G20 protesters accuse the police of turning Toronto into an armed camp, but some of the more militant protesters are pretty well-equipped for conflict themselves.
I was on hand when police detained three young men at Bay and Gerard on Thursday. One had blond dreadlocks and a T-shirt with an anarchist symbol; another wore big combat boots.
In their backpacks the police found: shin pads, gas masks, batteries and small weights, oven mitts and a staple gun. The three were also carrying hockey sticks taped from the top of the shaft to the blade. Police held them for a few minutes then let them go without charges, but took most of their gear. The batteries and weights, they say, could be used as projectiles to throw at police or break windows; the hockey sticks as weapons. The oven mitts are used by protesters to pick up tear gas canisters and throw them back at police. A few minutes later, the trio were marching in a demonstration for indigenous rights.
This morning, another well-equipped young man was stopped by police in his car. He had a bulletproof vest, nail gun, gas masks and an ax. He called himself a protester against the new world order. Under their catch-and-release approach, police took his stuff and sent him on his way.
The number of truly militant protesters is probably pretty small - at a guess, no more than a few dozen. But a few determined protesters bent on mayhem can cause a lot of trouble, fast, as authorities have learned at past protests in Seattle, Genoa and Quebec City.
The police approach seems to be to keep protest marchers well away from the security fence downtown. Militant protesters have made it clear they intend to have a go at the fence. One security expert says that some have even putting screws in the soles of their shoes so that they can scramble up the tight mesh of the metal barrier.
Whether they can get near enough to attempt scaling it - well, we will see. Saturday's main event is a union-organized "People First" march from Queen's Park down University. Organizers plan to turn off University at Queen, well north of the security perimeter, but some militant groups have indicated they intend to break from main group at that point and head for the fence.
"It's time to stop sitting on the fence and start tearing it down," said a post on one activist web site. "Join us on Saturday afternoon, immediately following the Labour Union rally, for a militant march to the summit!"
Authorities, for their part, have made it clear that anyone who tried to get to the fence will confront a wall of police.Report Typo/Error