Toronto police chief Bill Blair is offering no apologies for police tactics during the G20 summit, including a controversial incident that saw hundreds detained at a downtown intersection in the soaking rain Sunday night.
"This was not a site where somebody casually walked up to catch a bus," Chief Blair said of the demonstration at Queen Street West and Spadina Avenue, where police in riot gear hemmed in protesters and bystanders until about 9:30 p.m. Sunday. "It was clearly a large and dangerous demonstration. It was clearly a situation that we were asking people to avoid, [where]we were asking people to disperse. They ignored that request."
Chief Blair said the police warned people gathered at the corner to leave the area three times -- verbally, not using the sound cannon. When they refused, police detained everyone in the crowd, including journalists with G20 accreditation.
"Your accreditation does not afford you additional rights or any immunity from the application of the law," Chief Blair said in an interview with The Globe and Mail Monday. "They [journalists]were asked to leave. They choose not to. They were told that the people in that area, if they remained, would be detained ... to prevent a breach of the peace."
A couple of weeks before all this happened, you talked about your biggest concerns being that windows would be broken, furniture overturned. If you foresaw that coming, why wasn't it possible to prevent it?
We were trying to strike a balance, as we have to in law, between the lawful rights of citizens to protest … now unfortunately they [protesters using the Black Bloc tactic]turned their criminal intent away from the summit and they turned it on the people of Toronto. They rampaged on Queen and up Yonge.… It took time to get the resources up there. We're looking very hard at ways in which we can respond to those types of tactics. It was a new tactic.
On Saturday … was there a standing order to back off and let these guys go?
So why were they allowed to rampage, break windows, set police cars on fire?
Because they ran from where the police lines were. We then had to disengage some of those police resources and move them in to an area where they could contain them. They were a mob and a mob can be quite fluid.
The narrative that seems to be emerging is that there was a fair bit of restraint shown on Saturday, but then on Sunday police began to become a little more aggressive. Was there a change in the standing orders from Saturday to Sunday?
We had always intended to facilitate lawful, peaceful protest. When a large group - hundreds - engaged in criminality, our response had to change in response to their criminal behaviour.
Did the standing orders come directly from you?
I'm in charge and I directed that … they'd now committed crimes, they had to be arrested and they had to be stopped.… I take full responsibility for the evolution in our response.
Let's talk about what happened at Queen and Spadina [Sunday]night. Why did the police choose to hem in so many people at that corner, including people who were not involved in the protest?
The police gave three very clear warnings, separated by time, asking people to disperse, asking people to leave the area, warning those curious to leave the area to allow us to deal effectively with those who had come to commit criminal acts. They declined. Some left, some didn't. So we had to contain that.
But there are a lot of people saying they were just there to catch a streetcar, to go shopping, any number of different reasons, and they didn't hear any warnings.
This was not a site where somebody casually walked up to catch a bus. It was clearly a large and dangerous demonstration. It was clearly a situation that we were asking people to avoid. We were asking people to disperse. They ignored that request. When they were warned that if they remained in the area they would be subject to the breach of the peace, I suppose for some of them their curiosity - or perhaps their profession - compelled them to stay.
Are you talking about the journalists, in this case?
I'm sure their feeling was that it didn't apply to them because they had all gone through the proper process. What's the point of being accredited and being there to capture this kind of thing if you're going to be asked to leave?
We took the extraordinary steps of containing that area and we asked the media to leave. They made choices. They chose to remain. And in choosing to remain they got hemmed in with everyone else and got wet.
Why did the police go in and make arrests at Queen's Park, which I understood was supposed to be the legitimate protest gathering site?
[There has been]incredible misrepresentation of what that was. It was a rallying point for legitimate protests.… There's no sanctuary from criminality. And what happened is after they rampaged along Queen and up Yonge Street, we watched them. We watched them as they went over to Queen's Park. We watched them as they changed into other clothes, and we watched them as they hid in the crowd among the people that had gathered at Queen's Park. We went in to apprehend them.
Do you feel there's been some trust lost between the public and the police this weekend?
No. I have to tell you I've been overwhelmed with e-mails, letters and phone calls of support … certainly, advocates for the anarchists are offended. I can live with their offence.
This interview has been edited and condensed