POLITICS
10/12/2011 03:35 EDT | Updated 12/12/2011 05:12 EST

Occupy Bay Street: Spectre Of G20 Violence Haunts Planning For Protest

CP

TORONTO - The orgy of vandalism and mass arrests of the G20 summit 16 months ago are casting a chill as protesters prepare to "occupy" Bay Street this weekend in a call for more economic equality.

For many involved in the pending protest, memories of the violence on that weekend in June last year remain fresh.

"It's definitely a concern," said Kevin Konnyu, who has been involved in the protest planning.

"A lot of people are quite fearful of an overreaction by the police."

Hundreds and possibly thousands of people are expected to descend on downtown Toronto on Saturday as part of a global protest spawned by the almost month-old Occupy Wall Street movement.

In Toronto, demonstrators plan to gather initially at the stock exchange at King and York streets in the heart of the city's financial district.

Like its American counterparts, the Toronto protest — one of several planned across Canada — aims to decry what demonstrators say is the growing gulf between rich and poor, and the immense political power wielded by greedy corporate elites.

Those involved stressed they intend to protest peacefully and cause minimal disruption.

Sarah Jensen, 28, of Barrie, Ont., said those driving the Occupy movement "aren't criminals, thugs or troublemakers."

"After G20, there is a bit of a mistrust of the police," said Jensen, who's main concern is gender equality.

"There's debating right now whether we actually want to work directly with the police."

In a petition to Toronto Chief Bill Blair, signatories are calling on police to show restraint and respect for the rights of demonstrators.

"Neither the people of Toronto nor ... its police force want to see a repeat of the G20 weekend," the petition states.

"It is the responsibility of the Toronto Police Service to ensure the safety of citizens, ensure that individual rights are upheld and that property is protected, not to act as political agents on behalf of the current government."

Unlike the G20, where officers put on a massive show of force before and during the event, police are keeping a low profile.

"It's something that we've paid close attention to for some time," said Toronto police spokesman Mark Pugash.

"The goal is public safety, and facilitation of peaceful protest."

In Vancouver, hit by a hockey riot in June, the city's business improvement association has advised downtown businesses to upgrade security and be prepared for possible mayhem stemming from "Occupy Vancouver."

But Abigail Gamble, who speaks for the Downtown Yonge Business Improvement Area, said there's been no chatter in Toronto around the pending protest or concerns of vandalism or violence.

"There's nothing really to report for us here," Gamble said.

Despite hundreds of arrests, the protests that spread from Manhattan to Boston, Washington and elsewhere in the U.S. have been largely peaceful.

Still, fears of violence persist.

"Despite the best intentions of the critical mass to uphold a peaceful and non-violent protest, the risk of those who may choose to provoke instances of violence (whether police or protester) puts everyone in danger," Selena Flood wrote in one social media post.

Flood, who acted as a street medic during the G20, offered safety tips that include an exhortation to stay calm when things get tense and carry bottled water for cleaning wounds or flushing eyes.

In a statement Wednesday, the B.C. Federation of Labour said it would join the protest at the Vancouver Art Gallery on Saturday and "support an ongoing peaceful occupation."

Other Canadian centres where protests are planned include Edmonton, Halifax, Montreal, Guelph, Ont., Winnipeg, Windsor, Ont., Calgary and Saint John, N.B.