Two food trucks selling Indian and Pakistani food by a popular northeast park for the last three years have suddenly been told by the City of Calgary that their trucks are now banned from the area.
The city says the truck owners didn't break any bylaws or rules, but that officials had to act over a recent spike in complaints related to traffic, parking, noise and litter in the area around 80th Avenue N.E. and Taradale Drive N.E.
But the truck owners say the complaints to the city only surfaced in recent weeks after UCP MLA Devinder Toor got involved in pushing a petition to have them moved, which they say was driven by a small number of residents who live near the park in the community of Taralake that didn't like them being there.
The Lahori BBQ Hut and Indian Bistro trucks parked up most nights until 11 p.m. without incident, serving Pakistani and Indian meals to people using the busy green space and lake, which are surrounded by apartments and family homes backing onto the park.
But some residents say the trucks were responsible for attracting gangs of rowdy youths in loud cars who stay late into the night, increasing traffic volume in the area and bringing other problems like jaywalking and noise pollution from the trucks themselves.
The truck owners allege that on May 30 they were visited by Calgary-Falconridge MLA Devinder Toor along with a group of men, whom they describe as a mob.
They said the group threatened them with closure, spoke to them aggressively and demanded they move away from the area for good. The owners both say it was a confrontation that felt more like a threat than a conversation.
"Devinder Toor showed up with a group, about 15 of them, and demanded my wife move the truck. I told them I have a right to be here, but Toor told us he is an MLA and he can make new rules so we can't park here anymore," said Talat Ejaz, owner of the Lahori BBQ Hut truck, speaking to CBC earlier this month.
In an interview at the time, Toor gave a different account of approaching the truck owners and denied threatening to have them removed or using his position to change parking regulations.
A few weeks later, the truck owners say Toor and local residents got exactly what they had promised with the city declaring the area a prohibited zone for food trucks.
There is no option for the trucks to appeal the decision.
"It's heartbreaking news," said Ejaz, shortly after receiving a letter from the city.
He said it couldn't have come at a worse time as small businesses like his struggle to make ends meet during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We were operating according to the law," he said. "Bylaw officers measured the noise and told us we are good to go. We were happy we were doing everything according to the law.
"I requested they give us two more weeks so we can find another spot and educate our customers where to find us, but they refused."
Ejaz said the trucks are victims of what he calls "northeast politics."
"We left back home where there was no law, no justice and coming here, this is very sad news," Ejaz said.
"There was not a single complaint and now suddenly there are 50 complaints? The city checked everything, we have not broken any promise or any law."
Ejaz said Toor was "a powerful politician. And politics talk."
"They went door-to-door to get signatures for this petition," Ejaz said.
He said calls to 311 came out of nowhere after years of the trucks operating with no complaints.
"It's a surprise for me," said Danial Punni, owner of the Indian Bistro truck.
"It's final, that's it, what can we do? It's going to be difficult for me. This is our summer season."
The City of Calgary said the trucks were creating problems, bringing too much traffic and noise to the area, impacting "safety" and "quality of life" for local residents.
The city received 43 complaints to 311 between June 9 to 23 about the trucks, in addition to some letters and the petition.
"There has been increased tension between the business owners and the residents," said Abdul Rafih, the city's acting manager of compliance services.
Rafih said the city had to declare that the area would no longer be available for food truck operations, calling it a "data-based decision."
"Concerns were raised to a number of political leaders at the municipal and provincial level," said Rafih, who added the food truck operators were cooperative in meeting all of the standards laid out in the city's business standards bylaw.
There are 18 locations in Calgary where trucks are prohibited from operating, with 80th Avenue now added to that list.
"It's a very tough decision," said Ward 5 councillor George Chahal. "The trucks offer really good food and that's why they are popular and I'd encourage people to visit them as they move around because we need to support small local businesses.
"But business licensing and bylaw decided in the best interests of the community that they didn't want to allow this to continue to occur there."
Chahal said there are other places the trucks can go in the area and around the city.
He said the city needed to take everything into consideration to keep local residents happy.
The truck owners said they need to get back out and operating again as soon as possible as they try to keep their businesses afloat.