At least nine people were killed and 16 injured when a van slammed into pedestrians on a crowded sidewalk in the north end of Toronto, in one of the worst mass killings ever in Canada. A suspect was arrested after a dramatic stand-off with a police officer.
“These are not the kinds of things we expect to happen in this city,” Toronto Mayor John Tory told reporters Monday. “We hope that they don’t happen anywhere in the world but we especially don’t expect them to happen in Toronto.”
CBC News reported that the arrested man has been identified as Alek Minassian, 25, of Richmond Hill, Ontario, a student at Seneca College. Toronto police couldn’t be reached for comment to confirm the name.
It’s too early to comment on the motives for the crash and it’s “inappropriate” to speculate on whether it was related to terrorism, federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told reporters in Toronto, adding that there’s no reason to change the country’s threat level. The Department of National Defense echoed that, saying the Chief of the Defense Staff had not attended any briefings on the incident.
“There’s no information known to me at the present time that would result in any change of threat level,” Goodale told reporters at a Group of Seven meeting in Toronto. There’s also no indication the attack was meant to coincide with the meeting, he added.
If it’s deemed to be a targeted attack, it will be the worst mass killing in Canada since Marc Lepine killed 14 women before killing himself at a Montreal engineering school in 1989. It follows several other vehicle attacks around the world, including one in a Berlin Christmas market that killed 12, a van attack in Barcelona that left 13 people dead, and the truck loaded with arms that drove into a late-night crowd in Nice, France, in 2016, killing 80 people. A vehicle attack in Edmonton, Alberta, last year injured four pedestrians and a police officer.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which has jurisdiction over terrorism cases, said Toronto police were taking the lead in the investigation.
— Nick Short ?? (@PoliticalShort) April 23, 2018
While the motive of this incident remains unclear, there have been recent public warnings about “low-sophistication” attacks, including those involving vehicles, said Stephanie Carvin, a former Canadian national security analyst who is now an assistant professor at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa.
She said attacks typically target iconic areas of the city, whereas Monday’s incident was far from Toronto’s most visible landmarks. The crashes began near the Yonge and Finch intersection in the north end of the city, about 9.3 miles from the downtown core and along the city’s main subway line, where service was partially suspended. Businesses in the area include the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan. It’s otherwise a residential area, with lots of shops and condominiums.
“This person just seems to have full-on picked a random time to target a bunch of very innocent people, and that is what is very scary about this and surprising,” Carvin said in a telephone interview. The fact that Toronto Police are leading the investigation suggests it’s not being treated at first as a terror case, she said.
The driver, who appeared to be a man based on photos posted on local media sites, sped into the intersection of Yonge and Finch at around 1:30 p.m. before heading south on Yonge, hopping the curb and slamming pedestrians. Several witnesses told CP24 Television and other networks that he appeared to be targeting people, driving to avert light standards as he raced south.
One witness who was traveling behind the van said the driver was going about 70 or 80 kilometers an hour when he veered onto the sidewalk and “just started hitting everybody,” he told CP24. Photos from the scene show that the van was a rental from Ryder System Inc.
“Every single thing that came in his way he just drove right on it,” a witness identified as Alex Shaker told CTV News. “He just destroyed so many people’s lives.”
The driver was eventually apprehended in a brief police stand-off. A video taken by a bystander and published on the Toronto Star website showed a man standing in front of the Ryder van, pointing an object at a police offer, asking him to “shoot me in the head.” The police officer stood his ground, and eventually apprehended him on the sidewalk and handcuffed him.
Other witnesses pitched in to help as best they could. Reza Bahramian said he spent half an hour doing CPR on one of the victims after witnessing the van drive onto the sidewalk and hit four people.
“Me and others followed him and shouted to stop,” he said, adding that he’s lived in Canada’s biggest city for 27 years and has never experienced anything like this incident before. “This is very strange for me.”
Ribbons of yellow police tape stretched along Yonge Street, Toronto’s main north-south artery, closing the sidewalk to bystanders and stretching northward several blocks. Further north, a blue piece of clothing lay abandoned on the street corner where some police and vehicles congregated.
John Flengas, acting supervisor of Toronto Emergency Medical Services, described the scene as “pure carnage” on CP24.