Patience is something that Inglewood business owners said they no longer have, after more than 18 months of anti-government protests that have battered customer confidence in the safety of the Calgary’s oldest community.
A counter-protest by business owners and community members was held at the southwest corner of 9 Avenue and 12 Street SE on Oct. 6, against the the regular Thursday afternoon protests. The protest was moved from the planned location in front of Spolumbo’s, after protesters decided to occupy all four corners of the intersection to try and prevent access by counter-protesters.
Rebecca O’Brien, Executive Director for the Inglewood BIA said she was reluctantly speaking out on behalf of business owners who feel afraid of retaliation by protesters.
“They’ve had enough, and I think citizens have had enough, and the city really has lacked the backbone and the courage to to really understand the impact that these protests have on those businesses,” O’Brien said.
She said that there has been long lasting negative impacts on business owners each Thursday.
“Businesses along the street are closing early. Thursday’s a day where you can stay open in the evening, and they can’t stay open—no way, not with this,” she said.
“For example, Spolumbo’s can’t stay open past four o’clock, like nobody’s gonna come to Spolumbo’s when there’s all these protesters.”
O’Brien also cited the damage and lingering effects that protests have caused to the community, including overturned planters, open fire pits, honking cars, loudspeakers and megaphones, chalk messaging in front of business entrances, and outright harassment of people walking on 9 Avenue SE.
For their part, the protesters disagree with the characterization that they are negatively impacting Inglewood.
Editor’s note: LiveWire Calgary has chosen to include unfounded beliefs expressed by individuals in this story in order to further a public discussion about the impacts continuing to affect the Inglewood community. Most, if not all, of these beliefs have been fact checked by LWC and found to be false. They are presented so that the public has a greater understanding of what positions the long-term protesters in Inglewood hold.
One protester named Chris, who declined to give his last name stating that he was “sovereign of Alberta, sovereign of the world, and I’m not part of the corporation anymore,” said that local Inglewood businesses were actually supporting their protest each week.
“Well, actually, we have members of the community on our team,” Chris said.
“We also support a lot of businesses, we support a lot, and I could name a few of the businesses that we buy food from, but there’s also a lot of other businesses, too. I don’t want to say their names in case this business association comes after them for being on our side.”
O’Brien flatly refuted that position.
“There’s not a single business owner with the protesters, and all the business owners are right behind us, so it’s 100 per cent to 0 per cent,” she said.
“He has to base that on actual stats here, I mean there are no business owners over there, and I’ve not heard a single business owner say ‘we want those protesters here.'”
Frustration with City of Calgary over protests
The Inglewood BIA, prior to starting to counter-protest, reached out to Mayor Jyoti Gondek and City of Calgary City Manager David Duckworth regarding the ongoing issues.
In a response by the City, shared with LiveWire Calgary, Ryan Pleckaitis Chief of Community Standards for the City of Calgary said that he was “fully aware of the concerns and frustrations that you and members of the BIA are experiencing with these ongoing protests in Inglewood.”
The letter stated the far larger protests in the Beltline were of a different nature than the continuing ones in Inglewood, and that the legal threshold to obtain an injunction against the current protests has not yet been met.
“In contrast, the activities observed by our Peace Officers and Calgary Police Officers during protests in Inglewood do not amount to breaches of any City bylaws that are of a continuing nature,” wrote Pleckaitis.
“Whenever the protesting individuals have been approached about potential bylaw infractions, they have curbed their behaviour to comply.
“Given that there have been very few breaches observed, nor ones of a continuing nature, there are no grounds upon which The City could apply for an injunction at this time.”
He wrote that the City of Calgary has to be mindful of Charter of Rights protections. Should the BIA pursue an injunction on its own, it would be independent of the City.
O’Brien said she didn’t know how much more evidence they need to put in front of city officials to understand the continued issues in Inglewood.
“I don’t know how much more proof you can get, from firepits, to vandalism, to noise infractions,” she said.
Protesters plan on staying, especially with counter-protests occurring
She also took umbrage with previous comments made by Ward 9 Councillor Gian-Carlo Carra regarding the protests, where he said they should be ignored because they are “losers.”
“For our Councillor to say ‘ignore these people, they are losers,’ my point is that we, the businesses in Inglewood and the citizens have ignored them for a year and a half, and the losers are the citizens of the city and the businesses.”
Coun. Carra, speaking to LiveWire Calgary, said he had a lot of sympathy for the frustration of business owners.
“We have now is like this last ragtag group of – I don’t know who these people are, what they’re protesting— it’s ridiculous, and so I have a lot of sympathy and appreciation for the frustration that the businesses are feeling.”
“But you know, we live in a free society, and people have the right to protest even if you have no flippin’ idea what it is they’re protesting.”
He expressed concern that giving any attention to the protesters would cause their numbers to swell again.
“My belief is that we should not be platforming these sad people who find some sense of community in this weird sort of grievance that they hold,” Carra said.
