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A counter protestor walk through the crowd as people gather in protest against COVID-19 mandates and in support of a protest against COVID-19 restrictions taking place in Ottawa, in Edmonton, Saturday, on Feb. 5, 2022.JASON FRANSON/CP

Edmonton’s mayor said he has taken his concerns to the police board about how his city’s police force handled a group of residents who organized a counterprotest against a truck convoy this past weekend.

The counterprotesters say police swiftly dispersed them and warned them they could face fines for obstructing traffic, while the convoy protesters were able to proceed into downtown and create disruption with little impediment.

The truck convoy protesters, who are against health restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, have demonstrated for weeks on Saturdays. Last Friday, in anticipation of a third demonstration, the City of Edmonton was granted a temporary court injunction “to help address nuisance noise from vehicles that participate in protests against public health restrictions.”

Residents who organized a counterprotest against the convoy say city police responded in an unfair way. For the past month, cities across the country have seen protests against public-health restrictions using trucks to block downtown roads and create excessive, sustained noise.

Trucker convoy demonstrations spread across Canada as counter-protests call for an end to disruptions

Juan Vargas was part of a group of Edmontonians who took to River Valley Road on Feb. 12 to prevent the convoy of trucks from reaching the city’s downtown area and causing disruption as they had in the weeks prior.

“The goal for me, in large part, was to show that people can’t come in with their convoys with zero opposition with zero resistance,” Mr. Vargas said.

Within an hour, the group was dispersed by the Edmonton Police Service.

In a statement, Edmonton Police said they issued 10 tickets to convoy participants and mailed a further 60, with nine of these tickets relating to noise.

“Policing during a public demonstration is a complex task that includes upholding multiple laws, while balancing fundamental rights for all demonstrators set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Our priority is always to uphold public safety and order,” the police force said.

“Citizens were advised on Friday, February 11 that mitigation could include verbal warnings, tickets, arrests and gathering of evidence for follow-up investigations. The injunction was incorporated into these enforcement strategies.”

The force said that counterprotesters were asked to move off the road to “restore traffic flow.”

”Blocking traffic not only impacts those involved in the demonstration, but impacts all motorists. The citizens were cooperative with our request to move onto the sidewalk and officers did not conduct any enforcement.”

But Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said he raised the residents’ concerns to the chair of the police commission on Saturday evening.

“We heard similar concerns from a large number of Edmontonians who felt that the rules that are in place, particularly the injunction that we were able to seek from the court, were not being properly implemented,” said Mr. Sohi. “We will continue to work with the police service, with our police commission to ensure that safety of Edmontonians is prioritized.”

Mr. Sohi discouraged Edmontonians from participating in counterprotests.

“I worry about the well-being of people who are participating, or may participate, in these counterprotests,” he said. “These are very dangerous people, the convoy. We saw that already today how many guns and weapons and ammunition [were] seized from these people.”

Bradley Lafortune, another counterprotest organizer, said Saturday’s event was a reasonable reaction by concerned Edmontonians.

“Walking back and forth across the crosswalk to stop a convoy of trucks that is hell-bent on disrupting life in downtown Edmonton is a totally reasonable response and intervention by citizens who are concerned,” said Mr. Lafortune.

“At the end of the day, police don’t keep us safe, we keep us safe. And that was made clear on Saturday.”

Michael Janz, city councillor for a central Edmonton ward, called for a public inquiry into the police’s response on Saturday. He said many of his constituents are frustrated and angry to see the “double standard.”

“When people perceive that the police are not enforcing the law on convoys of law breaking truckers who are breaking traffic laws with profanity laced messages on their vehicles, that, in turn, undermines the confidence in people saying well, why should I have to follow the law?”

Mr. Janz said the police response should have begun much earlier to prevent the truck convoy from entering the city in the first place.

“Why the full rule of law, the ticketing, everything, were not thrown at each of these vehicles from the onset, why it was allowed to get to here is driving people into a level of frustration that I have not encountered in my 12 years of public service,” said Mr. Janz.

“We’ve seen that when the police want to throw the book at somebody they can certainly do so.”

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