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Police arrest six people at anti vaccine, freedom protest in downtown Calgary


By Alanna Smith and Colette Derworiz

CALGARY — Police arrested several people at a so-called freedom protest in downtown Calgary on Saturday after some demonstrators refused to leave a park that has become ground zero in the city for the weekly rallies.

Calgary Police Service Chief Mark Neufeld said five people were charged with breaching an injunction, with one of them facing an additional charge of assaulting a police officer. And a sixth person was arrested on an outstanding warrant.

“These efforts will continue as we work together to bring peace back to the Beltline and the surrounding communities here in Calgary,” Neufeld told a news conference just after suppertime.

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By then, the park had emptied and few police remained on the scene.

“This was not an issue that developed in one day or one weekend and it’s not one that’s going to be completely resolved in one day or one weekend,” Neufeld said, adding additional charges are expected.

One man was taken to the ground by multiple officers shortly after mounted units and police with bicycles began pushing people to the outskirts of Central Memorial Park in the Beltline neighbourhood.

Another man sat on a park bench and refused to leave. He was handcuffed in front of a crowd of hundreds with many holding signs against COVID-19 health measures.

Earlier, a group of about 1,000 people converged at the park before taking the protest to city hall. Police forced demonstrators back from roadways so traffic could move.

“They can’t stop us,” said a speaker over a megaphone.

Another said, “They’re not going to scare me away. I am not fearful just like you are not fearful. Keep standing up.”

Some people waved upside-down Canadian flags, Alberta flags and at least one Gadsden flag — a yellow banner with a snake reading “don’t tread on me,” which is sometimes used in support of far-right ideology.

Others carried signs that read “Freedom not Farce” and “No Mask or Vax Mandates.”

Hours later, a portion of the group marched to the park where they were met with heavy police enforcement.

The group has typically marched down 17th Avenue, a popular street with restaurants, bars and stores. Last weekend, local residents clashed with protesters there in what police described as a public safety issue.

The ongoing weekend protests have led to an outcry from residents, a special city council meeting, a letter to the police commission from the mayor and an emergency injunction by the city on Friday.

The injunction strengthens police authority to enforce the law.

Premier Jason Kenney was asked to comment on the protests earlier Saturday while on his new weekly phone-in radio show on CHQR and CHED.

He said he didn’t know why there were still protests, because Alberta removed its COVID-19 restrictions weeks ago.

Kenney suggested people could instead demonstrate at McDougall Centre, the provincial government’s offices in Calgary, or the Harry Hays building, where the federal government offices are located.

“If you’re upset about the federal travel vaccine mandates — so am I — go in front of there,” he said. “You can make your point without inconveniencing people in that neighbourhood.”

Both city council and the police commission have said they received hundreds of emails and phone calls from Calgarians about the protests in recent weeks.

The letter to the police commission from Mayor Jyoti Gondek laid out some of those concerns.

“The level of noise from protester’s vehicle horns and chanting is negatively impacting quality of life,” she wrote.

Gondek noted residents, many of whom live in one- or two-bedroom condos or apartments, have been leaving the area to avoid feeling trapped in their homes on Saturday afternoons. Others have reported being harassed for wearing masks.

Businesses have reported lost income as customers have been leaving the area before the protests begin.

Dan Murray, who owns I Love You Coffee Shop in the Beltline, said the protests started about 18 months ago and grew “worse and worse” after truckers took over Canada’s capital city.

The demonstration at Parliament Hill lasted about three weeks until Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the federal Emergencies Act. More than 100 people were charged with various offences between Feb. 17 and 18.

Peter Oliver, president of the Beltline Neighbourhoods Association, said the protests have turned into a “real toxic mix” that include white supremacists and other extremists.

“We have a serious problem here,” he said earlier this week.

“It’s a whole buffet of different losers.”

With files from Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on March 19, 2022.

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. 2022.