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Nenshi denounces anti-mask rallies, calls out racist ideologies

Last Updated Feb 23, 2021 at 1:07 pm MDT

Protestors attend the "Walk for Freedom" rally in Edmonton on Feb. 20, carrying tiki torches. (CREDIT: CITYNEWS/Bailey Nitti

CALGARY (660 NEWS) – Continued anti-mask rallies and similar protests are drawing the ire of Calgary’s mayor.

Speaking during a COVID-19 update Tuesday, Mayor Naheed Nenshi denounced the recent freedom rallies and the protest in Edmonton over the weekend that included members of white nationalist groups.

Hundreds of protesters, not wearing masks or social distancing, convened at the Alberta legislature Saturday to denounce public-health restrictions.

The so-called “Walk for Freedom”, an event for which planning began more than a month ago, was also characterized as a “Jericho Torch March.”

Some protesters, who arrived at the legislature in the early afternoon, held garden-style tiki torches while others waved Canadian flags or draped them across their backs. At one point the protesters sang the national anthem.

WATCH: Protesters march through Edmonton streets with tiki torches

Some experts said the imagery and speakers tied to the event demonstrate an agenda beyond pandemic concerns and believe the goal was to draw newcomers to more radical beliefs.

Similar rallies have been held in Calgary including recently at CF Chinook Centre.

Nenshi said it is very frustrating to see these events when most people are doing the right thing.

“We’re seeing these idiots walking through the shopping mall putting other people at risk, we’re seeing people who don’t seem to understand the basic tenants of their own faith, putting their congregation and other people at risk. Why am I doing all this work when these folks can get away with that?”

Nenshi called on Calgarians to keep doing the right thing and follow the public health protocols as hopefully, we can emerge from the pandemic, especially as vaccine supply increases.

He added there are bigger problems at play when it comes to these rallies and didn’t mince words when denouncing those who organize them.

“I know it’s even more frustrating when we see horrific scenes like we saw in Edmonton on the weekend where they’re not even hiding their white nationalism anymore. It’s not at all about masks, we know what those torches mean.”

RELATEDCalgary police officer embraces speaker at anti-mask rally

Edmonton police said four officers were assaulted during the protests and one organizer was arrested for causing a disturbance.

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley and Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson condemned the march that day on social media.

“Edmonton unequivocally condemns racism, misogyny and other forms of hate – such speech is not welcome in our community,” wrote Iveson.

On Monday, Notley said the United Conservative premier’s silence on racism is out of step with the “vast majority” of Albertans.

“Let’s be perfectly clear: tiki torch or torch rallies are absolutely, historically associated, – and everybody knows it, with some of the most heinous examples of racism against racialized citizens across the world,” said Notley.

On Monday, Premier Jason Kenney did address the protest at the Legislature saying Albertans believe in the dignity of every human being, and have no time for voices of division and hate or the symbols that they represent.

-With files from CityNews Edmonton and The Canadian Press