Toronto Police Fire Tear Gas Fired in Downtown Rampage
Police fire rubber bullets at protesters.
The Toronto Sun via YellowBrix
June 27, 2010
TORONTO – A breakaway group of violent protesters blazed a trail of destruction through downtown Toronto Saturday, leaving windows smashed, stores looted and left police cruisers in flames.
In what seemed a carefully choreographed breakout, about 70 black-clad protesters ran amok through mostly deserted streets, largely eluding the $1-billion security operation centred on the Metro Convention Centre.
The rampage was so sudden, and its geography so apparently unexpected, that some storeowners could only weep in front of their breached and unprotected premises, while bystanders either cowered or snapped photos of the melee.
Clouds of smoke billowed, GO service was completed halted, Union Station closed for the night and TTC service downtown routinely stopped in the wake of protesters moving through the core.
Toronto Mayor David Miller condemned the rampage. “They’re criminals who came to Toronto deliberately to break the law,” he told a news conference. “They are not welcome in this city.”
Tear gas was used for the first time in Toronto’s history, at Queen and Peter Sts., Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair said.
He admitted Saturday night that police temporarily lost control of the downtown core.
“We have never seen that level of wanton criminality and destruction on our streets,” he said, adding a number of officers were injured after being hit by projectiles including bricks.
Blair said as of Saturday night roughly 75 people were in police custody, including several leaders of the militant groups.
Within hours, though, the tally had risen to 130.
The violence exploded in the midst of what had been relative calm, and now has the city bracing for a threatened repeat Sunday.
By mid-afternoon, a relatively peaceful march of about 4,000 people had made its way south on University Ave. from Queen’s Park, their banners and chants drawing attention to everything from climate change to the plight of aboriginals. After travelling west on Queen St., the main group of protesters then starting heading back north on Spadina Ave..
This was the route organizers had announced. To the south, the path was blocked by dozens of police officers aligned in three rows: Those on bicycles at the front, backed up by police in riot gear, with police on horseback in behind them.
Protesters lined themselves against the wall of police, but it soon became clear that no one was going to get through. That’s when dozens of anarchists, all wearing black, began drifting away from the front line.
As they did so, Quebecois communists lit a flare and led the crowd in chants.
Then, around 4 p.m. came the signals. Using what is known as the Black Bloc tactic, members of the group shouted calls, and sprinted back east along Queen, armed with hammers, pool balls and whatever hard objects they could find along the way.
Other protesters followed in their wake, all of it seeming to catch police by surprise.
Several people attacked a cruiser with an officer still in it, smashing the front window with flag poles and rocks. A small group of police, many in standard uniform, came out, swearing and waving their batons.
They formed a protective wall around two cruisers but began to back up, abandoning them after rescuing their colleague and apparently removing any weapons.
The protesters moved in, mounting one of the cars.
Some played with the police radio and sounded the distinctive police horn. Two protesters got into a debate over how much trashing was enough, but the violence continued, with one of the two abandoned cruisers eventually being set on fire.
The violence was beginning in earnest.
One protester, who stashed a hammer inside his jacket, gingerly skipped up to storefronts, smashed the window, then casually skipped back to the crowd where he melded into a sea of black.
Others grabbed newspaper boxes that hadn’t been removed, tossing them onto the road to block any police cruisers that might arrive.
Most shop owners along Queen had stayed open, thinking all was safe, but that notion was quickly put aside as protesters ran into a parking lot across from the Black Bull Tavern and smashed a CTV jeep with rocks they picked on Soho St.
When it appeared police and protesters were about to clash, some frightened protesters retreated into the Scarpino shoe store at Queen and John Streets.
“People were scared,” said Ashley Lacoursiere, who works in the store. “We all started running into the store.”
Staff at Steve’s Music store flashed peace signs at the protesters, but then retreated to a second floor window when things turned ugly.
Inside the TD foyer at Queen and Bay Sts., a woman and a security guard huddled behind an ATM as protesters hurled objects at the window — a sliver of cement, a blue billiard ball, a wooden stick.
After each was thrown, another protester swooped in and snatched it back, replenishing the arsenal.
As the protesters moved on, a man opened the bank’s door and led the cowering pair away from the protesters.
“I’m okay,” said the woman as she cried and shook.
The mob then moved south on Bay to King St., lighting another cruiser on fire. The air downtown was filling with smoke as protesters sprayed graffiti on buildings, writing such slogans as “No Corporate Greed.”
When they come upon some parked police cruisers and vans, they began smashing them. One of the group wrote “murderer” in orange across the hood of a white cruiser.
After heading further south, and setting fire to a police cruiser, the protesters started shouting “tear gas” as police moved closer.
Donning masks and pulling bandanas over their faces, the protesters then retreated toward Yonge St., where the spree continued north.
“This isn’t violence,” said one man as protesters clad in black clothes streamed across Yonge St., smashing windows at banks, sports’ stores and fast-food restaurants. “This is vandalism against violent corporations. We did not hurt anybody. They (the corporations) are the ones hurting people,”
“This is all part of the sexist, male-dominated war machine we live in,” explained another male protester.
As onlookers and reporters tried to snap photographs of the vandals, their peers would swoop in and cover the camera lenses with their palm. As the march went on, they became more sophisticated and began surrounding their partners with umbrellas and flags.
At College. St., the group headed west and the vandalism continued. But when one group of masked protesters began to vandalize an empty BMW some of their colleagues came out of the crowd and yelled, “Stop it. They’re not our enemy.”
The man causing the damages retorted, “Yuppies are our enemy.”
At police headquarters, about 50 officers in full riot gear stood guard, but they didn’t move against the protesters even after they smashed the windows of the police museum.
By the time protesters got back to Queen’s Park they were met by a squadron of police. About 200 piled out of buses and about 20 came on horseback.
They cordoned off the area, dressed in full riot gear including gas masks. Five shots were heard, setting off a cloud of smoke, but Blair denied they were rubber bullets.
There was an eerie quiet as protesters began to plan their next move. Realizing they were cornered, a large group of anarchists huddled together. You could see that they were changing clothes and trying to shield themselves from police identification. Then they simply dissipated.
“No justice, no peace, f—ck the police,” many still chanted. “This is what democracy looks like, that is what a police state looks like.”
A man identifying himself as “Roy”, who appeared to be a Black Bloc sympathiser, said that his group “keeps the other protesters safe because the Black Bloc are the bad protesters."
But as police began to move in, telling people at Queen’s Park to “go home,” protesters slowly began retreating into the night, leaving everyone to wonder what Sunday will bring.
Police Chief Blair said Saturday night that police will be monitoring a block party held by some protesters at Church and Wellesley Streets, starting late and continuing into the wee hours.
But as the evening wore on, it was clear the protesters were being joined by others more interested in a drunken lark.
Some managed to reach the three-metre high security fence around the main convention area, only to abandon it minutes later and be pushed north toward First Canadian Place by police.
Blair said Toronto police remain dedicated to allowing peaceful protest but several groups of anarchists attach themselves to legitimate protests “for the sole purpose of engaging in acts of violence and destruction.”
The chief said he is “profoundly disappointed” in the violence but said those behind it will be held accountable.
“We know many of the members of these groups. Over the past several days we have apprehended several of their leaders. Tonight we began removing members of the mob from our streets.
These arrests will continue as necessary. Those responsible for acts of vandalism will be held accountable. We know who many of them are and we have photographs of many others . . . "