounced strongly" Mayor Naheed Nenshi called out anti-lockdown protesters who carried tiki torches through downtown Calgary over the weekend.

Hundreds of protesters — both those calling for an end to mask mandates and other health measures, and those who oppose that group — converged at city hall on Saturday, each side hurling insults and accusations at the other.

There was also a heavy police presence on Saturday to keep things peaceful but several anti-mask protesters were seen carrying tiki torches, which have a connection to a deadly 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

"It has been increasingly clear to me over the last several months that these marches that pretend they are about lifting the lockdown — there is no lockdown by the way, shops are open, schools are open, restaurants are open, people have the ability to go out and do many, many things that they normally would have done — have increasingly become forums for hatred, for white nationalist groups and others to attach themselves to this conversation, such that the original discussion is completely lost," said Nenshi on Monday morning. 

"And certainly many of us have been raising the alarm on this for some time. I know Coun. (Jyoti) Gondek and I in particular, even in the summer and the fall, were saying it's time to stop pretending these protests are about anything other than what they are actually about.

"So when we see people with torches marching through the downtown core, we know what that means. It's not about heat, it's not about light, don't be ridiculous. When we see people advertising these marches using pictures from Charlottesville, we know what that means, we know who that's meant to intimidate, and I will tell you right now as a person of colour in this city, I will never be intimidated by that."

Nenshi said torches are becoming a symbol of hate.

"It's not about the tiki, it's the fact they're burning torches," he said.

"What are those torches used for? They're used to light crosses on fire. This is disgusting behavior and frankly we need to denounce it and we need to denounce strongly."

The protest group, called March for Freedom has been holding demonstrations in downtown Calgary almost on a weekly basis, despite bans on outdoor gatherings that have come and gone, since last year.

Calgary police issued a statement on Monday afternoon.

"As a Service, we are required to protect the freedoms as outlined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In this case, we had groups from various opposing beliefs and our officers were focused on keeping everyone involved safe. Despite significant challenges, and the ever-present risk of the situation escalating, our members did a good job in keeping the peace," it read.

"As you can imagine, these events are extremely dynamic and despite planning and working with organizers, we have to make critical judgment calls in the moment to ensure that opposing sides do not clash.

"This can include creating separation between opposing groups or providing what appears to be an escort. We do not take sides, these decisions are based solely on ensuring the safety of all involved."

The statemenet added "very specific thresholds" have to be met to lay criminal charges in relation to inciting hate.

"This threshold is set high and includes inciting hatred against an identifiable group which is likely to lead to a breech of the peace," it read.

"We had officers at the event, including our hate crimes investigator, gathering evidence in relation to this matter. We have liaised with the Crown and it has been determined that the events this weekend did not meet the required threshold for charges.

"We want to reiterate that as an organization we are committed to our efforts toward anti-racism. We do not condone the actions of those who choose to display any symbols associated with hate and also find it extremely distasteful."