Frustration rises in Calgary's Beltline as weekly protests continue

Many residents in the Beltline are exasperated by how much the weekly protests against COVID-19 health restrictions in their neighbourhood have impacted their lives. City Coun. Courtney Walcott says residents have complained about being harassed and intimidated by protesters.

'It feels unsafe in our community because of this so-called protest,' says resident

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

Residents in the Beltline neighbourhood are growing increasingly exasperated with the weekly protests against COVID-19 health restrictions in their neighbourhood.

"For well over a year, it feels like, there have been parades of people yelling, honking, intimidating the people who live in this community. As somebody who lives here, I know that Saturdays are the time when I stay in our house," said local resident Daorcey Le Bray.

The Beltline resident said he and his wife and child have been harassed by protesters for wearing masks.

"It's disappointing that we have to feel like we need to stay in our home on Saturday afternoons because it feels unsafe in our community because of this so-called protest."

Calgary Police told CBC News they estimate there were between 3,000 and 3,500 people protesting and marching in the Beltline area on Feb. 19 in opposition of COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other public health measures.

Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott said he's heard stories from locals and businesses about being harassed, adding that people living in the neighbourhood are immensely frustrated and have "almost a feeling of being trapped."

Walcott is encouraging people to report disturbances to 311.

He's hoping that the 311 reports will help the city create an action plan to help address specific concerns. 

Walcott points to the court injunction Edmonton received last week against honking in the downtown area as an example of action a city can take. 

Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott said he's heard stories from locals and businesses about being harassed by protesters. (Helen Pike/CBC)

"In Calgary, we have to make sure that whatever response that we come up with is contextual to what people are seeing here," he said, noting that Calgary hasn't had the same degree of cars and trucks at protests that Edmonton has.

"We want to make sure again that whatever we do is also followed by our ability to enforce it."

'Doesn't feel like freedom'

Kevin Schlauch with the Beltline Neighbourhoods Association has also received complaints from locals about the protests. Some of the complaints include demonstrators using public parks as bathrooms, illegal parking and roads being blocked.

"It's mostly people who don't live in the Beltline and they're coming down to the Beltline and almost dictating the way our weekends are going to play out," he said.

"I'm not sure what message of freedom that they're trying to get across by doing this, but whatever it is, it doesn't feel like freedom. It feels like the opposite."

Walcott said he is understanding of the right people have to protest, but said it shouldn't conflict with the freedom of others.

"At the end of the day, there's a protected right of protesting that we don't want to get in the way of. We don't want to get in the way of people's ability to express themselves and demonstrate. It's when that freedom interacts with other people's freedoms that we start to really figure out what role we play in this work," he said.

On Feb. 8, the province announced they were lifting the restriction exemption program as part of a three-step plan to lift pandemic-related restrictions. On March 1, more restrictions are expected to lift, including the provincial mask mandate.

However, if protests are going to continue, locals like Le Bray would like to see them relocate to somewhere like city hall.

"There are great places to protest to influence public policy, but public parks, outside of hospitals, on residential streets and in front of patios, those aren't those places," he said.

"You can still have your voice heard in a way that doesn't terrify the people who live in the community."

With files from Helen Pike