Written by Lindsey Wiebe and Ian Austen
A parade celebrating the Toronto Raptors’ NBA championship transformed the team’s hometown into a party venue Monday before it was briefly swept into panic and confusion by a shooting that left four people wounded and two people taken into police custody.
The incident initially went unnoticed by the crowd squeezed into Nathan Phillips Square, the plaza in front of Toronto’s City Hall, about the time Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada and other dignitaries were congratulating the team on its title, the first for an NBA team based outside the United States.
What prompted the shooting remained unclear Monday evening, Chief Mark Saunders of the Toronto Police said, adding that he had no reason to believe that there was a continuing risk to public safety.
“With all the resources that were here, the apprehensions were done incredibly quickly after the incident itself,” Saunders told reporters.
None of the victims suffered life-threatening injuries, he said, though the police had earlier indicated that at least two were in serious condition. Police officers recovered two firearms and detained a third person, the chief said, though he did not say why.
Many details of the shooting remain unclear. At least one victim was shot just outside of the square, in front of a courthouse at a major intersection that was closed for the celebrations. The ceremonies at City Hall continued to their planned conclusion and without any apparent bolstering of the already high police and security presence.
The Toronto Transit Commission confirmed that two of its special constables had been involved in an arrest outside a subway entrance about a block from the celebration. CP24, a television news channel, broadcast a photograph of several police officers pinning a person down near that entrance.
“It is disappointing and I’m sure a source of anger for more than just me that anyone would carry a gun and discharge it at what was otherwise a joyous celebration,” John Tory, the city’s mayor, said in a statement. “I hope those found responsible will be held to account to the full extent that the law permits.”
Statistics show that Toronto is a safe city by global standards, and when large crowds poured into downtown during the NBA playoffs, they were largely peaceful. But gun-related crimes have been on the rise, spiking last year despite Canada’s tight controls on handguns.
On Monday during the parade — itself delayed by crowds — many people were lighting fireworks, which confused some people in the vicinity of the shooting.
“We thought it was firecrackers,” said J. Nycole Ralph, a cast member in a Toronto production of “The Book of Mormon.”
“I just kind of brushed it off,” added Amanda Foote, another cast member.
But as word spread about the shooting, there were two panicked crowd surges along Bay Street, adjacent to City Hall. At least one woman was trampled and taken into a courthouse before she could be removed by ambulance. Shoes slipped off in the crush, and pieces of clothing and an abandoned stroller littered the road following the panic. Outside a tractor-trailer that had been selling Raptors clothing, there appeared to be a pool of blood.
Inside the square, Matt Devlin, the Raptors’ television announcer, interrupted the celebration ceremonies at one point, temporarily silencing the crowd.
“I’m getting information that we’re dealing with a situation not far from here, this is serious,” he said, without offering details, before repeatedly asking the crowd to remain calm. Not long afterward, the introduction of the players resumed.
The square was filled well beyond its estimated capacity of about 60,000 people, and crowds spilled out into several adjacent streets and lined the parade route — a reflection of how the Raptors’ success has fueled a mania for basketball in Toronto.
As the players traveled toward the city center on Raptors-themed, double-decker buses, there was a flyover by the Royal Canadian Air Force’s acrobatic squadron and by a 767 airliner used as a private jet by Drake, the Toronto rapper who is the team’s “global ambassador.”
By early evening, the police had reopened Bay Street and were picking up the objects dropped in the crowd’s panic.
“I’m not happy that there’s a shooting that occurred but I’m not going to let that shooting define this fantastic event,” Saunders said. “The vast, vast majority didn’t even know this happened until it was put out there.”