Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi furiously responded to a public meeting held Tuesday evening on the city's southwest rapid-transit project, saying there will be no future public meetings after city staff were threatened and abused by a small fringe group of opponents.
The mayor hastily called a news conference Wednesday afternoon after he received feedback from city staffers on how the meeting went.
"I am extraordinarily disappointed," Nenshi said, who was visibly upset.
"Last night I understand the discussion went far beyond civil discourse. There was yelling, there was swearing, there was pushing and shoving, there were incidents of physical assaults on city staff, there were threats of violence and yes, there was a death threat."
He said feedback he received from staff this morning was disheartening.
"Citizens in attendance at last night's event were prevented from having meaning conversations with city staff due to the actions of other citizens. With that, and given there has been a history of bad behaviour on this file, I have personally suggested that all face-to-face engagement on this particular topic be discontinued," Nenshi said.
"We will have no more open houses."
Nenshi attributes the actions to a "tiny fringe group" of about 10 to 15 people, who are part of the Ready to Engage group that opposes the project.
The southwest bus rapid transit (BRT) proposal is a 22-kilometre bus route from Woodbine to the downtown core. It's designed to take some pressure off of the south leg of the LRT by increasing bus usage. Some of the plan includes dedicated bus lanes to reduce traffic congestion in peak times.
The mayor said public engagement would continue, and in fact be ramped up, but in an online capacity.
The project goes right through Ward 11 and Coun. Brian Pincott, who represents the area, says last night's meeting "was one of the worst meetings I have ever been at."
He said the meeting punctuates a frustrating experience for him.
"This has been for me personally, about two months of ongoing belligerence, two months of cutting through misinformation and half-truths."
Rick Donkers is with the group that is opposed to the project.
"Ready to Engage is not anti-transit," he said following the mayor's remarks.
"We are against the city wasting millions of dollars on a project that hasn't been justified and it is the citizens of Calgary who are asking these questions — and now, we are being portrayed as thugs?"
"It is reprehensible," Donkers said.
Nenshi noted the irony of responding to the meeting on Pink Shirt Day, a national anti-bullying initiative.
"We need to protect our entire community from bullies," Nenshi said.
"We need to name and shame bullying when we see it and what we saw last night was bullying of other citizens and bullying of people who are dedicated public servants."
He said incidents from Tuesday's meetings are under investigation to determine whether charges should be laid.