TORONTO — They have shaved a teen-age girl bald, assaulted two businessmen in daylight at a crowded downtown shopping complex and beaten an 82-year-old woman before ransacking her house.
Clad in army boots, combat fatigues and shaved heads that spawned their moniker, the Skinheads have unleashed unprecedented aimless violence here.
Though mild by some city's standards, the violence is new to Toronto, which prides itself on escaping much of the crime, racial clashes and gang warfare that plagues urban areas.
"There is a concern, that's for sure," said Rick Huffman of Toronto Police Department's investigative branch. "We're trying to prevent things from getting out of hand."
30 Skinheads Arrested
About 30 Skinheads have been arrested in recent weeks on such charges as assault and robbery in incidents around the Eaton Centre on Yonge Street, a busy downtown shopping district.
They prey mostly on "preppies," clean-cut middle- or upper-class youths, as well as on homosexuals and racial minorities.
They also have been involved in violence and revenge with "punkers," fans of punk music who often wear outlandish hair styles and fashions. Teen-age skateboarders are also Skinhead targets.
"There does not appear to be a motive," Huffman said. "The preppies give the appearance of being a more upper class. They also don't look like they hold the same views as the Skinheads."
Racial Violence Feared
However, community leaders are worried that the Skinheads, described as neo-Nazis for their white supremacist views and penchant for swastikas, will ignite racial violence in this ethnically diverse city.
"The main concern is the racist potential in all of this," said David Kidd, a community worker at downtown Central Neighborhood House. "There are a lot of blacks in this neighborhood. We're keeping an eye on it."
An unknown number of the Skinheads have drifted to Toronto from Montreal, Detroit and Florida, committing assaults and robberies with knives, imitation handguns or their fists.
Most are between 15 and 17 years old, live on the street, are unemployed and do not receive government benefits.
The fear here is that the Skinheads, like those in other countries, will resemble more and more their predecessors in Britain, who by the late 1970s formed a right-wing movement in reaction to depressed economic conditions.
When the Skinheads first appeared in Toronto three or four years ago, they kept to themselves and were considered passive.
As the newcomers arrived, they became more violent, more of a threat, authorities say.
Police say they hope recent arrests deter other crimes.
But the Skinheads do not appear shaken by the police presence. Recently a Skinhead gang surrounded a police cruiser parked near the Eaton Centre and began rocking it.
Some downtown club owners are banning Skinheads from their premises in an effort to reduce the violence and vandalism.