O’Brien said that they are not asking protesters to cease protesting, just to take their case to a location better suited to affecting government and policy makers directly.
“If there are issues with policy and with government, go to those places. Protest in front of City Hall, protest at the Harry Hayes, protest at the courthouse if that’s the issue,” she said.
“Go there, but don’t punish small businesses for the beefs that you have with government policy.”
Chris claimed that the protest group had originally planned to leave last week from Inglewood, but that the counter-protest by businesses prompted them to stay.
Another protester named Jason, who likewise did not give his last name to LiveWire Calgary, said that it was his right to protest and that the counter-protesters were infringing on that right.
“For me, ‘don’t tread on me,’ I’d say in one verse,” he said.
“If you don’t want me here, it’s my right. I’m going to be right to the edge of the line because I’m screaming at you and I have been for a long time.”
Posts on Facebook and Telegram by protest organizing group Calgary Freedom Central indicated that Thursday’s protest was connected to what they said was an “Ocean 2 Ocean” rally across the nation.
What the protesters believe
Chris said that their protests began with the Covid anti-mask, anti-mandate protests that began over what they believe was unfair treatment to the Inglewood business, Without Papers Pizza.
That business lost its city-issued business licence, AHS issued food handling permit, and AGLC issued liquor licence in October 2021 after refusing to comply with City of Calgary bylaws and provincial health orders regarding provincial vaccine passport requirements. That came after more than 30 complaints were issued by community members about the lack of compliance with the law.
Although the protesters continue to have issues with the government, and freely express an anti-government sentiment, the number of issues at stake for them has evolved to include a variety of grievances. It includes outright conspiracy theories, support for authoritarian regimes like Russia, and anger at the media for not supporting their world views.
Other members sported Infowars stickers, promoting the beleaguered conspiracy site that along with its founder Alex Jones, has been under considerable legal pressure for using demonstrably false claims about the Sandy Hook Massacre to harass the parents of murdered children.
What the protesters believe though, is that despite the small number still gathering in locations across the city, including Inglewood, that they represent a majority, but unstated public opinion.
“We want to let them know that they’re not alone, and they’re in the majority – in the vast majority – because we hear the honks and we see the smiles,” said Jason.
Among the beliefs of the protesters, said Chris, is that the group is doing something different than just protesting.
“I’m not sure if it’s an actual straight protest or a rally to wake people up, It’s kind of a combination,” he said.
“We’ll be protesting these counter protesters, but otherwise, we rallied to let people know.”
A common belief worldwide amongst those holding anti-vaccine beliefs is that the creation of Covid-19 vaccines, and public health measures used to combat the spread of Covid-19, were and continue to be human experimentation. The belief has been widely debunked by fact checkers, legal experts, and through the ample body of evidence about the creation, safety and efficacy of vaccines provided by Health Canada.
Nevertheless, Chris is a proponent of the idea that vaccines are harmful.
“Because there’s a lot of people out there that committed genocide around the world, including people within Calgary, and that’s my opinion on the jab,” he said.
Jason said that he believes more lives could have been saved from vaccines sooner, if there had been more protests. He cited his belief that the anti-parasite medication Ivermectin, which failed to show any results as an effective tool to combat Covid-19 infections, was a cure for the viral disease.
Conspiracy theories and Russian propaganda
He also expressed beliefs that are in line with commonly expressed Q-Anon ones, as reasons he was protesting beyond his Covid-19 interests.
“Much more than that—if you’re blind then you haven’t seen there’s way too many pedophiles at the top there,” he said.
“The whole pretense is silly, and now we’ve got CO2 and nitrogen, these things aren’t killing the planet. Maybe we are doing something to the planet with all the fog and lies and paying off researchers to give us lies and to stamp forms.”
“We all know these people are sick, it’s a cult. Putin called it out. Listen to his speech. Go and look at the facts.”
He also cited commonly spread Russian propaganda about that nation’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, stating that Russian forces were justified in their attempt to remove an illegitimate leader and Nazi forces from that nation, after ethnic Russians were oppressed by Ukrainians.
Both Chris and Jason believe that the country has been divided.
“The economy’s been trounced, society’s been so completely divided, families divided, and it’s not us. It’s always the people up on the television telling us sweet lies that sound good,” said Jason.
“Two and a half million people made it to Ottawa is the estimates I’ve heard from on the ground. We saw it across the country, it was a plurality, they went there with a message.”
At its peak, the Parliamentary Protection Service said that they estimated around 10,000 protesters to be in the nation’s capital. Fact checkers have widely debunked a viral image on Facebook that purported that 2.3 million people were in Ottawa for the convoy protests. Ottawa has a population of just over one million people.
Chris himself took offence at the media covering the counter-protests by business owners, and the presence of bylaw and police officers.
“Trying to get us to leave, this is not the way to come and counter protest, and phone the media and then phone a lot of policemen and bylaw,” he said.
“That’s not the way to get rid of us.”
Jason said that despite what is going on, that the protesters are there for love.
“We love you all. All of you.”