HALIFAX -- Police and protesters got a taste of what could lie ahead at G8 gatherings later this month when a noisy weekend demonstration in Halifax turned nasty.
In the aftermath of the violent clash, which came at the end of a meeting of G7 finance ministers in downtown Halifax, both police and protesters defended their actions. Each side accused the other of overreacting and provoking the clashes outside the building where the ministers were having lunch.
The RCMP went into the weekend knowing the event would be widely seen as a test of security measures in place for the G8 summit scheduled for Kananaskis in Alberta at the end of the month.
But both the Mounties and Halifax police were surprised that the party atmosphere that prevailed at a demonstration Friday evening turned into four violent confrontations between protesters and heavily armed officers on Saturday.
Halifax police said yesterday that several police officers and members of the media were assaulted during the protest and the tactical squad took action after being faced with ball bearings fired from a slingshot and balloons containing an unknown substance.
About 250 protesters, denouncing policies ranging from health-care cuts to global warming, confronted about 100 members of the RCMP and Halifax police tactical squads on Saturday afternoon. Despite claims by organizers that the protest would be peaceful, demonstrators began tearing down metal barriers and formed a line in front of the police.
Then someone in the crowd burned a small American flag and several demonstrators attacked photographers and television camera operators who tried to record that. At the same time, several protesters pushed and screamed at the police officers, who donned gas masks and clutched their shields and wooden batons.
A demonstrator hurled the burning flag into the police line, and that was followed by a barrage of balloons reportedly filled with water and vinegar. The police then sent panic through the protesters by levelling the first of two blasts of tear gas at the crowd, sending several demonstrators and media members gasping to the sidewalk seeking medical help.
The protesters then moved on to try to block another street near the meeting site that they thought the finance ministers' cars would travel to leave the area. They didn't see any dignitaries, and the tactical squad forced the demonstrators, many of whom were screaming obscenities, off the street using a police dog and a Tazer stun gun.
Protester Scott Barber said he was zapped by the electric prod several times. "I really feel [the police] are just mercenaries. They aren't protecting me. We have a right to protest and show these leaders how we feel," the visibly shaken Haligonian said.
The afternoon fracas left many onlookers shaking their heads.
David Wimberley, whose 17-year-old son John was involved in the protest, was shocked to see police pull out the tear gas.
"It makes me profoundly sad to see my own son gassed for demonstrating in front of police. . . . They gassed him twice for no reason," Mr. Wimberley said. "I'm just heartbroken to see the way police in our city will react when people are protesting economic policies that are hurting us."
Sergeant Wayne Noonan said police were only reacting to the tearing down of the barricades, the hurling of projectiles and some protesters clashing with the media.
Halifax police said yesterday that 31 protesters were arrested, most of them for breaching the peace.
At least five face criminal charges. Two men are to appear in court today facing charges of unlawful assembly and violation of court orders that arose out of their activities at other demonstrations. As well, a man and a woman have been charged with resisting arrest. Another protester was apprehended on outstanding charges involving possession of a prohibited weapon and theft.
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