Toronto faces hard post-G20 security questions

TORONTO (Reuters) - After a rare weekend of violence in a city that likes to trumpet its civility, Toronto licked its wounds on Monday as rights groups questioned police tactics in securing the G20 summit and the mayor blasted the decision to hold the world leaders event in the city’s core.

Even as downtown security fences were being dismantled, a crowd of more 1,000 gathered outside Toronto’s police headquarters Monday evening to protest the massive police operation and allegations that people were arrested who had nothing to do with the violence.

“We don’t want a police state,” chanted the crowd, watched over by a large contingent of police officers. It later marched through the downtown.

Across town, at a temporary detention center, police were still processing some of the more than 900 people they arrested over the weekend. The exact number of people detained was unknown because some were taken into custody in the city and then released elsewhere without being charged.

Amnesty International and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association took issue with those arrests and called for a review of security procedures.

In a front-page editorial on Monday, the Toronto Star, Canada’s biggest circulation daily newspaper, called the summit security plan, and the reaction to it, “a brutal spectacle that failed a city and its people.”

“They took our city to hold a meeting and bullied us out of the core, damaging the commerce of thousands of merchants and inconveniencing the entire population. Then, they failed to protect our property,” the Star said.

Canada budgeted C$1 billion ($970 million) for security. It brought in hundreds of police from outside the city and erected a 10-foot (3-meter) steel fence around a large section of the city core to protect Group of 20 leaders like President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron as they met just yards away from, but out of sight of, the protests.


The pricey security measures were taken in anticipation of violent protests that have become common at meetings of global leaders since the “Battle of Seattle” trade talks in 1999.

In Toronto, the violence started when masked “black bloc” protesters separated themselves from a larger peaceful march on Saturday, smashing storefronts and setting a number of police cars alight. Police were at times unable to keep pace with the fast-moving crowd, officials admitted.

Additional but smaller protests on Sunday met a stiffer response from police who cordoned off large groups of protesters and onlookers, and arrested people by the dozen.

Police fired tear gas on protesters on both days.

Police Chief Bill Blair defended his officers’ actions, saying the police were forced to change tactics once the protest turned violent.

“The criminal conspiracy didn’t end after they broke a few windows and burned a few cars,” Blair told Reuters.

“They were intent on continuing with that criminality. All through the weekend we were arresting people with Molotov cocktails, with bricks and bottles they could throw.”

Toronto Mayor David Miller also defended the police response. But he criticized the federal government’s decision to hold the G20 in downtown Toronto, rather than at an easily secured location outside of the city core.

“Whether that would have prevented people who simply wanted to come to commit violent acts I think is debatable, but it certainly would have significantly lessened the impact on downtown Toronto,” he told reporters.

Miller said he would ask the federal government to provide compensation for businesses that sustained damages.

Those detained over the weekend included a number of reporters and photographers, including two freelance reporters working for Reuters. Both were later released without charge.

Jesse Rosenfeld, 26, an independent journalist detained on Saturday while reporting for Britain’s Guardian newspaper, told a press conference organized by an umbrella protest group he was beaten by police during his arrest.

Additional reporting by Julie Gordon, Louise Egan, Claire Sibonney, John McCrank, Allan Dowd, and Frank McGurty; editing by Todd Eastham