The Calgary Police Service is coming under fire after video footage allegedly shows the use of aggressive tactics on protesters that included a youth and a woman.
Ward 5 Coun. Raj Dhaliwal, who until recently was a police commissioner, was disturbed by the information being spread on social media.
“It’s disturbing to me. You have a 13-year-old kid, I’ve been told, and you can see in the video he has been dragged by two professionally-trained officers, and put down on the ground and apparently punched,” Dhaliwal said.
Videos on social media showed CPS officers in a line, armed with helmets, batons and shields telling protesters to back up.
Some officers and protesters appeared to be occasionally trying to push each other.
One video showed an officer allegedly rush into the crowd to grab a person the police just pushed back. While that person was on the ground being detained by police, people could be heard yelling “Let him go. He’s just a kid.”
WARNING: the following videos contain profane language
On Monday, police said following the main demonstrations in support of Israelis and Palestinians that saw thousands in attendance, a smaller group of around 100 demonstrators separated and attempted to block a major road.
“When the event ended, one group that was affiliated to the larger group decided that they were done for the day and they decided to make their way down to MacLeod Trail and Fourth Avenue (Southeast) to conduct a sit-in,” Supt. Joe Brar said.
“That obviously was a concern to us, given the dynamics of the crowd: there was families in the crowd, there was young children in the crowd. And there’s also a heavy flow of motor vehicle traffic as well.
“So that doesn’t make for a safe situation for anybody.”
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Police said despite attempted negotiations, that group continued to impede traffic and “escalate their behaviour,” including trying to push through a line of police officers.
CPS said a youth was briefly taken into custody as he was trying to break through the police line.
“What it looks like is it’s a bunch of police officers grabbing that youth. And what they’re doing is they’re actually grabbing the youth from the line and putting them behind themselves where it’s a quiet and safe space to deal with that individual. So that’s why you could see them pulling the youth out of the crowd,” Supt. Brar said.
The youth was released after his parents were allowed behind the police line to de-escalate the situation. The youth was not charged.
Three people were arrested for pushing against police officers to try to break through the police line, and they were each charged with assaulting a peace officer.
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Brar said police form lines to create “safe zones” for them to better handle a situation or process an arrest in progress.
“The line is kind of like a fence.”
A woman was arrested in relation to interference as police were trying to make an arrest, and she was charged with obstruction of a peace officer.
“During her arrest, her hijab became displaced, and officers immediately allowed this to be rectified,” CPS said in a statement.
Brar said CPS officers are “very culturally aware and culturally sensitive to the fact that this is the Muslim community and the hijab is very important.”
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“It’s my understanding that as soon as the situation had calmed down, our officers facilitated that member of the public putting their hijab back on,” the police superintendent said. “But we are very alive to the fact that that is very troubling.”
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Dhaliwal questioned why a hijab, a head covering conventionally worn by many Muslim women, would become displaced.
“What is the rectification of that? It shouldn’t have happened. And if there was an interference of the peace officer, what you should have just done is de-escalate it,” the former police commissioner said.
“And if there were supposed to be arrests made, then they could have happened in a better environment and get the community leaders engaged. And that’s how you didn’t de-escalate the situation.”
Another video on social media shows a person of smaller stature carrying a sign and a Palestinian flag being pushed back from police and then grabbed from behind and detained by officers. Social media posts claimed that person was a pregnant woman, a claim Global News has been unable to verify.
WARNING: the following video contains profane language
“You just don’t go in there with full force, put people down on the ground. It’s not acceptable,” Dhaliwal said.
“Both sides think they’re on the right side. But it’s for the police to be that line of separation between these two groups.”
Advocacy group Justice for Palestinians (JFP) said after the main protest, they received reports of a separate group being involved in a different march, and that those protesters were being “kettled by the police and there were allegations of police misconduct.”
JFP said some of their members tried to monitor and de-escalate the situation. Justice for Palestinians urged anyone with video evidence of the police actions to email it to the National Council of Canadian Muslims “for a comprehensive review.”
Brar said the main part of the demonstration, which included a march, was peaceful and the demonstrators followed police instruction. But when negotiations with the group that splintered off failed and tensions escalated, officers changed tactics.
“Was it necessary at that point? The officers on scene believed that it was necessary, and I support that decision,” Brar said.
YYC Muslims, another advocacy group whose members have allegedly been involved in the pro-Palestinian protests and were organizing “parental rights” protests earlier this year, said the arrests were “police and political abuse,” and allegedly blaming Mayor Jyoti Gondek.
Canadian law enshrines the independence of the judiciary, executive and legislative branches of the government. Calgary police don’t take orders from elected officials and have the Calgary Police Commission as the civilian oversight body.
The mayor said she had been participating in city council’s budget deliberation all Monday morning and didn’t have any comment about the videos.
“I have heard about what’s happened. We are getting regular updates from (the Calgary) police commission. And obviously I look forward to understanding what happened yesterday, what the conflict was and how it was managed,” Gondek said.
The Israel-Hamas conflict has been going on for more than six weeks, and the area around city hall has been the site of protests every week since the Hamas incursion into southern Israel.
Calgary police have consistently and publicly said they police behaviour and not beliefs.