Mayor Gondek calls on police to do more as tension grows at Beltline protests

While anti-mandate protesters have been active in the Beltline area for around a year, a smaller group of counter-protesters has now formed. Counter-protesters have said they are standing in solidarity with Beltlines residents and businesses who have grown increasingly frustrated.

Officers attempted to separate groups as they met Saturday for 2nd weekend in a row

Counter-protesters frustrated with ongoing anti-mandate demonstrations in the Beltline were met by police along 17th Avenue S.W. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Mayor Jyoti Gondek is calling on law enforcement to take more action against people protesting COVID-19 mandates in Calgary's Beltline neighbourhood. 

Tensions were high Saturday afternoon between anti-mandate protesters, counter-protesters and police as the groups met along 17th Avenue S.W. for the second weekend in a row. 

Calgary police estimate there were 2,000 protesters on Saturday. 

In a Twitter thread, Gondek called the anti-mandate protest a "parade" without any permits or licences. She also questioned why bylaws weren't being enforced.

"This is not about mandates. Those are gone. By waiting for this to die out, enforcement agencies have allowed it to grow. Telling residents/businesses to wait it out = shameful," she wrote.

At a press event related to hate-crime funding on Sunday, Premier Jason Kenney said the onus lies on the Calgary Police Service to determine the best way to handle the ongoing protests. 

"It's not for the provincial government to dictate police operations, that is up to the Calgary Police Service. They are accountable to the police commission," said Kenney.

The premier also urged protesters to "move on" from the frustrations of the pandemic.

"We could spend the rest of our lives in this society arguing over COVID, which doesn't make a lot of sense to me, or we could just move forward." 

Protesters and police clashed in Calgary’s Beltline as anti-mandate protests continue and residents and their supporters stand their ground. (Helen Pike/CBC)

On Saturday, anti-mandate demonstrators waved Canadian flags, honked horns and shouted "freedom" on Saturday, as they turned onto 17th Avenue from Fourth Street S.W. before encountering a smaller group of counter-protesters. 

Police attempted to keep the two groups apart, but protesters came face-to-face, with only a line of police separating them. Eventually, anti-mandate protesters made it past the group of counter-protesters to continue down 17th Avenue S.W. 

According to police, the confrontation between the two groups blocked the area for more than an hour.

Videos circulated on social media showed at least one officer seemingly pushing back counter-protesters. In some of the videos, police are seen using bikes to push protesters. 

Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Tyler Shandro said on Sunday that Calgary police were accountable to the police commission and that he is "looking forward" to the commission investigating any public concerns over incidents on Saturday. 

"It is important to be cognizant that these demonstrations occurred over several hours and individual photos and short video clips do not always portray the complete the picture," Calgary police said in an email statement. 

"Our members worked with all parties in attempt to negotiate an alternative that allowed them to peacefully demonstrate; however, after receiving limited co-operation and recognizing the volatility of the situation, officers had to take action to avoid further escalation of the crowd and minimize the disruption to nearby residents and businesses."

The police added that officers collected "a significant amount of evidence," which they will review with investigators to determine possible enforcement. 

Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott, who represents the area and is also a member of the Calgary Police Commission, tweeted his support for Beltline residents on Saturday, calling action by police "a failure."

"Being down in the Beltline today, seeing the unequal treatment of protesters — the impact of these protests runs deep," said Walcott.

"One group was met with aggression, the other, submission. If the intended outcome was non-violence, today was a failure."

Walcott added that he has raised his concerns with the police commission and the city.

Beltline residents frustrated

While anti-mandate protesters have been active in the Beltline area for around a year, a smaller group of counter-protesters has now formed. 

Counter-protesters have said they are standing in solidarity with Beltline residents and businesses who have grown increasingly frustrated with the anti-mandate demonstrations over the past months. 

Counter-protesters said they are standing in solidarity with Beltline residents and businesses who are frustrated with the anti-mandate demonstrations that have been happening on Saturdays over the past year. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Hunter Yaworski, spokesperson for the group, said that their aim is to reclaim the Beltline on Saturday afternoons. 

"We are allowed to be here and voice our opinions and frustrations to [the anti-mandate demonstrators]," said Yaworski. 

"I can't go down 17th Avenue and feel safe. It's incredibly loud. A lot of people I know just leave their house all day because they don't want to hear the constant noise."

Yaworski said many Beltline residents are unclear why the anti-mandate protests have continued in light of the Alberta government ending almost all COVID-19-related restrictions on March 1.

Anti-mandate demonstrators held anti-Trudeau signs and sang the Canadian anthem as they made their way down 17th avenue S.W. 

One vocal supporter of the demonstrations, who was unable to attend Saturday's protest, told CBC News and other media in a statement that he planned to continue joining the rallies to protest federal international travel restrictions and those who had been "unjustly" put on leave from their jobs due to their vaccination status. 

Jake Eskesen said he had lost trust in the Alberta government and provincial health services. 

Both city council and the police have expressed concern in the past week over the two protest groups meeting.

"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," Chief Mark Neufeld said earlier in the week. 

Neufeld noted that while he appreciates the frustration of Beltline residents, the anti-mandate protests, while disruptive, are legal.

Coun. Walcott 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."

With files from Helen Pike and Dominika Lirette