The incident offered the latest grim reminder of how a vehicle could turn into a weapon — in this case, by speeding through a crowd at lunch hour on a sunny day, sending people and mailboxes and baby strollers flying, in what eyewitnesses and Canadian officials described as a deliberate act.
Officials said the incident did not appear to have a connection to national security, though they did not yet know of a motive. Toronto’s police chief identified the driver as Alek Minassian, 25, of Richmond Hill, Ontario. Minassian, who was not carrying a weapon, was taken into custody after a showdown in which he brandished an object and told officers, “Shoot me in the head.”
“On the basis of all available information at the present time, there would appear to be no national security connection to this particular incident,” Canada’s minister of public safety minister, Ralph Goodale, said at an evening news conference. “The events that happened on the street behind us are horrendous, but they do not appear to be connected in any way to national security based on the information at this time.”
Toronto’s police chief, Mark Saunders, said nothing was being ruled out, and Minassian was not previously known to police. The incident had echoes of vehicle attacks in the French city of Nice, as well as in London and New York City — a method that the Islamic State militant group encouraged followers to use. But people with no terrorism connections have also carried out such assaults.
“We lost a little bit of our innocence,” John Filion, a city council member who represents the area where the incident occurred, said in a phone interview Monday. “We often think of ourselves as being somewhat excluded from the violence and craziness that goes on in other parts of the world. You just kind of don’t think of Toronto as a place where that kind of violence will come to.”
Peter Yuen, Toronto police services deputy chief, told reporters: “I can assure the public all our available resources have been brought in to investigate this tragic situation,” according to the Associated Press.
Save for a police helicopter circling overhead, the incident brought an eerie silence to one of the city’s busiest streets, which had been filled Monday afternoon with people enjoying one of the first warm and sunny days of the year after a long winter.
The attack took place in the center of North York, a part of Toronto that has grown over the past two decades into a secondary downtown.
The area is so busy that Toronto’s city council debated widening the sidewalks and reducing lanes of traffic to make it more pedestrian-friendly earlier this year.
“He started going down on the sidewalk and crumbling down people one by one,” Ali Shaker, who was in the vicinity of the incident, told CTV News. “He just destroyed so many people’s lives.” He said the driver was traveling at an estimated 35 to 45 mph.
Teresa Nolan, who lives nearby, walked out of the Sheppard subway station — near where the van came to a stop — shortly after the incident occurred, to“a scary scene.” She watched as police officers apprehended the suspect and heard onlookers describing how they performed CPR on the injured.
“I watched it all happen, but didn’t really take it all in until after it ended,” she said.
Nolan has lived in the area for almost two years and “just loves its whole multicultural feel.”
She lives on her own and said she finds the community safe.
“I would never let this deter me,” she said.
Late Monday, Irene Lan, who said she had not been following the news, arrived in the area, hoping to pick up dinner from her favorite Korean restaurant.
She was bewildered to find what is usually a bustling street transformed into something resembling a ghost town.
“It’s absolutely shocking,” she said.
Sunnybrook Hospital, a trauma center near the site, said it had received 10 victims, all of them adults. Two were pronounced dead, five patients were in critical condition and the rest were in serious condition, according to Dan Cass, the hospital’s executive vice president.
While Canadians are proud of living in a country where crime rates are generally low and ethnic diversity is celebrated rather than feared, several terrorism-related incidents in recent years have reminded the public that Canada is not immune to the kinds of events that have struck Europe and the United States.
In September, Abdulahi Hasan Sharif was arrested in Edmonton, Alberta, after two related incidents on the same evening. In the first one, Sharif, a Somali refugee, is alleged to have rammed into a police officer who was at a police roadblock near a sports event. He then stabbed the police officer and escaped. A few hours later, the same man is alleged to have rammed into four pedestrians with a rental van. No one was killed, but Sharif faces multiple counts of attempted murder.
In Quebec City, elsewhere in the country, Alexandre Bissonnette is in court this week for a sentencing hearing after pleading guilty last month to six counts of first-degree murder in the shooting of six Muslim men as they attended prayers at a mosque in the city in January 2017. Bissonnette had mental health issues and was attracted to far-right politics and anti-immigrant rhetoric.
And in 2014, Canada’s Parliament was the scene of another terrorism-related incident. Michael Zehar-Bibeau, a drug addict and convert to Islam, shot and killed a Canadian sentry on duty at the National War Memorial before heading to Parliament, where he was killed in a shootout with security officers.
Freeman reported from Ottawa and Harlan from Washington.