Calgary police establish task force to investigate 150-person clash linked to Eritrean tensions
Police chief says there was extensive property damage to cars, businesses not involved in conflict
Calgary police have established a task force Tuesday after what they're calling the largest violent event to happen in the city in recent memory.
And the city's police chief said people responsible for the conflict between two Eritrean groups on the long weekend will be held accountable.
On Saturday, police said, officers responded to an incident in northeast Falconridge at around 5 p.m. after reports of two groups with opposing views engaged in violence. They said they believe up to 150 people were involved, and many were brandishing weapons.
"It was a senseless violence that was sort of planned and premeditated and there were individuals who wanted this to happen, and it did," Chief Const. Mark Neufeld said Tuesday.
WATCH | Why Eritreans in Canada are clashing at festivals:
Members of Calgary's Eritrean community were involved, he said, and added that the clash was centered around two separate events scheduled in the city's northeast quadrant.
Twelve people were taken to hospital at the time of the incident and all have since been released. Neufeld said there were no bystanders taken to hospital.
"The scheduled events were peaceful in nature and all attendees are not to be blamed for the violence that transpired alongside them," Neufeld said.
Neufeld said there were different political ideologies on either side of the clash, and officers had anticipated there would be violence at the event — similar to other incidents in Toronto, Edmonton and Israel. He added that a police task force to interview those hospitalized, and that officers will review CCTV footage, photos, videos and social media posts from the event.
He said police were stationed at two areas of interest nearby, but officers ended up coming across the conflict while traveling by bike between the two event sites. He said much of the damage from the conflict was to people who had nothing to do with it.
"There were individuals who owned cars that were parked in the area and there were local businesses, small businesses."
Last month there was violence at an Eritrean festival in Edmonton, and a similar clash in Toronto. At those events, protesters from the Eritrean diaspora opposed events that billed themselves as celebrations of Eritrean culture.
Days ago, more than 100 people were injured in violent clashes in Tel Aviv between Eritrean government supporters celebrating an Eritrea Day event and opponents of President Isaias Afwerki.
Awet Weldemichael, a professor at Queen's University who studies nationalist movements, peace, conflict and other issues relevant to Africa, told CBC that what happened in Calgary and elsewhere is a "troubling phenomenon for Eritreans and the diaspora and Eritrean Canadians in particular."
He said those involved in the conflict are Eritrean people of the same heritage and nationality, who have fallen on opposite sides of the political equation in Eritrea, a difference that comes to a head at festivals.
"On the one side are those who support the government in Eritrea, and these are the ones who are organizing the festivals," he said.
WATCH | Tensions high in Eritrean communities:
CBC previously reported that some view demonstrations against the festivals as a chance to raise their voice in opposition to a repressive regime when those in their home country cannot.
Michael Teclemariam, host of the Eritrean Radio Show on CJSW 90.9 FM in Calgary, said others see the festivals as a way to celebrate and demonstrate free speech.
Weldemichael said the protests have been going on for a long time, and he said they're a natural progression of protestors' views being denied.
With files from the Canadian Press