The Beltline Neighbourhoods Association (BNA) is calling on other Calgarians to help Defend the Beltline.
The Calgary police, however, are asking people to stay clear of the area.
The area has been a powder keg on Saturday afternoons in recent weeks. Ongoing weekly protests have originated at Central Memorial Park for the last several months. Residents say the protests are disruptive and have led to a decline in customers for area business. They’re also concerned for their safety.
Last weekend, the protests turned physical as police used force to barricade residents from stopping the main protest. Calgary police Chief Mark Neufeld said after the main protest broke through a route diversion attempt by police, the quick action was necessary.
In a page posted to the BNA website, they’re encouraging Calgarians who care about the Beltline to come out to support them this Saturday. They’re also asking for people to sign a petition to be delivered to the Calgary Police Commission, along with emailing the commission.
In a conversation with LiveWire Calgary on Tuesday, Beltline Neighbourhoods Association president Peter Oliver said residents felt like they have no choice but to stand up for their community.
When asked if a counter-protest was the only option, Oliver said residents feel left with no choice.
“(Residents) showed over the last few weeks they’re frustrated and they’ve had enough and the current approach by CPS to allow these unpermitted parades and occupations of the Central Memorial Park every Saturday is not sustainable,” he said.
“We deserve the right to live in a safe community. Unfortunately, we as a community, have had to take to the streets to be heard.”
Oliver said other Calgarians wouldn’t be talking about this if residents hadn’t confronted the ongoing protests.
Give the residents a break: Police Chief Neufeld
On Monday, Calgary police Chief Mark Neufeld urged the Calgary Freedom Central protesters to consider the impact they’re having. He questioned, given the reduction in Covid-19 restrictions, the need for the protests.
“The communities could use a break,” he said.
He also had a message for Beltline residents.
“As we work this through, and I assure you we will work this through, I would ask and appeal to you not to ramp up your efforts to take over the streets,” he said.
“This increases the risks that are being faced, the volatility that exists for all involved, and certainly has the potential to prompt additional escalation on all sides.
“That is something that would be in no one’s best interest.”
In a statement published Wednesday afternoon, the Calgary police asked people not to come to the area. They said they followed up with Beltline residents and businesses Tuesday to hear how the protests have impacted them.
“Their concern for the disruption, safety of residents and employees, and overall impact to the reputation of downtown Calgary is very real and we empathize with them,” the Calgary police statement read.
“We are asking anyone who intends to protest in the Beltline and 17 Avenue area to instead stay away. We all want our downtown to be a safe and welcoming place and we need your help to make that happen.”
In Tuesday’s special meeting of council, Ward 2’s Jennifer Wyness, who attempted to create a public hearing on the matter, said a safe place is needed.
She attempted to build a mechanism (public discussion) to have protesters agree to give up the rallies in exchange for being heard. When it failed, she too pleaded with protesters to back away.
“I really do implore everybody to not show up on Saturday,” she said.
“Please try and create a safe space or walk a different way. I’m asking very nicely for people to not engage in a fight and let’s make this a safe Calgary for everybody.”
City letter shares Beltline concerns
Mayor Jyoti Gondek said the letter sent to the police commission shared many of the Beltline residents’ concerns. She said it outlined what they’d like to hear from the commission on what they plan to do next.
She told Beltline residents that this isn’t over yet.
“I want to know if there will be more enforcement, if there is more enforcement proposed from the police service,” the mayor said.
“Our bylaw and peace officers will be there to assist. But we need to hear from the group that has been managing the enforcement angle in this from the beginning. We need to know what they’re doing, and we will support accordingly. But we have not given up.”
The Defend the Beltline website encourages joiners to bring a sign, bring a friend, a mask and earplugs.
“The safety of Beltline residents is a priority for the BNA and we condemn all forms of violence,” the site reads.
“We strongly encourage everyone to ensure we show our support for the community peacefully.”
Late Wednesday, the Calgary Police Commission issued a statement. They also said a special meeting will be called on Friday. It can be viewed at this link starting at 3:30 p.m.
“Like City Council, we have also received hundreds of emails and phone calls from Calgarians about these protests. We completely understand the impact this is having on the residents and businesses in the Beltline and want to make it end,” said Commission Chair Shawn Cornett.
“This is an unprecedented situation that is extremely complicated legally and from a policing perspective, but we need to find a way stop the disruptions that are undermining many residents’ ability to enjoy their homes, businesses and community.”
There is no public participation, but citizens are invited to submit a letter, fewer than 500 words, to the commission in advance of the meeting.