A driver plowed a white rental van through a crowd of pedestrians on a busy Toronto sidewalk Monday, killing 10 and injuring 15, in Canada’s worst mass killing in almost three decades.
A 25-year-old man was arrested after a lone policeman unwaveringly stared down the agitated suspect — clothed head to toe in black — who appeared to repeatedly draw an object from his hip and point it at the officer.
While Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said there appears to be “no national security connection” based on information currently available, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said the incident was clearly deliberate and nothing has been ruled out.
“I open all the lanes right now, I don’t close anything until the evidence closes it for us,” Saunders told reporters. “Right now everything is open.”
Saunders identified the suspect as Alek Minassian, 25, and said police were still searching for a motive, declining to provide further details. Minassian, of Richmond Hill, Ontario, is a student at Seneca College, CBC News reported.
It’s the worst mass killing in Canada since Marc Lepine killed 14 women at a Montreal engineering school in 1989 before turning the gun on himself. It comes on the heels of 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 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.
In Monday’s incident, a van sped into the intersection of Yonge and Finch at around 1:30 p.m. before heading south on Yonge, hopping the curb and slamming into 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.
Asked about the remarkable arrest, in which the suspect appeared to draw an object from his pocket and point it at the policeman, Chief Saunders answered: “The officers here are taught to use as little force as possible in any given situation.”
Politicians and pundits applauded the officer’s restraint on Twitter. Maclean’s, one of the nation’s most influential magazines, said the van attack that will be remembered among a growing global list of similar strikes as the one with “the cop who didn’t shoot.”
John Flengas, acting supervisor of Toronto Emergency Medical Services, described the scene as “pure carnage” on CP24.
One witness who was traveling behind the van said the driver was going about 70 or 80 kilometers an hour (about 45 miles an hour) when he veered onto the sidewalk and “just started hitting everybody,” the witness 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.”
Officials haven’t yet identified the policeman involved in the dramatic stand-off. A video published on the Toronto Star website showed the 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.
“There’s no information known to me at the present time that would result in any change of threat level,” Goodale, who was in Toronto attending a Group of Seven meeting, said earlier. There’s also no indication the attack was meant to coincide with the G7 meeting, he added.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which has jurisdiction over terrorism cases, said Toronto police were taking the lead in the investigation.
“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,” 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.
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 15 kilometers 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.
“These are not the kinds of things we expect to happen in this city,” Toronto Mayor John Tory told reporters earlier Monday. “We hope that they don’t happen anywhere in the world but we especially don’t expect them to happen in Toronto.”