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G20 protesters at Queen and Spadina late Sunday afternoon June 27, 2010.Jonas Naimark for The Globe and Mail

The corralling of 250 people at Queen and Spadina Streets for hours in torrential rain at the end of Toronto's G20 summit remains a flashpoint in a weekend that saw the largest mass arrests in Canadian history.

In the face of an onslaught of complaints, lawsuits and inquiries, Toronto police Chief Bill Blair on Thursday acknowledged for the first time that he made mistakes that night.

"We probably could have and should have reacted quicker," Chief Blair told The Globe and Mail. "When I became aware of [the ongoing containment] I said, 'That's it, release them all immediately and unconditionally,' and that was done. But it probably could have happened sooner."

The admission is a new tack for Toronto police. In a news conference soon after the release of the corral, Staff Superintendent Jeff McGuire said of the detainees, "To those people, I cannot apologize to them, and I won't." He called the situation "unfortunate," but said officers had the right to detain the group.

The confrontation began at around 6 p.m. on Sunday, June 27, after a group of protesters on bikes and on foot, along with a number of bystanders, arrived at the downtown intersection of Queen and Spadina Streets. Within minutes, several flanks of police in heavy riot gear surrounded the crowd from all sides and squeezed them into a contained area, a tactic known as "kettling." The group of about 250 was contained there for approximately four hours, much of the time in a chilly downpour, as officers pulled detainees one by one out of the crowd for arrest.

Demonstrators who were involved have said the group was peaceful. Numerous bystanders have come forward, claiming they were caught in the corral while out shopping on the popular retail strip or while on their way back to residences in the area.

Chief Blair maintained on Thursday that the decision to box in the crowd of 250 was appropriate, claiming that major incident commanders were concerned for the public's safety after 60 armed "black-bloc tactic" protesters were apprehended heading to the area. The day before, anarchists dressed in black and wearing masks ransacked the downtown core, smashing windows and torching police cruisers. Chief Blair also said that on Sunday, officers were concerned that the cyclists, who had ranged across the city since early afternoon, were spreading police resources thin, and that the protesters would disrupt motorcades from leaving the summit site, a few blocks south at the Metro Convention Centre.

But he admitted the decision to hold the group for more than four hours was remiss. "The decision to contain it, I believe that was quite appropriate. The decision to end it was taking too long," Chief Blair said, repeating a statement he made in July that he personally stepped in to end the detainment.

Chief Blair also acknowledged the problems his force faced the previous day, when the small group of black-bloc anarchists splintered off a larger peaceful march. He said he was "taken by surprise" by the anarchists' moves, and that it was "extremely difficult" to police a march and a mob at the same time. He said Saturday's anarchy had an effect on Sunday's police tactics.

His remarks preceded news Thursday that high-profile Toronto lawyer David Midanik had launched a class-action lawsuit seeking compensation for approximately 1,150 plaintiffs who were detained, arrested or charged over the G20 weekend, or whose businesses suffered damage from vandalism. The suit claims $115-million in damages, naming the Attorney-General of Canada and Peel regional and Toronto police boards as defendants.

The claim comes in the wake of another $45-million class-action lawsuit filed in August, representing more than 800 G20 arrestees. The chief plaintiff, 51-year-old administrative assistant Sherry Good, was detained at the Queen and Spadina kettle.

Two civilian oversight bodies, the Toronto Police Services Board and Ontario's Office of the Independent Police Review Director, are conducting inquiries into policing of the summit. The Special Investigations Unit, an Ontario police watchdog, is investigating five incidents of serious injury to civilians and involving police that occurred over the G20.

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