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Public safety minister asks for probe of police actions in clearing campus protests

The province’s public safety minister has asked the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team to investigate police actions in clearing pro-Palestinian encampments last week from university grounds in Calgary and Edmonton. 

“Alberta’s government is aware that allegations have been made by campus protest participants related to potential injuries sustained while police were enforcing trespass laws,” read an emailed statement from Minister Mike Ellis sent Monday afternoon.

“We have asked the director of law enforcement to have ASIRT review these claims. Should allegations of serious injury be substantiated, ASIRT will investigate those claims further.”

ASIRT, Alberta’s police watchdog, investigates instances where serious injury or death may have been caused by police as well as serious or sensitive allegations of police misconduct.

Speaking earlier at the legislature, Premier Danielle Smith said a number of ministers met with the universities, the students and the chiefs of police in Calgary and Edmonton after law enforcement was called in to clear encampments at both the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary.

“There were reports raised of a potential injury,” Smith said.

“So my minister of public safety and emergency services has committed that he will ask ASIRT to do an investigation just to make sure that there wasn’t any unreasonable use of force.”

Campus protests have occurred at several universities across Canada. The list includes McGill University in Montreal, the University of Toronto, the University of Ottawa and the University of British Columbia.

A crowd of people
More than 100 students, staff and supporters gathered at the University of Alberta on Thursday to start a Pro-Palestinian encampment in support of Gaza. (Mrinali Anchan/CBC)

Three men were arrested in relation to the demonstration at the U of A on Saturday, while five arrests were made following the U of C protest on Thursday. 

At a press conference Friday, Calgary police Chief Mark Neufeld said people had “ample opportunity” to leave a pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Calgary before officers used force to remove remaining demonstrators Thursday night.

Police used shields, batons and flash-bang explosives to forcibly remove protesters.

In a statement released after the incident, Calgary police said the use of the flash-bangs was triggered by the actions of some of the protesters. Most of the large group of pro-Palestinian protesters at the tent site agreed to pack up and leave shortly before police began to move against those who remained at the site outside MacEwan Hall.

The University of Calgary Students’ Union last week condemned the actions taken against demonstrators.

“The university’s utilization of Calgary Police Service (CPS) was an invitation for violence against students. It is our belief that without this, the protest would have remained peaceful,” it said in a statement released Friday.

The students’ union also disputes the accuracy of a university statement that the protest “devolved” with the arrival of counter-protestors. It said it hasn’t seen evidence that any counter-protesters were present when CPS “escalated its tactics.”

In a statement to CBC News on Monday, Calgary police said they are aware the province is requesting ASIRT look into the steps taken by police in Calgary and Edmonton.

“We welcome ASIRT’s oversight and await further details of the review,” the statement reads.

Early Saturday morning, police in Edmonton were called to the U of A after university officials warned protesters they were trespassing and violating university policy.

Videos taken by demonstrators at the scene showed some officers using batons and, at one point, a gas emanated as police moved the crowd.

An EPS spokesperson confirmed some officers deployed “special munitions” to deal with three men who were arrested, one of them being charged with assaulting a peace officer.

Police said they did not use tear gas.

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