Tense moments outside Calgary’s Jewish Community Centre Wednesday evening as hundreds tried to attend a Stand up for Israel rally, organized by the Calgary Jewish Federation.
A man, wearing a black plastic security vest, was arrested for trying to enter the building with an air gun inside his bag.
It happened just before 7 p.m. in front of a large crowd of horrified attendees.
Security at the front desk was first alerted to the fact something might be wrong after the man refused to have his bag searched.
When he tried to leave the premises police were alerted to something that looked like a weapon.
Officers, who happened to be in the parking lot as part of the bike patrol, drew their weapons yelling at the man, “get on the ground, get on the ground now!”
The suspect apologized to officers and repeatedly told the one who was on his back that he was trying to cooperate with police.
He could be overheard telling them he had it in his bag for some kind of legitimate practice and continued to say he was “sorry.”
A van quickly showed up later, he was placed into the back in handcuffs while shouting “yo, I got rights.”
Duty Staff Sergeant Paul Wozney says they are familiar with the man, adding he is well known to police.
“He was not a welcome guest, he was not invited and is by no way associated with the Calgary Jewish Community Centre,” said Wozney. “As part of the investigation he was taken into custody and found to be in possession of an air soft weapon. The details surrounding it are under investigation right now, but I can say he is known to police and he will be processed under fresh charges in relation to trying to get into the Centre with the air soft weapon.”
“We’ve had several dealings with this person before,” he adds.
It’s believed the man acted alone and that this was an isolated incident, not related to the protest that happened last week at City Hall where violence broke out between the Israeli and Palestinian groups.
Calgary Jewish Federation’s Community Relations Committee Chair Jeff Smith said the whole incident was unnerving.
“We don’t know much about the incident or the individual,” said Smith. “Police took the appropriate action; I’m not sure what else happened afterwards.”
Smith said it’s always a concern when you find a weapon and said the presence of the Calgary Police was very appropriate.
Many looked on in horror as the whole event unfolded; one mother stepped in front of her child to block her view while dozens of others waited until he was in handcuffs before they could enter the building.
The rally then went on as planned, albeit slightly delayed due to what happened in the parking lot.
The program included eye-witness reports from Israel, prayers for peace and greetings from Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification and Calgary MP Michelle Rempel.
The Calgary Jewish Federation’s President Bruce Libin called it a rally for the Jewish community to show solidarity for Israel and a chance to share their concerns about what’s happening in the Middle East with Hamas.
“This is really an opportunity for us to come together and say we care,” he said. “There are deep bonds between the Jewish community of Calgary and the people of Israel. Many of us have family and friends, many from this community visit Israel and there are many Israelis living in Calgary. There’s a real solidarity and we want to express our unity with the people of Israel.”
Libin wanted to stress there is no place for violence after hearing about the incident that unfolded last week at City Hall.
“A very small group was attacked by a very large group,” he said. “Police were not prepared, apparently Chief Hanson has apologized and we accept that.”
He said it caught many in their community off-guard, calling it shocking and terrible.
The Federation said they are telling their members of the community to remain peaceful and referred to the situation Friday as unfortunate.
“What’s going on in the Middle East is horrible, many families are in mourning and whether you’re on the Israeli side or the Palestinian side, death is just not the way we want to see issues resolved,” he said. “Hamas has decided to hide behind its civilians while they target civilians and that in fact is an act of war and what we’re doing tonight is a prayer for peace.”
More than 500 answered the call and showed up at the Centre, packing the auditorium.
The event could be a foreshadowing of a much larger, planned protest for Friday evening.
Both Israelis and Palestinians are planning to be in attendance outside City Hall.
Calgary Police are still investigating last Friday’s protest and promise to have more officers deployed.