The city of Calgary obtained a court injunction on Friday that significantly limits the activities of anti-lockdown protesters who have been holding weekly rallies for months that have prompted complaints from residents and businesses.
The injunction, which was issued amid fears that another protest planned for Saturday could lead to a confrontation with angry residents, prohibits protesters from blocking streets and sidewalks and limits their use of Central Memorial Park in the city’s Beltline neighbourhood. The park has become a rally site and staging ground.
Large crowds of protesters have gathered at Central Memorial, which is just south of Calgary’s downtown, every Saturday for months to oppose COVID-19 public health measures. They then march through the city’s entertainment district along 17th Avenue. The size of the marches has grown, and residents of the Beltline neighbourhood and restaurants and bars along what is typically a bustling street say they have disrupted their lives and hurt their businesses.
Last Saturday, counterprotesters blocked the march and were met by an aggressive response from the city’s police force, which faced pressure from the mayor and others to crack down on the protests before another planned for this weekend.
Mayor Jyoti Gondek and some city councillors criticized the police response last weekend, when officers used bicycles to push back a small group of counterprotesters, and the police chief’s performance at a news conference later. Local politicians and activists accused the chief of blaming those counterprotesters for escalating the situation.
At a police board meeting and news conference on Friday afternoon, officials from the force outlined a plan they said would limit disruptions in the Beltline and allow protesters to gather.
Chief Mark Neufeld said protesters will be permitted to gather in Central Memorial Park, but will not be allowed to use anything that could amplify sound or otherwise disturb the area. He added that they will not be allowed to move the protest off the park.
“There will be no marching tomorrow,” Chief Neufeld said. “There will be no mobile protest. There will be nobody behaving that way down in the Beltline.”
He said the area will have a heavy police presence on Saturday, and while the goal is to keep the peace and allow people to exercise their right to protest, officers will enforce the injunction with arrests if necessary.
Chief Neufeld faced criticism earlier in the week after he defended how the force has handled the COVID-19 demonstrations, as he singled out what he described as “professional protesters” among the counterprotesters. He said on Friday that those comments were misinterpreted.
The protests against public-health measures have been happening in and around downtown Calgary since restrictions were imposed in 2020.
The protests have grown considerably in recent months, particularly after a convoy of transport trucks and other vehicles travelled to Ottawa in late January and paralyzed the national capital for weeks. In the Calgary protests, rowdy crowds have marched through the Beltline carrying Canadian flags and signs opposing mandates and vaccines, while promoting conspiracy theories.
Chief Neufeld said the demonstrators were relatively co-operative until last weekend, when they refused a police request to change their route to avoid the counterprotesters.
Ms. Gondek has said neither she nor city council can direct the force or the police commission that oversees it. Council voted earlier this week to send a letter to the police commission outlining concerns about the protests and the police response, while asking that council be briefed on the force’s plan for the coming weekend. That happened on Friday.
The mayor issued a statement welcoming the injunction.
“Beltline residents, visitors and businesses have every right to lead their lives without fear and disturbance,” the statement said. “It is time for protesters to voluntarily move to more appropriate venues.”
Peter Oliver, president of the Beltline Neighbourhoods Association, said the announcement of the injunction brought a sense of relief and cautious optimism.
“We welcome Calgary Police taking action to enforce the law against this ongoing mob that’s been overrunning our neighbourhood every Saturday,” Mr. Oliver said in an interview after the injunction was issued.
He encouraged residents and supporters to visit restaurants, patios, shops and public spaces along 17th Avenue as a way of reclaiming the neighbourhood peacefully.
“We want the rest of the city and the neighbourhood to feel welcome to come back and enjoy the neighbourhood and all of the businesses tomorrow, and to show the rest of the city that we value the space and we want it back that way.”
Community Solidarity Calgary, which has been organizing small counterprotests in recent weeks, posted on Twitter that the group will gather on Saturday afternoon to discuss the protests and assess the situation.
Residents and businesses in the Beltline have questioned why the protesters continue their marches even as most COVID-19 public health measures have been lifted in Alberta and elsewhere.
The province has been among the most aggressive in the country in ending restrictions. For example, Alberta’s vaccine passport system was dismantled in February, and masks haven’t been required in most places since March 1.
The protesters, however, have added new demands and previously said they have no intention of shutting down their events.
Protester Jake Eskesen, who has become an unofficial spokesman (although he insists there are no organizers), said in an e-mail this week that the group will protest as long as any public-health measures from any level of government are in place.
Mr. Eskesen has also said the group is protesting against the jailing of a Calgary street preacher who has been charged with repeatedly violating public-health orders, and that it wants constitutional changes, among other demands.
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