Calgary Beltline residents, businesses ask police to take stronger action against weekly protests

Calgary Beltline residents and businesses are asking police to take more action against weekly protests they say have become increasingly frustrating.

Police chief says protests are disruptive but legal

People gather in the Beltline in protest of COVID-19 health restrictions. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Calgary Beltline residents and businesses are asking police to take more action against weekly protests they say have become increasingly frustrating.

"We're looking for [the Calgary Police Service] really to enforce bylaws, to manage these protests and move them essentially to somewhere where it's less disruptive and less threatening to residents and businesses," said Peter Oliver, president of the Beltline Neighbourhoods Association. 

"Quite frankly, what we're seeing right now is not so unlike what happened in Ottawa, where residents started taking policing and safety into their own hands, and things can escalate quite quickly under those circumstances."

Thousands of people are still showing up each weekend to protest public health restrictions in Calgary's downtown. Almost all COVID-19-related restrictions in Alberta ended March 1.

Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott, who represents the area and is also on the Calgary Police Commission, told the Calgary Eyeopener on Wednesday that as time has gone on, it's become unclear what the protesters want.

"For the last year, it's been about public health measures. But here we are, in a province where we don't have any, and yet they continue," said Walcott. "So I think the goalposts have moved so much that no one can pin down what this is about anymore."

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Oliver said businesses have been harassed for enforcing mask mandates, have had access to their business blocked and that counter-protesters have had a smoke bomb thrown at them, among other accounts of intimidation.

Police not planning stronger enforcement measures

On Tuesday, police held a closed-door meeting with city council about the tactics they are planning to take to maintain physical safety and to prevent violence and property damage.

Chief Mark Neufeld said he appreciates the frustration of Beltline residents, but protests, while disruptive, are legal.

Ahead of protests this weekend, police don't plan to take stronger enforcement measures.

"The reality of it is, they're not occupying, they're not blockading," said Neufeld. "We're actually focused right now on making sure that we're well connected with the residents and the businesses in the Beltline to determine … what the biggest concerns are."

He said so far, police have not received many calls from residents who are reporting assault or feeling unsafe from the protests. He said they've seen more complaints on social media after the fact, which he said does not put police in the best position to help.

Neufeld said they are keeping an eye on counter-protests as well.

"It concerns me because, obviously, anytime you have two groups of people that are sort of in opposition ideologically or otherwise, you know, that does ramp up the volatility and the potential for violence," Neufeld said.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener and CBC Calgary News at 6