Tensions High in Calgary as Five Arrested in Israel/Gaza Demonstrations

Protesters came out in support of Gaza and Israel on Sunday, Nov. 19. (Bill Macfarlane/CTV News Calgary)

Five individuals were arrested amidst a large demonstration involving pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli crowds in downtown Calgary on Sunday. The protest, which took place on Mcleod Trail at City Hall, drew an estimated 2,000 demonstrators, escalating tensions between the two groups.

Calgary Police, anticipating a large turnout, deployed significant resources including officers on horseback, liaison officers, and other specialty units, alongside RCMP. “Leading up to the event, we engaged with several community leaders and protest organizers, expecting large crowd sizes,” stated the Calgary Police Service (CPS) in a press release.

The demonstration remained relatively peaceful until several protestors deployed smoke devices and a group of approximately 100 individuals branched off, marching through downtown and halting traffic at the intersection of Macleod Trail and 4 Avenue S.E. This led to heightened police action and subsequent arrests.

“Behaviour in the crowd escalated, resulting in five arrests,” CPS reported. Charges included assaulting and obstructing peace officers, with one individual released without charges.

CPS reiterated their appeal for peaceful demonstrations, emphasizing that “public peace and safety are paramount, and illegal activities will not be tolerated.”

Calgary police Supt. Ryan Ayliffe spoke to the media in Cochrane, Alta., on Wednesday.

The rally was not without its controversies. Wesam Cooley, a 32-year-old organizer previously charged with causing a disturbance with a hate motivation, led the crowd in a chant of ‘From the river to the sea.’ The phrase, which has been interpreted by many in the Jewish community as calling for the elimination of the state of Israel, has been a point of contention. Cooley, also known as Wesam Khalid, defended the chant, stating, “Jewish people of this country should not feel threatened by this chant, we oppose all forms of racism, including anti-semitism.”

Across the street, pro-Israel demonstrators displayed placards showing hostages held by Hamas since the Oct. 7 attacks, which claimed approximately 1200 lives. “They’re trying to destroy all of us, not share the land with us,” said demonstrator Debbie Halpern, expressing her anguish and disbelief over the ongoing conflict.

Meanwhile, those with family ties to Gaza, like Hayat Amer, who has lived in Calgary for 35 years, shared their grief over the escalating death toll in Gaza, estimated to be around 12,000. “Everyone has the right to live in justice and dignity. If there is peace and justice, we can live together,” Amer stated, echoing the sentiments of many caught in the crossfire of this long-standing conflict.