City council holds its first closed-door meeting with Calgary police to discuss ongoing anti-COVID restriction rallies downtown
Like many Beltline residents, Cathleen is growing more frustrated with the weekly protests against COVID health measures happening in the inner city area.
Choosing not to share her last name for fear of retaliation, the Mission resident says the protests have been disruptive to her and her neighbours’ lives “for long enough now.”
“The amount of people is ridiculous. It’s been so bad. You’ve got trucks driving by, people yelling and screaming, the police helicopter is out, they block traffic. It’s very disruptive,” she says, adding area pets are also being affected by the loud noise.
City council spent time behind closed doors during Tuesday’s combined council meeting discussing the matter with police as inner-city residents grow more frustrated with the large numbers of protesters taking to the streets every Saturday.
The weekly rallies have been growing in size and have lured a counter-protest
Last Saturday, about 1,100 protesters took to the streets while about 50 counter-protesters attended. Calgary police had to stand between the two groups.
The group takes to the streets every Saturday, starting in Central Memorial Park where they March through the inner city streets. City officials say they have been receiving more than 200 complaints related to the weekly rally.
The Community Solidarity YYC group that is counter-protesting has told the media they don’t want the convoy to continue to parade down 17 Avenue S.W anymore.
A matter of educating the public
Though the talks between council and police were in private Tuesday, both Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner and Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott believe that something needs to be done to help alleviate the stresses many inner-city residents have been facing.
Penner believes the first step is to educate the public on what can be legally done.
“Residents and businesses are frustrated. And I think that frustration comes from a lack of understanding around the actions that can be taken by both the city and by police,” she says, acknowledging that the public has a right to assemble and to protest.
“It leaves residents in a tricky position.”
The perception of safety
The talk was the first since city council voted last week to hold regular meetings with police about the protests, and right now, it’s about figuring out what comes next.
“I think the next step is just trying to help educate people and understand what’s going on,” Walcott says, adding opening up the lines of communication between council, residents, businesses, and police is critical.
“The goal is to keep everybody physically safe. And I think that’s the big challenge,” Walcott says, adding it’s important people feel safe
“And that perception of safety is one of the hardest things to address.”
Rallying is within their rights, say protesters
Many inner-city residents are questioning why the protesters are still rallying against the mandates, especially in light of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney easing almost all of the provincial restrictions on March 1.
That misses the point, say protesters, who point out that many employers are still requiring vaccinations for the workplace, resulting in many people losing their jobs.
Federal travel restrictions also still apply to unvaccinated individuals, while the cross-border trucking mandates still remain in place.
“We are just fighting for the freedom to have a voice and we don’t want to be trapped,” says Alyssa, who didn’t want to share her last name for fear of retaliation.
“That’s the point of a protest”
She admits the protests are loud — which is the point of a rally she says — but insists the group follows the rules of the law while working peacefully with the police.
“The rallies are a symbol of the community coming together in peace. Yes, they’re loud and they may be disruptive, but that’s the point of a protest. We are peaceful, and it’s about friendship and unity.”
The Calgary Freedom Rally Facebook group posted on Monday, saying:
“The Calgary freedom rally will continue this Saturday and every Saturday at Central Memorial Park at 1 p.m. until ALL medical mandates are ended and freedom is restored to Canada, including the release of all political prisoners.”
Hoping it doesn’t escalate
While Cathleen is glad city council is talking about the issue, she hopes for it to come to a natural resolution instead of enforcement. Her concern is that the protesters would rebel and that things would become worse for area residents.
“My biggest fear is that [if the city steps in] that these people are going to hunker down and not leave. I don’t want a situation like there was in Ottawa,” she says.
“I’d like them to go away. I think they made their point.”
City council says they will regularly monitor and confer with police about the ongoing situation.
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