A massive G20 protest turned violent on Saturday afternoon after a group clad in black broke away from the main march and smashed bank windows, destroyed police cruisers and media trucks and ripped mailboxes from the sidewalk.
People ran in all directions on Queen St., near John, and continued randomly throughout the city, creating confusion and damage as they went.
“Just suddenly bam, bam, bam, bam. So quickly this happened,” described Sports Centre owner, Majit.
“They were wearing a mask. They were holding a black flag.”
Two police cruisers were set on fire at King and Bay streets. And as protesters moved north on Yonge St., the Eaton Centre and other buildings were placed in lockdown as a precaution.
GO Transit has suspended service to the downtown core and the TTC has shut down the Yonge and University subway lines south of Bloor and is running shuttle buses in their place.
“I strongly condemn the actions of those responsible for the vandalism and violence we’ve seen on our streets today. There is no need for it. There is no excuse for it. It is not the Ontario way,” Premier Dalton McGuinty said in a statement.
“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.”
The rally was largely peaceful when protesters and police first gathered at a rainy yet packed Queen’s Park just hours before.
Greenpeace, Oxfam, the United Steelworkers and University of Toronto students were among the groups assembling ahead of the 1pm start time.
After speeches, people began to march south on University Ave. to Queen St., where they continued west. The plan was to head north at Spadina Ave. and east on College St. back to Queen’s Park.
But sources say protesters were gearing up to rush the solid line of police at Queen and Spadina, and police brought in busloads of reinforcements in anticipation of the clash.
Before the protest began officers had already arrested a handful of people and seized several suspicious items.
By 10:30am, members of the intelligence unit had arrested a Quebec man near Parliament and Gerrard streets and charged him with conspiracy. They seized goggles, golf balls, lemon juice and bandanas. Three women, also from Quebec, were arrested at the scene and charged with weapons offences.
And police pulled over a Saskatoon driver near Sherbourne and Gerrard streets and confiscated a hatchet, nail gun, bulletproof vest and gas masks. The man was not arrested.
A couple of hours later, according to the Toronto Community Mobilization Network, undercover officers arrested two protest organizers, who were about to catch a taxi at Allan Gardens on their way to Saturday’s protest at Queen’s Park.
Police reportedly said they were detaining Syed Hussan and another leader on charges of conspiracy to commit mischief.
Allan Gardens is the site where anti-poverty protesters set up a tent city after marching through downtown streets on Friday.
Many of those were expected to join Saturday’s rally to protest a range of issues, from poverty to financial reform.
The head of the Canadian Labour Congress, Ken Georgetti, says organized labour wants to tell G20 leaders not to pull back on their stimulus programs until jobs return and unemployment begins to fall. He says if European countries overreact to market pressure and withdraw their stimulus from the economy too fast, it could cause a double-dip recession.
Protest organizer Gaetan Heroux warns wherever there’s hunger and poverty there can be violence.
Photos by Michael Talbot, CityNews.
The protest was timed to start just after G8 leaders wrapped up their meetings in Huntsville, Ontario and before world leaders of the G20 gathered for an opening dinner in Toronto.
With files from the Canadian Press