Calgary city councillors agreed to send a letter to the Calgary Police Commission on behalf of Beltline residents dealing with ongoing protests.
The letter, first brought forward in the Executive Committee meeting Tuesday, was the subject of a debate at a Special Meeting of Council.
Mayor Jyoti Gondek will be asking for clarification on roles and responsibilities, to advocate for Beltline citizens and to get regular updates from the CPC on ongoing protests. The letter talks about the impact to residents and businesses with protests along 17 Avenue SW for the past two years.
Beltline protests have escalated in recent weeks. Last Saturday’s protests resulted in physical police action to prevent the two sides from colliding. Calgary police Chief Mark Neufeld defended the actions of police, saying they were trying to prevent further escalation.
Coun. Evan Spencer introduced the letter to fellow councillors. He said there’s a lot of tension due to the lingering pandemic.
“I think we are watching what happens when that societal framework, when the institutions that have kind of brokered that for us begin to feel a sense of erosion,” he said.
Many of the councillors supported the letter, while others questioned the contents.
Coun. Andre Chabot, while he supported the letter, said we should be careful not to include “hearsay.” Until specific were brought forward, he was leery to include businesses losing customers, and that revenues had dropped at some businesses by as much as 15 to 20 per cent.
Public hearing for protesters
Ward 2 Coun. Jennifer Wyness wanted to find a way to allow those sharing protesters opinions to be heard publicly. She sought approval for tri-lateral engagement with federal, provincial and municipal officials.
She also wanted a public hearing “for those impacted by the current protests.”
“It’s really easy to do our job when we agree with everyone,” Wyness said.
“But it’s how we do this job when we don’t agree that’s going to make the difference.”
Coun. Penner said she worried “deeply” about allowing hate into council chambers when we have declared Calgary an anti-racist city. She said the protesters have said they’re peaceful.
“Being racist is not peaceful. Calling for governments to being overthrown and being anti-democratic, that’s not peaceful. Harassing and intimidating other citizens with physical presence and noise and distaste for commentary, that’s not peaceful,” she said.
“I cannot move forward with allowing hate to come into these chambers and to set us back.”
Coun. Terry Wong said it’s tough, but council has to be open to conversation.
“If we’re going to move forward and serve our citizens and respect the voices, their opinions and provide good governance, I think we must be open to all parties that are at the table,” he said.
“Whether or not we like or don’t like the particular people at the table, we do need to be open and receptive to them.”
The request for a public hearing was pulled by Coun. Wyness. Further work will be done on a potential motion to come to council.
‘Frustrated’ Beltline Neighbourhoods Association
Peter Oliver, president of the Beltline Neighbourhoods Association (BNA), said he believes residents understand that Calgary city council can’t direct Calgary police. Their mechanism is through advocacy to the Calgary Police Commission.
“It’s not a fast process. And so I think many residents are probably frustrated,” Oliver told LiveWire Calgary.
What worries Oliver is he thinks Calgary police are on a similar trajectory to law enforcement in Ottawa. He believes they’re not willing to enforce bylaws or manage the crowds.
When asked Monday, Chief Neufeld said there’s a challenge between Charter rights and municipal bylaw enforcement. He said the Charter is the supreme law of the land.
“I can tell you our people are looking at a number of different bylaws that we currently have on the books in the city, and then how those apply to what I would call a new environment in terms of protests,” he said Monday.
Oliver believes that Calgary city council is doing the little bit that they can. The rest lies with the Calgary police, he said.
“Unfortunately, I mean, (city council) could write all the bylaws or announce as much as they want,” he said.
“If the Calgary Police Service chooses not to or is not willing to enforce bylaws, then we don’t have a solution. We’re stuck. And so that’s the challenge.”
Police have shown they can redirect large protests, said Oliver
In the meantime, Oliver said residents will continue to stand together to face the anti-mandate protests.
Many are reluctant, for fear of retaliation. He said businesses worry about bricks through windows if they lodge their concerns.
He doesn’t want to limit the ability to protest, just limit the disruption to residents and businesses. Oliver said with a $400 million budget, the police have the resources to redirect this protest. They just need to do it.
“They’ve done it with recent protests, like BLM. They’ve worked with organizers of the Women’s March. They work with the Pride Parade every year. They’re capable of finding creative ways to end protests.”
The letter is important, Mayor Gondek said
When asked if a letter gets the city – or Beltline residents any further ahead – the mayor said it did. It’s important to clarify roles and demonstrate the city’s willing to help enforce bylaws – with police help.
“This letter is also incredibly important because it voices the concerns of Beltline residents and businesses,” the mayor said.
“And that is probably the one thing that has been ignored and not heard for all of this time.”
The mayor said each group could work in a silo but it wouldn’t be the actions that are needed to limit the impact of protests.
“If all three parties are collaborating, those three parties being city and commission and the service we can get a lot more accomplished,” Mayor Gondek said.