By Amy Bourne, Wojtek Dabrowski, Sutton Eaves and Johnathan Spicer
Activists against provincial Tory policies crash at Ryerson; Premier announces resignation
About 1,000 anti-poverty protesters and social activists clashed with police Tuesday, turning Toronto’s downtown financial district into a garbage-strewn maze of snarled traffic.
The demonstration, organized by a coalition of groups opposing the Ontario government’s policies and the leadership of Premier Mike Harris, began in Nathan Phillips Square.
Participants were searched by legions of heavily-armoured riot police. Several were arrested before the march began when police discovered clubs, bottles, rocks, tomatoes and Molotov cocktails.
The protest aimed to shut down Bay Street – Canada’s financial heart – with a series of slow, snaking marches that stalled traffic. At about 6 a.m., Toronto Police Chief Julian Fantino said the protest would never be allowed to get off the ground “if there is any unlawful activity.”
Despite Fantino’s warning, the protest went on. Activists from across Ontario and Quebec took part, while at Jeast four different police forces tried to keep control.
Shouting, “Whose streets? Our streets,” some participants vandalized newspaper boxes, flipped over a police flatbed trailer and stopped cars by dragging round cones into oncoming traffic. A masked protester also climbed on top of the Royal York hotel’s awning on Front Street and spray painted a U.S. flag with graffiti.
As the marchers continued to wind through the financial district, sporadic clashes with police broke out. One protester was beaten with truncheons after trying to breach a line of riot police.
Some demonstrators carried makeshift shields and helmets and a contingent waved the black flag of the anarchist.
A side alley off York Street became a battleground as protesters hurled stones and other debris at undercover officers who had jostled with a female demonstrator.
Despite the bursts of chaos, the protesters managed to get their message across with posters that read “Down with economic violence,” and “Housing now, housing now.”
“What’s happening in Ontario is basically the cutting edge of the agenda of capitalist globalization,” said Montreal-based activist Jaggi Singh.
But Laura Johnson, a businesswoman whose car was spat on as she waited at Bay and Wellington Streets, said the acts of vandalism and violence weakened the protesters’ message.
“I can’t read the signs, I understand what they’re protesting. But violating other people’s property isn’t going to help their cause,” Johnson said.
Another protester hurled a rock at the window of the RBC Dominion Bank on Bay Street as workers looked on from the windows above.
Newspaper boxes and police barriers were used to block roads as intersection after intersection was brought to a standstill.
The demonstration wrapped up at the U.S consulate at about 10:15 a.m. A speaker from the Coalition Against War and Racism led a chant of “Stop the racist war,” referring to the American-led strikes against Afghanistan.
But violence erupted again as the protest began to disperse when undercover police and protestors fought in front of the Hospital for Sick Children.
Several activists were arrested by officers with batons as hundreds of police stood by, ready to step in.
One helmeted officer pointed a handgun-shaped tazer a protesters who screamed obscenities at the police.
At about 10:30 a.m., protesters gathered at Ryerson’s Devonian Lake for a peaceful rally against Ontario Premier Mike Harris.
“The purpose of the protest was to make the business community look at Mike Harris as a liability instead of an asset,” activist Sean Reany said, adding that he was pleased there was little street fighting throughout the morning. Police later said they had arrested about 40 protesters.
Inside Jorgenson Hall, CKLN 88.1 FM, Ryerson’s radio station, broadcasted live as tired protesters slept nearby. Various social-activist groups had information tables set up in the area as well.
“It should be clear that RyeSAC’s part in the protest is educational and not a place for direct action to take place,” Alex Lisman, RyeSAC’s v.p. education said.
Just minutes after the demonstration wrapped up, Harris – the very target of the protest – officially announced he would step down when a new leader of the provincial Progressive Conservatives is elected at a convention next Spring.