TORONTO - Kicking off protests that will draw thousands to Toronto during two top-level summits next week, oil-smeared demonstrators urged Canada on Thursday to stop subsidizing fossil fuels and act against world poverty.
The group paraded through Toronto's financial core with an outsized papier-mache head of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, handing out fake C$1 billion bills that spoofed the price tag just for security at the summits.
"(Harper's) backing the wrong solutions," said Graham Saul of the Climate Action Network Canada, part of the umbrella organization that organized the march.
"We're here to say we need to stop subsidizing the problems, phase out subsidies for fossil fuels, and we need to invest in clean energy technology."
Fears of violence prompted a U.S. State Department recommendation that Americans avoid downtown Toronto next week because the large-scale demonstrations around the June 26-27 summit of the G20 rich and emerging nations could turn nasty.
"Even demonstrations that are meant to be peaceful can become violent and unpredictable," the State Department said in a travel alert that expires on June 28. "You should avoid them if at all possible."
Nongovernmental groups have promised peaceful protests, but previous summits have attracted violent groups intent on disrupting the meetings or fighting with police. Organizers admit anarchist groups may join these demonstrations too.
The summits kick off on June 24 when the Group of Eight industrialized countries meet in Huntsville, Ontario, a resort town about two hours north of Toronto.
The G20 meets in Toronto from June 26-27.
The security bill for the summit is already over C$1 billion ($970 million), an amount that was a key focus of Thursday's protest.
"It's outrageous that they spend so much holding this summit," said Mark Fried of Oxfam, adding that his group is not trying to disrupt the events so much as draw attention to issues it feels should be addressed.
"It is important that they get together, because when they're there ... with the world's eyes upon them, they want to look good and they announce things that can be very positive."