Calgary police say a video showing an officer shaking the hand of an unmasked, anti-mask protester captured the end of a peaceful negotiation — with no day-of enforcement despite a number of people breaking Public Health Act rules.
On Saturday, dozens of unmasked protesters walked through Chinook Centre to protest public health restrictions in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Videos of the event posted to social media show police officers escorting the protesters, and one officer shaking an unmasked protester’s hand and leaning in close, with an arm around the man’s shoulder, as the two converse.
Police said in a release on Monday evening that members from its public safety unit, beat teams and diversity resources team were in attendance, and that the diversity resources team negotiated with the protesters to ensure they left the mall peacefully.
“At the end of this negotiation, a handshake was offered and accepted. Another protester was nearby speaking into a bullhorn so the officer leaned in closer to hear what is being said,” police said.
Shortly after, the protesters left the mall, police said.
“Our role at demonstrations such as these is to ensure public and officer safety, and for this reason, it is sometimes better to follow through with enforcement action post event. We commit to investigating the full scope of events in the coming days to determine what enforcement action may be taken.”
A spokesperson for Cadillac Fairview, which owns Chinook Centre, said that the mall at no point condoned or gave permission for the protest.
“As with any protest, these are fluid situations, and we do our best to manage them as safely as possible … We will continue to work closely with CPS to ensure a safe shopping experience and conduct a debrief on this situation,” the mall spokesperson said.
Alberta Health Services said it has worked with Chinook mall on control measures to ensure compliance with public health orders, like capacity restrictions. AHS referred comment on managing protests to Calgary police.
Anti-mask protests have been a weekly occurrence in Calgary during the pandemic, but relatively few participants have been ticketed in contrast with the scale of the protests, which have seen hundreds of attendees, including some promoting white nationalist or conspiracy theory sentiments.
Following the rally, Artur Pawlowski, one of the attendees who has previously been ticketed for his role in anti-mask protests, thanked police for support in a video posted to social media.
“We’re very grateful to the Calgary police for allowing us, helping us, assisting us to exercise our rights,” Pawlowski said.
Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra wrote on Twitter that police’s actions at the rally were “not a good look” and that the issue would be raised at the Feb. 23 meeting of the police commission.
As of Monday there were 5,222 active cases of COVID-19 in Alberta. A total of 1,782 people have died of the illness.