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’Senseless violence’: Calgary police chief promising arrests after weekend riot

Calgary’s police chief says the people responsible for a riot between two Eritrean factions on the long weekend will be held accountable.

Calgary’s police chief says the people responsible for a riot between two Eritrean factions on the long weekend will be held accountable.

Chief Const. Mark Neufeld told reporters Tuesday that police were aware there was the “possibility of violence” last Saturday as the two groups attended peaceful gatherings in Calgary’s northeast.

He said there have been similar attacks around the globe including here in Canada, with violent clashes at Eritrean cultural festivals in Edmonton and Toronto.

Those fears were realized Saturday afternoon with about 150 people, armed with sticks and pipes, brawling in a parking lot.

“This was a planned, targeted attack made by some members of the involved communities. This is really the largest violent event to happen in our city in recent memory,” Neufeld said.

“We are actively investigating this incident and we will hold those responsible for the criminal activity that took place there.”

Neufeld said he would have liked to have seen his officers make arrests at the scene but they were more focused on tending to the dozen people injured in the melee.

He said the first officers on scene were not equipped with riot gear although some of the combatants were equipped with shields and hockey helmets.

“When you get in a situation where people are armed with weapons … sticks and pipes … and throwing rocks and bottles … I can tell you I’ve watched a number of videos today from officers who were at that scene and it was very dangerous,” said Neufeld.

“It could be characterized as a riot, but at the end of the day I think it’s fine just to say it was senseless violence that was sort of planned and premeditated and there were individuals who wanted this to happen and it did.”

Neufeld believes the two groups had planned to meet up, but caught up in some of the violence were members of the community only wanting to attend a peaceful event. He is asking the public to come forward with photos or videos to help in the investigation.

A task force of investigators is already interviewing some of those who were there and will attempt to find out who committed criminal acts, and make arrests.

“I don’t think you’ll see it that quickly. We’ve put together a task group today, an investigative group that will go after all the offences in relation to this,” he said.

“I think it’s important that we demonstrate that this is not OK in our city and the individuals who committed criminal offences there in the parking lot be held to account for that.”

Last month, Toronto police deployed their riot squad after clashes at an Eritrean festival in a park sent nine people to hospital.

Demonstrators opposed to the event claimed it supported the Eritrean government, which human rights groups have called one of the most oppressive regimes in the world.