Freedom rally aggression escalates towards Beltline counter protests

Police arrested one person after the man shoved over a counter-protester as the rally approached

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Calgary police arrested one man after he shoved a counter-protester to the ground as hundreds of freedom rally protesters marched in the Beltline area Saturday afternoon.

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Around 50 counter-protesters, part of the group Community Solidarity Calgary, gathered for a second week at the 17th Avenue and 7th Street intersection.

Protest organizers say they are there to support public health-care institutions and stand against harassment from freedom rally protesters. Those protesters have regularly held loud, disruptive marches in central Calgary neighborhoods for months, to demonstrate against what they consider a curtailment of freedoms, the imposition of COVID-19 masks mandates and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Hunter Yawroski, media outreach co-ordinator for Community Solidarity, described interactions with the freedom convoy protesters as “very tense” but that the group has seen a lot of support from the community over the last week.

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“We’re going to keep doing this and try to gain as much support as we can every Saturday until the convoy stops. I think this is the most important thing we can do to show solidarity,” said Yawroski.

As the group waited for the loud march of freedom rally protesters to reach them, a man walked up to a person holding a sign that read “Fascists go home.”

When he yelled at the person about the sign, others moved forward to act as a shield between them. The man then grabbed one protester and shoved him to the ground.

As he walked away, a police officer approached the man and arrested him.

“If it didn’t happen to me, it would have happened to someone more vulnerable,” said someone standing at the intersection after the assault, who Postmedia is identifying as Kerry due to safety concerns. “He just attacked whoever was closest, and that was me.”

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Tensions between freedom rally protesters and counter-protesters in the Beltline grew Saturday afternoon.  Counter-protesters formed a line across the road to prevent freedom rally protesters from continuing down 17th Avenue.  Brittany Gervais/Post Media
Tensions between freedom rally protesters and counter-protesters in the Beltline grew Saturday afternoon. Counter-protesters formed a line across the road to prevent freedom rally protesters from continuing down 17th Avenue. Brittany Gervais/Post Media jpg

Tensions have escalated between the two protests since Community Solidarity began their demonstrations. Last weekend, freedom rally protesters threw a smoke grenade at the Beltline group.

“There were children there, elderly people, a lot of immunocompromised people with asthma,” said Kerry. “This kind of behavior does not belong in our communities.”

One counter-protester named Kel was steps away from where the smoke grenade was thrown last weekend. Kel’s last name has not been published for safety concerns.

“I smelled the smoke before I saw anything. And as soon as it hits, my heart was racing. I’m a severe asthmatic,” Kel said. “I just want to feel safe in my own community again, but I can’t. The mandates are over, go home.”

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On March 8, Calgary city council will vote on an amendment to the public safety bylaw to address street harassment in the city. The amendment would ban the harassment of a person in a public space, and carry a fine of $500.

Last month, an Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench justice granted the City of Edmonton a temporary injunction prohibiting protesters from honking vehicle horns and other noisemaking devices within city limits.

Calgary-Buffalo MLA Joe Ceci, also Alberta’s NDP municipal affairs critic, participated in the counter-protest on Saturday. He said he urged Calgary council to pass the amendment as it would give law enforcement another tool to use.

“The Beltline needs to be reclaimed by people who want to respect others, and I don’t see that happening from the people who are in these protests. They’re coming from all over the province, I think, outside of Calgary,” Ceci said.

“I’m certainly listening to residents who are telling me that they’d want something done about it sooner than later. So if (the amendment) doesn’t work, we need to find other ways to curtail the negative effects.”

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Around 2:45 pm, the counter-protesters formed a line across 17th Avenue as the freedom rally approached, blocking off access to the road. A line of police officers stood facing them.

When the rally met the blockade, groups of protesters stood in front of the line of police, honking horns, beating on drums, and yelling at counter-protesters. One man with a microphone chanted “We’re going to the park!” and protesters began turning down 7th Street SW

As they gradually moved on, the sounds of horns and drumming quieted. Traffic summarized down 17th Avenue as pedestrians strolled through Tomkins Park. The sound of music was heard as a man began to sing.

Two freedom rally protesters declined interviews with Postmedia. Both who declined said it was because of the reporter’s decision to wear a mask.

bgervais@postmedia.com

Twitter: @BrittGervaisAB

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