Calgary mayor says she expects different outcome from Beltline protests this weekend

City council will send a letter regarding the ongoing protests in the Beltline to the Calgary Police Commission.

City council to send letter to police commission about ongoing protests

Calgary police tried to maintain the peace last Saturday in the Beltline as anti-mandate protesters moved toward community residents and their supporters, who wanted to block the march. (Helen Pike/CBC)

After a clash of rival protest groups last weekend and criticism of how police handled it, Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek says "something needs to change."

City council decided Tuesday to send a letter regarding the ongoing protests in the Beltline to the Calgary Police Commission.

The letter, penned by Gondek on behalf of council and addressed to the commission chair, Shawn Cornett, was debated by council in a special meeting. 

Protests in Calgary against COVID-19 public health restrictions started nearly two years ago. They have continued in the Beltline every Saturday even though most mandates have been lifted.

The letter states that council wants further dialogue on policing and to advocate for Beltline residents, and requests regular updates from the commission on protest activity. 

The commission provides independent civilian oversight and governance of the Calgary Police Service. Although the city funds the police service, it's the commission — and not the mayor or city council — that sets policies and provides direction. 

The letter was approved, following some revisions, 13-2, with Ward 13 Coun. Dan McLean and Ward 4 Coun. Sean Chu voting against.

Counter-protesters met with Calgary police and anti-mandate demonstrators on March 12, 2022. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Last Saturday, protesters and a smaller group of counter-protesters — representing area residents and businesses — clashed on 17th Avenue S.W. In previous weeks, a smoke bomb was thrown at the counter-protesters.

Chu, a former police officer, said council needs to let the police do their job, and said the intent behind the letter is to direct the police. 

Gondek said the letter is not an attempt to coerce the police, and that the intent isn't to stop protests.

However, Gondek said she expects to see a different outcome from any protests this weekend than what happened last weekend. 

"I can tell you that we are here right now raising the flag again, as a council, that something needs to change. What has been the practice is not working," Gondek said. 

The letter says Beltline residents have shared anecdotes of feeling trapped inside their homes — as protesters march in the streets — while children have been exposed to people yelling at them to take their masks off.

Though Ward 2 Coun. Jennifer Wyness voted in favour of the letter, she said she wants councillors to come up with a better plan other than strongly worded letters. She also urged people not to go to the Beltline on Saturday.

Wyness put forward a motion arising, calling for all levels of government to engage with all types of protesters, and a public hearing.

However, she decided to withdraw the motion.

Deputy police chief says this weekend will be different

Prior to council's special meeting, Deputy Chief Chad Tawfik told CBC that police are planning options for this weekend

He said ideally protesters would take a different route this weekend.

"But of course, as we saw last weekend, they may or may not follow direction. If they choose not to, we will have to address that within our operational plans," Tawfik said. 

He said police are meeting with groups Tuesday and throughout the week to see what their plans are. 

"We have to be responsive to that. But I think it's safe to say that you'll see some different things in play this weekend."

With files from Scott Dippel and the Calgary Eyeopener


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