Calgary

Beltline protests widely peaceful, but six arrests made: police chief

Anti-mandate and counter-protesters showed up to demonstrate on Saturday in Calgary’s downtown, but stayed mostly separated and confined to parks and city hall, a departure from last week’s heated meeting along 17th Avenue S.W.

Protests mostly contained to parks, city hall, after injunction granted Friday

Anti-mandate protesters gathered at City Hall on Saturday as well as Central Memorial park after negotiations with the Calgary police. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Anti-mandate and counter-protesters showed up to demonstrate Saturday in Calgary's downtown, but stayed mostly separated and confined to parks and city hall, a departure from last week's heated meeting along 17th Avenue S.W. 

The Calgary police service asked protesters earlier in the week to "stay away" from the Beltline area. On Friday, police were granted a temporary court injunction to help manage the expected demonstration. 

Despite these warnings, protesters from both sides turned out to demonstrate amid a heightened police presence and temporary road closures along 12th Avenue S.W. and 13th Avenue S.W. 

In a press conference on Saturday evening, Chief Mark Neufeld said that while for the most part the demonstrations ended in a "peaceful resolution," six arrests were made and dozens of tickets were issued.

According to Neufeld, one arrest was for an individual who had an outstanding warrant. The other five were a result of injunction violations. One individual who was charged with breaching the injunction was also charged with assaulting a police officer after resisting arrest. 

Neufeld said that he believed all individuals arrested were affiliated with the anti-mandate protest group. He said he expects that bylaw will be sending out further tickets in the mail related to parking offences. 

Protests began around 1 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. Neufeld said that anti-mandate protesters stayed mostly within the bounds of Central Memorial park. After a negotiation with police, a group split off to walk to City Hall to demonstrate. 

A counter-protester holds a sign at Peter Lougheed park on Saturday afternoon. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Neufeld said that counter-protesters remained in Peter Lougheed park, although a smaller group did travel to Central Memorial Park later in the day. 

Police kept groups separate while they were both present at Central Memorial park, but Neufeld said that exchanges between the two groups were "very volatile and very tense." 

Neufeld said that while police saw a high level of co-operation from both groups, there were demonstrators who remained in defiance of police direction. 

"There were [portions of both groups] that were intent on coming together and engaging in conflict," said Neufeld. 

"Some of what's going on here is not really about causes as much anymore as it is conflict … that doesn't bode well, to be frank."

Residents return to patios

For the first time in more than a year, 17th avenue remained free of anti-mandate protesters, a change welcomed by local residents and business owners. 

Peter Oliver, president of the Beltline neighbourhood's association, said that while he feels the city is not out of the woods yet when it comes to Saturday demonstrations, this afternoon was a pleasant surprise. 

"It's nice to have a little bit of peace back on your Saturdays," said Oliver. 

In a statement released on Friday, the Beltline neighbourhood's association encouraged those who were planning to join counter-protesters on Saturday to "enjoy our incredible public spaces, fill our restaurants, and patios and spend money at all the amazing businesses that have suffered due to the so-called 'freedom' protests." 

A nearby business owner said they felt the police injunction had a positive impact on deterring protesters from disturbing residents in the Beltline community. 

"It's a lot quieter and the group is no longer outside when normally, right, they would be gathering to march," they said. 

"We would hope that it would continue in this direction of less noise, fewer people, no marching."

Protesters cite 'compromise' 

Jake Eskesen, who attended the anti-mandate protest on Saturday, said that the way events played out was a good compromise. 

"We still gathered in the Beltline where we intended to gather and we still did a mobile protest towards city hall on the sidewalks appealing to all the traffic laws," said Eskesen. 

"Ultimately, would we like to be able to do what we normally do without any restrictions? Obviously yes. But at the end of the day we have to think about the bigger picture and the public safety and our people's safety." 

Eskesen said that the group plans to continue to protest the new temporary injunction — alongside federal travel restrictions and government handling of COVID-19 — at City Hall on Saturday afternoons for the foreseeable future. 

"Overall, we're pretty committed to trying to make this work for everybody and still get our message across," he said. 

Hunter Yaworski, spokesperson for Community Solidarity Calgary, said counter-protesters gathered at Peter Lougheed park to enjoy their Saturday afternoon together while ensuring police followed through with the injunction. 

"We hope ultimately that [the conversations of the last week] have some sort of physical result in the neighbourhood," said Yaworski.

"We hope that all these statements from the Calgary Police Service, statements from the city, actually carry weight to them this time and that we don't have to go out and counter-protest anyone. We hope that the freedom convoy protesters just go home, do something else and let us have our Saturday afternoons back." 

With files from Helen Pike

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