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Torontonians try to make sense of G20 vandalism

G20 protesters loot a store on Yonge Street in Toronto on June 26.

ryan enn hughes The Globe and Mail

As stores along Queen Street were vandalized and police cruisers set ablaze this weekend, Reg Bonfoco was watching the events on television from his Front Street condo.

Just blocks from the security perimeter and the site of the G20 meeting, his building was virtually empty, with more than 80 per cent of residents choosing to leave the city during the summit.

"It's been a really eerie feeling down here all weekend," he said. "I'm just kind of in shock as to what's gone on."

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Across the city, residents are trying to come to terms with what happened, shocked by the vandalism and aggressive tactics of some protesters, and saddened by the overwhelming police presence on Toronto streets.

It is still too early to assess the dollar value of the damage done, or the revenue lost.

But with empty neighbourhoods, a frozen TTC system, bars and restaurants with no one to serve, it is clear that the city was not itself when the world arrived at its door. And as people returned to the downtown core to begin their week, some pointed fingers in blame while others simply crossed theirs, hoping that the worst was over.

We knew some street was going to take the brunt of it. It just happened to be Queen Street. Adam Vaughan, Toronto councillor

"I think as a country, Canada's so lucky to be a democracy and support peaceful protest. What we saw on Queen Street West yesterday was absolutely not peaceful," said Laura Schaefer, of the Queen Street West Business Improvement Area (BIA), as she surveyed the damage on Sunday. "To see this destruction is beyond unfortunate."

At least eight stores sustained damage during Saturday's vandalism, and had begun filing insurance claims.

The iconic Steve's Music marquee was melted from the heat of a police car that had been torched in front of the store.

But with protests still underway in other locations around the city, the singed outline of burnt police vehicles was the only residue of events on Queen Street.

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Ms. Schaefer said city cleaning crews had quickly picked up broken glass and garbage.

Councillor Adam Vaughan said police were mandated to keep protesters far from the summit site, and that meant the damage would be felt elsewhere.

"We knew some street was going to take the brunt of it. It just happened to be Queen Street," he said.

But Queen West was not the only neighbourhood affected.

James Yonge, of the Downtown Yonge BIA, said that about 40 member-businesses had damaged windows, but could not provide an estimate for the cost of repairs.

The Eaton Centre went into "lockdown" on Saturday, some hospitals were accepting only emergency patients, a concert at the ACC was cancelled and the TTC system was completely shut down for a time.

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TTC chair Adam Giambrone said they were instructed by the Integrated Security Unit to shut down the TTC system just before 2 p.m. on Saturday, leaving the city without public transit for several hours.

"A decision was made that we could not guarantee security across the whole downtown," he said.

Some shuttle service was provided throughout the night, and Mr. Giambrone said he believes the shutdown went smoothly and the majority of riders were understanding. Service resumed on Sunday.

One streetcar was spray-painted, he said, and a door of the Queen's Park subway station was broken.

Residents of the neighbourhood near Eastern Avenue, where a temporary jail was established by police, were forced to contend with protesters, as were the Parkdale neighbours of the Toronto Community Mobilization Network's Noble Street convergence space.

A Sunday morning raid on the University of Toronto campus brought the action adjacent to the Annex, and even areas far from the action saw their weekends disrupted.

Besides the protests, there was little sign that some of the world's most influential figures were in town.

There were no glimpses of U.S. President Barack Obama or his wife, Michelle. Low-flying helicopters and quickly moving motorcades were the only indication of VIPs, and there were no reports of celebrity sightings or delegate events.

With police and security guards stationed in hotel lobbies and on street corners, Yorkville felt drained of the spirited energy that makes it such a destination on a summer Saturday night. The upside: Scoring a table at one of the tony bars or clubs was not a problem; towards 10 p.m., both Avenue at the Four Seasons and the Roof Lounge at the Park Hyatt appeared to be only half full, with no sign of mingling delegates.

Even the L.A. Galaxy soccer team caused little commotion when they emerged from their bus and headed into the Four Seasons. As the evening wore on, some venues opted to close down early as police suggested that the neighbourhood might be a target for violence. The Hazelton Hotel's restaurant One ushered patrons off the patio and drew black shades over the windows to play down the scene inside.

The sounds of the Toronto Jazz Festival were also muffled by violence.

Patrick Taylor, the event's executive director, said concerts away from the downtown were sold out, but the main stage at Nathan Philips Square was definitely affected.

"It has a strange aura about it. There's not a lot of walk-up business," he said. "That vibe's gone."

Mr. Taylor said he was disappointed by the "ugliness going on" around him. On Saturday, he saw black-clad vandals race past, pursued by police in tactical garb.

"You could hear the sirens going by and see the smoke coming up through the city," he said. "It's a very noticeable difference."

With reports from Amy Verner and Ann Hui

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