Duelling rallies at city hall stay peaceful
Heavy police presence ensured two sides stayed apart
About 150 people took part in opposing but peaceful rallies at Calgary City Hall on Friday night.
A heavy police presence kept the two sides from getting too close to each other at the municipal plaza.
About 100 people chanted and listened to speeches to mark the annual International Day of al-Quds rally.
Events are held around the world as a sign of solidarity with the Palestinian people and other oppressed groups.
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Local organizer Riyaz Khawaja rejects the notion from their opponents that this is a rally to incite hatred of Israel.
"We are not here not against Jews or any faith. We are here against the Zionists," said Khawaja.
Several times through the al-Quds rally, people chanted "Long live Palestine" and "Israel out of Palestine."
Surrounded by a cordon of police officers, about 50 pro-Israel demonstrators on the other side of the municipal plaza chanted, sang and danced..
The Alberta head of the Jewish Defence League, Don Sharpe, was critical of the al-Quds gathering and said it was important for the local Jewish community to oppose it.
"The only purpose to this rally is to incite hatred against Jews," said Sharpe.
One person in the pro-Israel group carried a sign that read "Stop hating Jews."
More protests this weekend
More events will be held in Calgary on the weekend which are expected to cause tensions in the community.
On Saturday, a rally called We Stand United in One Love Canada is set for 12 p.m. at city hall.
And later on Saturday, at 5:30 p.m., the Calgary Anti-Oppression Interfaith Rally will also take place at city hall.
An anti-Islam group, the Worldwide Coalition Against Islam (WCAI) has been advertising an event on Facebook for Saturday afternoon at Olympic Plaza, dubbing it the Patriotic Unity Mega Festival.
But Calgary Recreation denied its application for a special event permit, "on the basis that your organization, and messages it espouses, are hateful," the city told the group in a written response.
Despite the rejection, a spokesman for the group said it will hold a peaceful march starting at Olympic Plaza Sunday afternoon.
Community activist Saima Jamal says she's been warning local Muslims to stay away from the core on Sunday, not out of fear for their safety but to avoid running into this group.
She said she was worried that people might "get traumatized, get provoked or hear some racist remarks or see images that are very, very demeaning towards Islam and Muslims."
The Calgary Police Service is working with various groups to ensure things stay peaceful.
Earlier this week, Supt. Cliff O'Brien said police have been preparing for the events.
When asked what would cause police to intervene at an event, O'Brien said there is a "fine line" between free speech and what would be considered hate speech.
"It has to be targeted toward an identifiable group, it has to be in public and it's likely to lead to harm against individuals," he said.