A symphony of smashing, spray-painting and projectile-tossing reverberated in downtown Montreal during the city's notoriously raucous annual anti-police brutality march.

Protesters lobbed objects at officers, vandalized some stores and smashed two police vehicles Thursday. Authorities responded by firing off chemical irritants in a bid to disperse a crowd of about 1,000 people.

"Are we happy with the result? No, because we would like to have a peaceful protest. But, this is the 16th year this is happening and, unfortunately, this is the same result. We [had] problems; people have been apprehended," said Montreal police Sgt. Ian Lafrenière.

Police say more than 200 people were arrested, and 10 officers were injured, on Thursday night. In 2011, 258 people were arrested or detained during the march.

There was a surreal backdrop to some of the unruly scenes Thursday.

While the skies filled with clouds of chemical irritants, and objects zoomed past like a garbage can that one man hurled at a police car, regular crowds went about their ordinary business, including evening shopping and eating out.

The march did disrupt some economic activity, however. Security at some Sainte-Catherine Street boutiques locked their customers inside to protect them.

 "Smoke bombs aren't great for business," joked one store manager, yelling across the street at another one.

Police asked the protesters to disperse, but they merely headed north to the area not far from the Bell Centre.

The annual event has developed a reputation as a wild affair and this year was no exception. Some protesters carried rocks, looking around for targets.

Montreal police said it may take days to figure out the extent of damages.

CDI College student Kevin Bordunaro said he joined the march out of curiosity after seeing it pass in front of his school.

"It's a riot against police brutality, and police are brutal – they're attacking people," he said.

Previous protests set stage

This year's anti-police march comes at a particularly sensitive time.

There have been battles in recent weeks at massive student protest marches against tuition hikes.

Police explain tactics

  • In an unusual move, police invited media to their headquarters on Wednesday, to discuss tactics used to break up demonstrations.
  • Montreal authorities have been criticized in recent months for being heavy-handed during rolling student protests held throughout the city.
  • Protests are being staged almost every day, as part of Quebec's widespread student movement against tuition increases.

One student suffered a serious eye injury amid a police intervention at a march last week.

Also heightening tensions are several shootings involving Montreal police, including one where an innocent bystander was killed by a stray bullet on his way to work at a hospital.

Police say 13 of the previous 15 editions of the march have degenerated into confrontations where arrests have been made.

A group called the Collective Opposed to Police Brutality, which organizes the annual event, never provides authorities with the protest route in advance as more mainstream protest organizers do.

"The route of the demonstration has not been provided and there exists no provision that obliges anyone to ask for a permit to demonstrate," the collective said in a statement.

Organizers say other protests are planned in Toronto, Vancouver, Dallas, Brussels and Paris.

With files from CBC News