A driver deliberately plowed his white Ryder rental van into a lunch-hour crowd in Toronto on Monday, killing 10 people and injuring 15 along a sidewalk. The driver was quickly arrested in a tense but brief confrontation with officers a few blocks away.
The incident occurred as Cabinet ministers from the major industrial countries were gathered in Canada to discuss a range of international issues in the run-up to the G7 meeting near Quebec City in June.
Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale called the incident a “horrific attack” and said the G7 foreign ministers extended their condolences.
A 25-year-old suspect was quickly captured in a tense but brief confrontation with officers a few blocks away from where his van jumped the sidewalk on Monday and continued for a mile, leaving people bloodied and dead in his wake. But authorities so far had not disclosed a possible motive or cause even as the police chief agreed with witnesses that it seemed intentional.
Police shut down the Yonge and Finch intersection following the incident and Toronto’s transit agency said it had suspended service on the subway line running through the area.
Officials would not comment on a possible motive except to play down a possible connection to terrorism, a thought that occurred to many following a series of attacks involving trucks and pedestrians in Europe and the presence in Toronto this week of Cabinet ministers from the G7 nations. Asked if there was any evidence of a terrorist link, the chief said only, “Based on what we have there’s nothing that has it to compromise the national security at this time.”
The driver, who was taken into custody, was identified as Alek Minassian, 25, of Richmond Hill, a neighborhood close to Toronto, according to CBC News. Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said he did not think it was an accident. “The incident definitely looked deliberate”, he said.
The incident shook the usually peaceful streets of Toronto, a major tourist destination. The city, which has a population of 2.8 million, recorded 61 murders last year.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his sympathies for those involved.
“We should all feel safe walking in our cities and communities,” he said. “We are monitoring this situation closely, and will continue working with our law enforcement partners around the country to ensure the safety and security of all Canadians.”
The CBC aired a video it said was shot by a bystander that showed police arresting a suspect at the scene as he shouted: “Kill me” and pointed an unidentified object at an officer. The video later showed what appeared to be the same man lying down, being handcuffed.
The usually bustling street quickly turned into a taped-off crime scene, with shocked pedestrians murmuring into their mobile phones, stopping to take photos of tarpaulin-shrouded corpses beyond the police tape.
Adrian, another witness who declined to provide his surname, said he saw the tail end of the killing spree. “I’m still shaking,” he said, holding back tears, more than an hour after the incident. Downtown Toronto’s iconic CN Tower, which is normally lit up in the evening, went dark on Monday evening.
Ali Shaker, who was driving near the van at the time, told Canadian broadcast outlet CP24 that the driver appeared to be moving deliberately through the crowd at more than 30 mph.
“He just went on the sidewalk,” a distraught Shaker said. “He just started hitting everybody, man. He hit every single person on the sidewalk. Anybody in his way he would hit.”
Shoes, torn clothing and bodies covered with tarpaulins were strewn across one of Toronto’s busiest streets on Monday, turning a 15-block area into a ghost town.
The incident is one of the most violent in recent Canadian history. A former Canadian university student pleaded guilty last month to killing six men praying in a Quebec City mosque in January 2017.