More than 200 masked protesters smashed windows, vandalized cars and newspaper boxes and intimidated pedestrians in downtown Vancouver Saturday morning before being confronted and dispersed by police in riot gear.
The anti-Olympics protesters, many dressed in black balaclavas and masks, and carrying a ladder, smashed up to three windows at the Hudson's Bay store and one at the Toronto-Dominion Bank near the intersection of Granville and West Georgia streets.
The group also sprayed the windows with red paint, were involved in several confrontations with supporters of the Olympic Games, and threw marbles and spat at police before marching down West Georgia Street toward the Bayshore Hotel in Coal Harbour where the International Olympic Committee members are staying.
But as the marchers neared the hotel they were turned back by the Vancouver Police Department crowd control unit and the 2010 Integrated Security Unit at the Cardero Street intersection.
The police then managed to disperse the protesters into several smaller groups, and at one point a core group of the most violent protesters was encircled by police at the intersection of Robson and Jervis streets in the downtown area.
Police said seven suspects were arrested, including one with a bicycle chain wrapped around his fist, and charges of mischief were pending. They also said they seized a bag containing a hammer.
'What we saw today is the criminal element has taken over the group.' —Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu
By noon, the rest of the protesters had been largely dispersed by police, although some of the protesters said they planned to regroup later in the day.
Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu later blamed a group of about 100 anarchists at the protest for causing many of the problems.
"The demonstration involving a number of anarchists, some of whom dress all in black and employ a tactic called Black Bloc. This included a loosely organized group of thugs from Central Canada known to attach themselves to any cause, travel to any event that attracts media coverage and promote anarchy wherever they go," said a statement issued by police.
"What we saw today is the criminal element has taken over the group," said Chu.
Police will respect the rights of those who wish to express their criticism through protests, but that does not give them right to commit crimes and jeopardize the public’s safety, he said.
Meanwhile, TransLink, the Metro Vancouver transit authority, said it was forced to reroute buses away from the Lions Gate Bridge after it was closed to traffic in both directions because of a serious accident, but the bridge was reopened at 11:30 a.m. PT.