Adrian Morrow, Ann Hui and Jill Mahoney
Toronto — Globe and Mail Update Published on Saturday, Jun. 26, 2010 11:29AM EDT Last updated on Sunday, Jun. 27, 2010 12:17AM EDT
Thousands of protesters took over the streets of downtown Toronto on Saturday as isolated groups of demonstrators burned police cars, smashed windows and confronted riot police.
Black-clad protesters with bandanas covering their faces, mingling with many others in regular clothing, moved around the city centre, bringing it to a virtual standstill.
Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair told a news conference Saturday evening that his officers fought back with tear gas and plastic bullets, and have arrested at least 103 people, although that number is climbing as dozens of arrests are being reported late Saturday evening.
"Members of this group will continue to engage in criminal acts" throughout the night, the chief predicted.
Chief Blair said the main goal of police is to protect the site of the G20 summit in the downtown core – the target of the protesters' anger – and to protect the public.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and Toronto Mayor David Miller also condemned the violence.
“Free speech is a principle of our democracy, but the thugs that prompted violence earlier today represent in no way, shape or form the Canadian way of life,” Mr. Harper's spokesman Dimitri Soudas said in a statement.
Around 7:30 p.m. ET, tight lines of riot police – some with weapons drawn – moved to take control of Queen's Park, tackling and using batons on protesters who did not obey orders to leave. Officers on horseback galloped around to move about 500 activists away from the area, which had been sanctioned as a protest zone. Hitting their shields with their batons, riot police forced the crowd north.
The protesters then broke into separate groups with the main body marching down Yonge Street while others took University Avenue or other more direct approaches to the site of the G20 summit.
At least four police cruisers were torched by black-clad demonstrators. Other police vehicles were vandalized with baseball bats, including one that contained an officer.
Around 9:30 p.m. ET, riot police pushed protesters out of the intersection of Queen Street and Spadina Avenue, just blocks from the summit location.
Other clashes were reported at King and Bay streets, and the surrounding areas.
Arrests continued through the late evening hours, raising the total beyond 103 but there was no further official word on a new total.
Those arrested were taken to a G20 detention centre on Eastern Avenue. They included two American men who allegedly smashed windows.
Earlier, demonstrators broke the windows of dozens of businesses, including a Scotiabank, CIBC, a McDonald's and a Starbucks. Protesters threw bricks at a CBC van, breaking its windows. TTC streetcars were abandoned on Queen Street and two were spraypainted with anti-summit graffiti and anarchy symbols.
A map and timeline of how a peaceful march escalated into vandalism and confrontations
Protesters intent on getting closer to the summit security perimeter came face-to-face with lines of police in full riot gear in pockets of the downtown throughout the afternoon and evening.
A small group of protesters headed toward the security fence in the early evening, but the perimeter was not breached. Police formed a human chain, standing shoulder-to-shoulder or with their bicycles near the zone.
"It just makes sense to be as close to the leaders as possible to make our voices heard," said Jacob Pries as he told a crowd of a free path to the fence. Some heeded the call to action and started walking. Others stayed behind to stare down the police line.
On their way, a group of activists tore up sod and plants from a courtyard outside the Bay Adelaide Centre to spell "No G2O" on the street. "We just want to put some green space, reclaim the street a little bit," said one activist who declined to give her name.
- Eaton Centre locked down this afternoon
- Several storefronts at Queen/John, Yonge/Adelaide, Yonge/Shuter vandalized. Starbucks, banks and McDonald's among targets
- At least three police cruisers set afire at King/Bay and Queen Street West
- Subway service shut down south of Bloor street on Yonge and University lines. Shuttle buses in operation
- Streetcars being turned back from downtown
- GO Transit service suspended on downtown-bound trains but GO said late Saturday evening it is offering free shuttle bus service on the Lakeshore lines
- Several hospitals restrict access to patients and families
- The André Rieu concert at the Air Canada Centre postponed
Police maintained tight lines around the summit site.
“They’re doing their best to try to keep their peace,” said Constable Tim Garland, who characterized the police response as "measured and balanced.”
As fresh officers were poised to work the night shift, police feared the worst may not yet be over.
"It's gonna be a very long night," said Mike McCormack, head of the Toronto Police Association.
