Calgary police investigate assault with a weapon amid concerns about hate at anti-mask protest

Calgary police say an investigation is underway into an assault with a weapon near a protest against public health restrictions in the city on Saturday — and are also responding to criticisms that officers aren’t doing enough enforcement at the rallies, which have become a weekly occurrence in the city. 

Hundreds gathered at Prince’s Island Park this weekend to protest public health restrictions like mask mandates. Some protesters carried signs promoting QAnon conspiracy theories or concerns about 5G cellphone towers.

A short video circulating on social media, shot about 200 metres from the primary location of the rally, shows a man wearing a T-shirt that reads “Proud White Christian Man” punching a counter-protester in a wheelchair. 

Police said in a release that a confrontation took place, but as “neither group was willing to cooperate with police to pursue the matter further … no charges were laid in the incident.” 

Supt. Ryan Ayliffe told CBC News at that point, police weren’t aware the incident may have involved a weapon.

“Subsequent to that, though, you know, we got more video and images posted and something’s come to light that doesn’t involve these two people,” he said.

After more videos and photos circulated of the incident, police say they are now investigating a potential assault with a flagpole against a third person who was present during the confrontation.

Ayliffe says officers are doing their best in a complicated landscape.

“We’re having multiple protests, multiple days. It’s very tough [for] police, he said.

“I know that there’s an expectation that we do more and we strive to do more with respect to enforcement … we’re trying to do it in a measured way, in a balanced way that shows that we’re, you know, it’s necessary and proportional to what what needs to be done.”

No formal complaints about hate crimes at rallies, police say

Det. Craig Collins, hate crimes coordinator with CPS, said while messages of intolerance have been seen at the rallies the service hasn’t investigated hate crimes associated with those events. 

“Although I understand public perception … I have yet to receive a formal complaint from anybody about a specific criminal act that has occurred at any of these rallies. Like I said earlier, CPS will investigate to its fullest, fullest extent to any criminal offence that is brought to us.”

On Sunday, a woman was charged with attacking a stranger wearing a hijab, berating her with racial slurs and punching her in the face in the same park where the rallies were held, but police say that incident is not believed to be connected to the protests. 

Calgary Police Service also addressed Sunday that officers at the protest were seen wearing “thin blue line” patches — a controversial symbol that has been banned by some forces, with critics concerned it increases divisiveness at a time police have been under scrutiny for their use of force in policing Black, Indigenous and people of colour.

“The origin of the thin blue line logo in Canadian policing is based on the foundation that is a dedication to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice … we do, however, recognize the meaning can be interpreted differently by different people and this is something we are very aware of as we move forward as an organization,” CPS said.

Police said a hate crime investigator and members from the diversity liaison team were present at the rallies, gathering evidence to potentially address issues in future. 

The Calgary Police Commission is set to meet Tuesday, and commission member Heather Campbell wrote on Twitter that she’d encourage the public to share any concerns at the meeting about the weekend protests and police service’s actions.

Police are also asking anyone with photos or videos of alleged assault on Saturday to call the police non-emergency line at 403-266-1234 or submit a tip anonymously with Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

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