Canadian Anti-Hate Network
Calgary’s Beltline neighbourhood came together last weekend for the third time to challenge the COVID-conspiracy protests that have been taking over their streets nearly every weekend for months.
This Saturday, March 19, community activists are planning to show up again.
Meeting outside of Lougheed House, at 707 13 Avenue SW in Calgary at 1 pm, the plan is to mount a peaceful opposition to the ongoing protests.
Little punitive action has been taken by Calgary law enforcement since the protests began, but when tensions flared on Saturday, March 12, police chose to use force against counter-protesters alone. When members of The Beltline community gathered in the street to halt the march of the COVID conspiracy protests, police set up a line of officers with bicycles to separate the two groups.
The counter-protesters refused to give way and video released from the event shows police officers striking them with bicycles.
In response to criticism, police released a statement saying they “understand the concerns about the police tactics used” and encouraged those concerned to report any misconduct by officers.
The protests have been mustering for months at Central Memorial Park, with speeches and signs filling the air ahead of a march through the streets of Calgary. Residents report merchandise tents being set up, and even the presence of food vendors according to Mayor Jyoti Gondek, who described the event as “not a protest. It’s a parade.”
“We were ultimately just fed up with what's been going on in The Beltline,” said Hunter Yaworski, a spokesperson for Community Solidarity YYC, a group organizing the counter. “These protests have been going on for a couple of years now, which is incredibly frustrating.
“With all the mandates repealed, I think a lot of people just decided that enough is enough.”
The COVID-conspiracy protests typically travel up 17th Avenue from Central Memorial Park. Counter protests have been ongoing for three weekends in a row, with the upcoming action being the fourth.
As noted by an on-the-ground activist, these protests begin across the street from the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre.
Actions from the protesters against the community members opposing them has included violent incidents. On February 26, a member of the COVID-conspiracy march was arrested after allegedly pushing a counter-protester to the ground. At the same protest, Yaworski says a smoke grenade was thrown into the crowd of around 50 counter-protesters.
According to Calgary Police Chief Mark Neufeld, the larger COVID-conspiracy demonstration pushed past police who attempted to direct them away from those holding the counter.
“Very notably, this represents what I would call a marked escalation from the freedom group, who up until that point had been reasonably cooperative with police,” Neufeld said at a March 14 press conference.
When the groups met, they remained stationary for around an hour, he added, stating that members from one of the groups began to move around to the rear of the other. He did not specify which, only that increasing tensions were creating a risk to public safety.
With neither side willing to budge, Neufeld explains, “opening a pathway” through the smaller group was the “most effective way” to end the conflict. He went on to ask “freedom protesters” to consider that with mandates having been lifted, they consider the impact their ongoing demonstrations are having on businesses.
To the residents of The Beltline neighbourhood, he asked them not to “ramp up” their actions.
When asked about the varying response by police, Yaworski said it is related to size, but also potential officer perception of the event. He adds that the community has concerns about police loyalties, citing examples where police expressed sympathy with the far-right conspiracy movement.
Those looking to help the protests locally, and feel comfortable enough to do so, can join them on Saturday. Those outside the city or unable to participate and want to help are asked to use social media to boost the community action.
In response to another weekend of duelling protests, the Calgary Police Commission is holding a special meeting on March 18, at 3:30 pm local time. The public is invited to watch a public portion. There is no public participation at this meeting, but according to a release, written submissions under 500 words can be submitted to the Commission prior to the meeting.