Calgary protesters end up at City Hall instead of popular 17th avenue after injunction and heavy police presence
It wasn’t the fireworks many expected on Saturday — but there were a lot of boots on the ground.
There were also a lot of butts in the seats of many of 17th Avenue’s most popular patios, a rare Saturday scene for many who say the Beltline has been a less welcoming place as of late.
Many, including former Ward 7 Councillor Druh Farrell took to social media to show their appreciation for having their neighbourhood back.
“It feels good to shop in the Beltline and hang out at the Ship without fear of intimidation,” she tweeted with a photo. Others echoed the sentiment.
Police, bylaw officers, and Alberta sheriffs attended Saturday’s planned anti-COVID mandate protest and counter-protest in the city’s Beltline in large numbers armed with an injunction from the day before, and the results were better than many expected.
Saturday’s protests were less explosive than expected
About 1,200 people were involved in the rallies, with six arrests and up to 20 tickets being issued, Police Chief Mark Neufeld said. More could be on the way in the mail as police recorded everything.
“Our aim was to ensure public safety and reduce public impact,” he said, adding he feels that was mostly accomplished Saturday, though he admitted there were some tense moments.
Portions of both groups — Calgary Freedom members and members of Community Solidarity Calgary — had some strained interactions at Central Memorial Park.
“There were some exchanges today that were very, very volatile and tense,” Neufeld said at a Saturday evening press conference, adding he believes some people were intent on causing conflict.
However, thanks to a temporary court injunction granted Friday, there was a significant police presence and many streets were shut down as officers patrolled the perimeters, forcing the rally to head to City Hall instead of 17th Avenue.
The injunction means that anyone who blocks roads or sidewalks could be charged and potentially arrested. It also carries fines for excessive noise.
“It’s a way better area (for them),” Neufeld said of the protests ending up at City Hall.
Freedom rally organizers are reportedly planning to continue to protest there.
Taking back 17th
Jane, who wished to withhold her last name, was one of the Beltline residents who was involved in an incident with police last Saturday when she was pushed with a bike by a police officer. She was happy to see people enjoying 17th Avenue again.
However, she says “we need to have a serious discussion of how we got to this point,” and what’s next.
“We need to decide how we proceed with respect to policing and neighbourhood safety. Those of us who got assaulted by the cops were not the first and we, unfortunately, won’t be the last,” she told Calgary Citizen.
“I hope next week is just as peaceful.”
Dianne Fau says she was able to bring her dogs for a walk along the popular avenue again without the excessive noise to scare them off.
“It was just nice to take the dogs out and not have to worry about large crowds and lots of noise because the dogs didn’t deal well with all of the stress before,” she added.
But is it sustainable and what will happen in the coming weeks?
While Neufeld wouldn’t discuss numbers or cost, he admits there was a significant police presence, which helped ease tensions after nearly two years of weekly protests.
While Saturday’s result was better than expected, it still had its tense moments and areas to improve, he added.
“We know we have more work to do, but we certainly want [Calgarians] to have full trust and confidence in the Calgary Police Service and our members,” Neufeld said.
“These efforts will continue as we work together to bring peace back to the Beltline and surrounding communities.”
Local reaction to Saturday’s police response
Community Solidarity Calgary told Calgary Citizen that after “neglecting Beltline for months, the Calgary Police Service finally withdrew their tacit support for the Freedom parades,” calling it a “victory” that forced a different outcome.
“This result is only possible because residents bravely stood up for themselves,” they said in a message.
“Whether the Calgary police can undo the damage it has done remains to be seen.”
The group said it is too early to comment on if they will be mobilizing next Saturday or not, but do question how much this heavy police presence is costing taxpayers.
“Today’s police response must’ve been wildly expensive to the public — I suspect every sworn officer in the force was mobilized.”
The protests won’t stop
Anne, who wished to withhold her last name, said she plans to still protest against the federal vaccine mandate.
“This won’t stop us, it might just make it look a little different,” she said.
Clay Geddert attended the protests Saturday because he said “it’s time to show more solidarity with the folks down here in the Beltline.”
While he doesn’t live in the area now, he used to, and he wasn’t happy with the way “police pushed counter-protesters out” last Saturday.
“I thought that was pretty unfair,” he said, adding he has a lot of friends in the area.
He hopes there is a win-win situation for both sides
“My hope is that they can protest where they are in a place that’s less disruptive,” he said.
“Places where their message might be heard by the powers that be instead of these poor Beltline residents.”
While he appreciates the rights of the anti-mandate protesters to protest, he wants it to be done safely and legally.
“It feels like our city is being held hostage by unsavoury beliefs. And their message has lost some of its potency as restrictions have been lifted,” Geddert added.
“I understand there are federal mandates that they’re still concerned about, but at this point, it seems that the most unsavoury and hateful parts of their message have remained.”
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