G20 security forces analyze bank firebombing

OTTAWA — “Thugs” who firebombed a bank branch this week pose no danger to the G8 and G20 summits in Ontario next month because Canada’s security is being run by the best in the business, says the public safety minister.

A fire marshal sets up equipment in front of a Royal Bank of Canada branch in Ottawa on Wednesday. Anarchists

A fire marshal sets up equipment in front of a Royal Bank of Canada branch in Ottawa on Wednesday. Anarchists

OTTAWA — “Thugs” who firebombed a bank branch this week pose no danger to the G8 and G20 summits in Ontario next month because Canada’s security is being run by the best in the business, says the public safety minister.

“The government condemns all acts of violence,” Vic Toews said in a statement Wednesday.

“The government of Canada has a comprehensive approach to security planning, and we are on track to host safe and secure G8 and G20 summits.”

An anarchist group claimed responsibility for the Royal Bank firebombing in Ottawa’s Glebe neighbourhood, and has threatened destruction at the June meetings.

City police are leading the investigation, which destroyed the branch early Tuesday morning. No one was hurt.

In his statement, Toews said he and Prime Minister Stephen Harper had been fully briefed on the incident.

“The (G8-G20) security plan has been developed by Canada’s best experts in the field,” Toews added.

“Let me be clear, we will not be influenced by thugs.”

The Integrated Security Unit says it has reviewed video of the explosion, and is prepared to lend its intelligence expertise to Ottawa police.

“Any time this kind of thing happens, there is a need to step back and say … ’Is this a one time (event)?”’ said Michele Paradis, an ISU spokeswoman.

“It’s an isolated incident now, and we hope that it stays as an isolated incident. We’ll work on it from there.”

The ISU is a joint-forces team drawing from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canadian Forces, and provincial and regional police. The goal is to protect the heads of state attending the G20 and G8 summits, and also to keep the host communities safe.

The unit was prepared for an incident such as the firebombing, Paradis said.

“We’ve been planning for all of this, and have been since Day 1,” she said. “There has always been an element of the population that comes here (to summits) to commit criminal acts.”

Violent protesters probably won’t get very far, said security analyst John Thompson, president of the Mackenzie Institute in Toronto.

Summit security is usually so tight that even the most sophisticated terrorists keep their distance.

“This is not a group that would be able to get anywhere close to the secure area.”

City police have laid no charges and are saying little. The Ontario Fire Marshal’s office is assisting.

Witnesses said three or four males were seen running from the scene and leaving the area in an SUV shortly before the fire was reported at 3:30 a.m. Tuesday.

In a statement issued hours after the fire, an anarchist group said members targeted a Royal branch because the bank was a sponsor of the Vancouver Olympics, which were held on “stolen indigenous land.”

The group also said the bank was a major financier of Alberta’s oilsands, “one of the largest industrial projects in human history and perhaps the most destructive.”

The statement was posted on the website ottawa.indymedia.org, along with a video showing what the group claimed was the bank attack.

The images, shot from across the street, show two people running out of the bank as fire explodes inside the building, shattering windows and causing about $300,000 damage.

“This is an escalation from what these guys have done in the past, and that’s worrying,” said one federal source.

Thousands of delegates, journalists, interest groups and protesters will fill the streets of Toronto on the last weekend of June. The summits will bring together the most powerful leaders in the world to Toronto and Huntsville, Ont.

Banks have frequently been the targets of vandalism at recent summits, especially in the wake of the global financial crisis.

In Toronto, bankers have been working with government, security and property management officials for months to ensure the downtown area is safe during the summits, said Maura Drew-Lytle, spokeswoman for the Canadian Bankers Association.

Some of the big bank towers in the financial sector will be inside the summit security perimeter, and others will be just on the outside of the fence, she said.

All the banks have developed plans to boost security, reroute their employees, and scale back their downtown activities during the summits.

The Royal Bank is reviewing its own plan in light of the firebombing, said spokeswoman Gillian McArable.

“We will increase security as deemed appropriate,” she said, adding that the bank will not comment directly on the anarchists.

Some protesters were quick to distance themselves from the anarchists’ claims.

“We are a social justice organization and we don’t buy into violent means,” said Karen Palmer, spokeswoman for Oxfam Canada, which was leading a series of protests across the country Wednesday.

Oxfam had no plans to change the nature of their cross-country protests, despite the heightened concern around dissent. The group’s protests are non-violent, said Palmer.

Still, the firebombing highlights Oxfam’s dilemma about how far it should go in co-operating with other protest groups, some of whom are more tolerant of confrontation.

“It’s a constant debate in Oxfam,” Palmer said.

Claudia Calabro of the Toronto Community Mobilization Network, the umbrella group organizing protests around the meetings, said it would neither condemn nor support the firebombing because it is “not interested in speaking about tactics.”

In a statement, the network said: “One burnt RBC bank branch pales in comparison to the death and devastation that the G20 policies create worldwide, and the Tar Sands create in Canada.”

Other organizations that are part of a steering committee for a People’s Summit happening around the G20 meetings, including the Canadian Labour Congress and the Council of Canadians, said they did not have anyone to comment on the incident Wednesday.

Possible attacks against corporate sponsors of the Vancouver Olympics were a big concern for security officials prior to the Games.

An intelligence report released early last year revealed that the Royal Bank, a key Games sponsor, had been named specifically in anarchist and anti-Olympic Internet postings.

It said that between September 2007 and May 2009, anarchists claimed responsibility for four attacks in which large rocks were thrown through the windows of Vancouver Royal Bank branches.

“The Games in Vancouver are now over, but resistance continues. An RBC branch can be found in every corner of Kanada,” said a statement from a group that claimed responsibility for the latest attack, apparently deliberately misspelling Canada.

The statement also said group members will be in Huntsville and Toronto during the summits, where “leaders and bankers are meeting … to make decisions that will further their policies of exploitation of people and the environment.”