Mr. McCormack said that the radical protesters who attacked police cruisers and police headquarters were absolutely "disgusting" – unlike anything he has seen in his two decades as a cop. He said he witnessed many attacks on police as he wandered the downtown core.
The dynamic in the crowd changed around 3 p.m. ET as police donned gas masks. Some parts of the riot line were as many as three officers deep as the crowd chanted: "Let us through!"
The crowd cheered when windows were smashed, including at an Urban Outfitters near Yonge Street and Dundas Street West.
"This isn't our Toronto. My response is anger," Mayor Miller told CP24. "People came here deliberately to commit this kind of act."
In a statement, Premier McGuinty condemned the vandalism and violence.
"Peaceful protest has always been part of the bedrock of our democracy. The vast majority of today's demonstrators have been peaceful and responsible. However, willful, mindless destruction and violence have no place in our province. I appeal to all involved to allow calm to prevail," he said.
Late in the afternoon, Craig Herbert borrowed a broom from his workplace, the Ram in the Rye, a Ryerson student pub, and went to Yonge Street near College Street to sweep up glass outside a Starbucks and a Tim Hortons.
"I don't want to justify a billion dollar budget by wrecking shit," he said. "I like my city."
Earlier in the day, thousands of demonstrators stood face-to-face with riot police at the corner of Spadina Avenue and Richmond Street West. Another line of mounted police stood behind them at the corner of Spadina Avenue and Richmond Street West. Protester set off flares, which filled the air with smoke and drew cheers from the crowd.
"We got them where we want them," one protester shouted. "Are the stores open in Chinatown selling fireworks?" the same protester yelled.
Near the MuchMusic building on Queen Street West and John Street, police pushed back on the most aggressive protesters with their batons and shields. One man looked to be defending himself with his bare arms. Some protesters threw objects across the police line, but none appeared to breach the police barrier. Some demonstrators stood behind and watched while the rest of the marchers slowly snaked west toward Spadina.
Several protesters were being treated for head wounds by fellow demonstrators amid reports that paramedics faced delays in getting to the area.
A Globe and Mail photographer was tackled by black-clad protesters after taking their picture. Some of his equipment was damaged.
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"This is what democracy looks like. That is what a police state looks like," protestors chanted Saturday afternoon as they turned the corner at University Avenue and Queen Street West.
Raw video: The Globe's Kate Allen shot the violence and broken windows as the protests escalated.
Earlier, after speeches from union leaders at Queen’s Park, thousands of demonstrators poured into the city's downtown in the rolling protest. Led by a contingent of women and unions, they shouted "Maternal health care includes abortion."
By about 2 p.m. ET, the protest reached Queen Street West, where they were met with a line of bicycle officers. A line of riot police stood shoulder to shoulder one block south at Richmond Street West, forming a line of defence. Riot police holding bean bag guns also diverted demonstrators from the American consulate on University Avenue.
Two people were arrested with "incendiary devices" at Dundas Street West and University Avenue before the protest began. A Toronto police sergeant said that police had seized several Molotov cocktails.
"Everyone is just walking around saying what they believe in and [the police are] intimidating us," said David Sams, a self-identified anarchist from Detroit with his face covered by a black balaclava. "This is nonsense, they're protecting the wealthy."
All along Queen Street, shop employees looked on, amused. "What are you looking at?" one protester asked, "Go back to work!"
An employee at the Neon clothing store said she felt safe, despite the thousands of protesters filing past her window. "The store's still open," she said. "They can come in and shop." As she said this, two demonstrators, a woman and her daughter, walked into the store.
Before the rally began, the protesters waited on the south lawn of the provincial legislature huddled under a colourful canopy of umbrellas while others held folded newspapers over their heads. The rain caused ink on handwritten placards to bleed. A group of drummers kept the crowd dancing and free Tibet activists formed a chanting circle, saying: “Tibet belongs to Tibetans!” Busloads of union members arrived all morning to join the protests. Most of the assembled crowd were union members, with banners and union logos everywhere.
With reports from Natalie Stechyson, Laura Blenkinsop, Katie Hewitt, Jeff Gray, Colin Freeze, Sarah Boesveld, Cigdem Iltan, Matt Frehner, Chris Hannay and Anna Mehler Paperny