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Calgary police wanted to prevent weekend protest escalation: Chief Neufeld

Calgary police Chief Mark Neufeld pleaded with anti-mandate, anti-government protesters to give Beltline residents “a break” in the aftermath of weekend protests.

Chief Neufeld held a press conference Monday afternoon to provide their perspective of the weekend’s events.

Two sides once again confronted each other on Saturday, and police took physical action toward Beltline residents and other participants who formed a counter-protest.

Chief Neufeld addressed the police use of bikes to move counter-protesters. He said they initially asked the main protest group to divert their path to a different area to avoid the confrontation.  They didn’t comply, he said.

“When I say refused to follow the orders or direction of the officers on the ground, what I’m saying is the group literally pushed past the officers that were in that particular location and continued on, which you can appreciate that large groups can do with a small number of officers at a particular point,” Neufeld said.

“Very notably, this represents what I would call a marked escalation in the behaviour of the Freedom group who, up to that point, have been reasonably cooperative with police during the facilitation of their right to protest over the last many months.”

He said secondary negotiations happened with both sides. Neither budged. That’s when mountain bikes were used to create the path for the main protest group. He called it a “pressure relief valve.”

“Officers reported seeing several altercations between the two groups and had to take quick action to prevent escalation, which without their intervention, was in their view, inevitable,” Neufeld said.

Officers weren’t choosing sides, Chief Neufeld said.

“This was simply the most effective way to bring this conflict to a conclusion keeping in mind the risks of public and officer safety,” he said.

City action is incredibly limited: Mayor Gondek

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said the City of Calgary has no ability to direct the Calgary Police Service. They don’t have the ability to direct the Calgary Police Commission.

“We have limited ability to push our bylaw officers to enforce something without the support of the police service. So, we are in a really tough spot as a council,” she said.

A special meeting of council was called for Tuesday afternoon. The mayor said something would be brought forward that very clearly expresses their concerns and what they’re willing to do. That could include enforcement around permitting or licensing at Central Memorial Park, where the main protest group originates.

The mayor, who was in the Beltline Saturday, said things got incredibly tense.

“The police had to make a quick decision,” she said.

“And that’s when the shouts of ‘move’ and the bicycles came into play to shove people into a corral, if you will. It can be argued that it was for the safety of the residents. It can be argued that it was to allow the protesters to move through, take whichever argument you wish. But anytime you have to slam a bike into a resident, you need to reconsider the methods that you’re using to exercise crowd control.”

The Calgary Police Commission issued a statement Monday afternoon. They said they understand the frustration of Beltline residents. They said they also understand citizens are concerned with police actions. Residents can lodge complaints, they said.

“These protests are disruptive, divisive and are undermining many residents’ ability to enjoy their homes, businesses and community,” the statement read.

Fatigue for residents

Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott had been encouraging people to call Calgary 311 to report incidents.  Weekend complaints dropped substantially.

“I think there’s a fatigue for people utilizing the system to wait for some type of response. People are looking, they’re calling 311. They’re calling the non-emergency line, now they’re being redirected around here at council,” he said.

“The end result has been one in which it always goes back to enforcement.”

He wants Calgarians to continue.

“It’s in the consistency and it’s in the persistence that people will not lose sight of the voice that you are trying to have heard,” Coun. Walcott said.

Some of the challenges might be around the view of 17 Avenue SW as a hybrid area, Walcott said. It’s residential, but there’s obviously a large retail and commercial contingent, too.

“I think that’s been a part of the major challenge that we’ve seen is how people view these physical spaces as jointly owned by everyone, versus being respected as a community,  as a neighbourhood as people who are just trying to go live their life in their backyard.”

Chief Neufeld said he didn’t expect there to be a solution by Friday. Still, he wants the Freedom group to think about what they’re doing.

“I would urge freedom protesters to take into consideration the negative impact that they’re having, these ongoing protests are having, on communities and consider given the restrictions being lifted in the state of the situation in Alberta, whether these protests need to continue at this time,” Neufeld said.

“The communities could use a break.”