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Police wearing full riot gear, walk north on Pape Ave., near the temporary G20/G8 detention centre in Toronto. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail/Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)
Police wearing full riot gear, walk north on Pape Ave., near the temporary G20/G8 detention centre in Toronto. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail/Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

Security or liberty? Toronto comes to grips with a historic crackdown Add to ...

The militant protesters who took to the streets of Toronto this weekend had three main goals: disrupt the summit by breaching the security wall; whip up such a street war that the news of the violence would overwhelm the substance of the summit; and provoke the police into such an overreaction that they could cry victim and discredit the authorities.

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On the first two counts, they failed. Though the violence in downtown streets was shocking to a city that has never seen its like, it was nowhere near as destructive as it has been in other summit cities. As of Sunday evening, no one had been seriously injured. Property damage amounted to a few shattered storefronts, burnt police cruisers and graffiti-streaked walls. International media reported on the violence and the protests, but put them in second place to what actually happened at the summit.

On the third count of provoking an overreaction, the militants had some success. Police showed considerable restraint at the beginning of the protests, holding back and defending the security perimeter as the "anarchist" protesters went on their rampage. Some even accused police of showing too much restraint, allowing the protesters to vandalize parts of downtown without encountering any resistance.

Toronto Police had said they were prepared to sacrifice property if it meant saving lives or preventing a breach of the fence erected to protect world leaders. They achieved their goals, but officers fired tear gas on the streets for the first time in the force's history, and used pepper spray and rubber bullets in the course of arresting more than 600 people, one of the largest urban sweeps in Canadian history.

Four people were taken into custody after witnesses saw two of them emerge from a manhole near the summit security zone early Sunday morning. A police spokeswoman said the safety of international leaders at the summit was never at risk, but workers were pressed into welding more manhole covers that lead to "underground infrastructure" as a precaution.

"You see the humiliation on the officers faces when this stuff goes on in their city," said Mike McCormack, head of the rank-and-file Toronto Police Association. "My members are completely devastated by that."

Saturday's events, he said, gave rise to subsequent police sweeps. "We're reacting to the tone of the demonstration ... the demonstrators set the tone 100 per cent," he said.





In the wake of the violence, police went on the offensive. First, they marched on what was supposed to be a free protest zone at Queen's Park, using riot police and mounted police to clear the park around the legislature. Police Chief Bill Blair has yet to explain adequately why that was necessary or justified.

Some spectators said only a cursory, hard-to-hear warning was issued before police went on the march. At least one man was caught under horses' hooves and one female journalist sustained a welt after a policeman hit her with a truncheon on the hip.

At the University of Toronto on Sunday morning, about 70 people were rounded up and taken away to detention after a police raid. On Sunday evening, police surrounded what appeared to be a peaceful crowd of demonstrators at Queen Street West and Spadina Avenue, many of them merely people caught in the crowd. Spectators said no warning or explanation was given. Journalists with clear credentials were detained.

Police and protesters spent months planning for the G8/G20 weekend, devising an escalating series of measures and countermeasures. More than $930 million in federal government funding was allotted for security, and about $122-million of that was handed to the Toronto Police Service to keep order in the downtown area surrounding the summit.

There were moments of tension when dozens of police seemed to stare down angry mobs hundreds deep on Saturday. But the officers had their orders and stuck to them, not breaking ranks to avenge insults or even protect their own squad cars when at least three were set ablaze.

"Where are the police?" asked Michael Mitchell, a manager of an ice-cream shop on Yonge Street as he watched protesters vandalizing shops. "Why are they all down at the fence? What about us?"

This was the set of circumstances police were prepared to live with if it meant no one would get seriously hurt or killed, and that the fence was not breached. Just two weeks ago, Chief Blair said his biggest fear was that radicals would destroy property by "breaking windows, burning cars, overturning street furniture," all of which came to pass.

With 600 people - and counting - arrested last night it was a historically large roundup, unseen in Canada since the 2001 Summit of the Americas protests in Quebec City or the 1993 sweeps during the B.C. protests over Clayoquot Sound.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association said many peaceful protesters seem to have been arrested after Saturday's violence. "People are being denied access to lawyers, they are unable to contact their families and we have heard that there are no plans for prompt release. The police does not appear to make serious attempts to provide access to lawyers or information. This is a serious violation of basic rights of hundreds of people," said a statement by the association.



With files from Siri Agrell, Ann Hui and The Canadian Press





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