ASIRT to investigate police actions during pro-Palestinian protest at UCalgary, premier says

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith says her government will ask the province’s police watchdog to investigate how officers forcibly cleared out two pro-Palestinian protests on university campuses in Calgary and Edmonton.

Smith says reports of potential injuries prompted the government to ask the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) to make sure there was no unreasonable use of force.

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley called for the investigation and pressured the premier on the issue during question period on Monday, and claimed the police response at the schools stood in stark contrast to previous demonstrations in the province.

“The contrast of the militarized response on Alberta’s two largest university campuses, with this government’s passive acceptance of a 43-day encampment on the side of the QEII by protesters with whom they agree is deeply troubling,” she argued.

A student encampment was set up on the south lawn of MacEwan Hall at the University of Calgary campus Thursday morning and was removed by officers in riot gear later in the evening who used pepper bombs and flash bangs, resulting in five arrests.

At its peak, the Calgary Police Service (CPS) estimates there were 150 people participating. Protestors were asked to leave by the university and police, and many refused, police say.

Edmonton police officers armed with batons moved in early Saturday morning to dismantle the pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Alberta.

Police say three people were arrested, none of whom were U of A students. They are facing charges of assaulting a peace officer, trespassing and obstruction. The officer who was allegedly assaulted sustained a minor injury, police add.

Protest organizers at the school say the only threat of violence came from police, who were seen on social media videos advancing on demonstrators and swinging batons.

Notley said the weekend decision to remove protesters and tents from the U of A campus seemed over the top compared with the perceived threat.

Both Alberta schools issued statements saying they respect free speech but overnight encampments violated trespassing rules and risked escalating into violence.

Smith was asked about the situation at the province’s two biggest post-secondary schools on Friday, and said Calgary police did the right thing in removing the encampment.

She echoed those sentiments during question period on Monday, saying “I support the right of the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary to ensure a safe environment for all of their students.”

“There is a way to peacefully protest, and you have to protest in compliance with the law.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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