Massive investigation into Toronto van attack will shut down Yonge Street for days
An intricate, two-pronged police investigation will unfold across Toronto in upcoming days, starting with a massive forensic examination of a crime scene that stretches over a dozen street blocks.
While officials say there is no indication so far that the driver of the van that killed 10 people and injured 15 on Monday in an attack that mowed down pedestrians on a sidewalk was motivated by terrorist ideology, the complex investigation will strive to get a better portrait of the suspect.
“The events behind us are horrendous, but they do not appear to be related in any way to national security, based on the information available at this time,” federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told reporters on Monday night.
He said that he had consulted with senior officials from security and police agencies.
However, both Mr. Goodale and Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders underlined that it was an early assessment that still needed to be corroborated further.
“We need every piece of this puzzle,” Chief Saunders said.
The investigation will unfold along two main axes. One will focus on documenting what happened on the section of Yonge Street between Finch and Sheppard Avenues. The other will try to determine the motivation.
“This is going to be a complex investigation. Toronto police will be here for a number of days to shut down a busy stretch of Toronto, but it is what is required,” Deputy Chief Peter Yuen said.
The crime scene stretches more than 2.2 kilometres.
“There’s measurements that have to be done, there’s witnesses that have to be located, there’s surveillance cameras that will have to be located and video footage be obtained,” said Michael Davis, a retired Toronto police homicide detective.
In addition, relatives of the 10 people killed have to be contacted. Chief Saunders said on Monday night that not all victims have been identified.
Even though it appears straightforward to establish that 10 people died, carefully documenting what happened will help buttress the eventual court testimonies of eyewitnesses, said Mr. Davis, who now heads Michael A. Davis Investigations.
“You’re always looking down the road. This is going to be under the microscope of very experienced defence counsel. You can’t leave any stone unturned.”
The second prong of the investigation will look into the background of the suspect, 25-year-old Alek Minassian of Richmond Hill, north of Toronto.
“Find out everything you can about him,” Mr. Davis said. “You start tight. You find out where he lives. You execute a search warrant at his place. You obtain his computer. You obtain cellphones … social-media sites, who he has been communicating with, what he was talking about.”
By Monday night, police had blocked off a residential block on Elmsley Drive in Richmond Hill. Property records show that one of the houses on that block belongs to a couple named Minassian.
Investigators will also want to find out whether the suspect worked alone or if someone else knew the suspect’s plans and motivations.
They will also look at how the van, which was from Ryder System Inc., was rented. “We take the safety and security related to the use of our entire fleet very seriously and we are cooperating fully with authorities,” Claudia Panfil, spokeswoman for the rental company, said by e-mail.
“It is going to take days before this is in any shape or form where we would have answers,” Mr. Davis said.
Toronto Police is the lead investigating agency, but the RCMP and Ontario Provincial Police are assisting.
In Ontario, potential acts of terrorism are investigated by RCMP-led national-security squads. “At this point, we are still gathering information on the incident, and once we have the ability to do a press release, we will do so,” said Inspector Don Halina of the Ontario Integrated National Security Enforcement Team.
Toronto police have set up two special phone lines for the van attack. One, 416-808-8085, is for friends and relatives of the victims.
A separate hotline for investigative tips is 416-808-8750.
Police presence was increased at the most high-profile sporting event in Toronto on Monday night – the Toronto Maple Leafs-Boston Bruins NHL playoff game at Air Canada Centre. The police closed more streets than usual around the arena, which is at the corner of Bay Street and Lakeshore Boulevard West. That made traffic worse than usual on game days.
Toronto police began assessing the dangers of potential attackers using vehicles after similar incidents claimed lives in recent years in London, Stockholm, Nice and Berlin.
Last November, in a confidential report, police recommended new security measures for City Hall. They included the controversial notion of metal detectors for visitors, and “vehicle mitigation measures” for Nathan Phillips Square in front of City Hall, such as bollards or concrete barriers to block it off from a potential rogue vehicle.
Council decided to consult citizens on the metal detectors, but approved new measures to fortify the square, which is often host to large events such as New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Last summer at large events at Nathan Phillips Square and elsewhere in the city, including the Pride parade, police used strategically placed garbage trucks, dump trucks and city buses to block off access to areas where crowds were expected to gather.
After 12 people in Germany were killed in an attack on the Berlin Christmas market in December of 2016, managers of the Christmas market in Toronto’s Distillery District requested more paid-duty police officers and installed concrete barriers to block off potential access points for vehicles.
Other Canadian cities, including Montreal and Ottawa, have also taken similar measures in recent years.
In an e-mail to city council, which was scheduled to begin its monthly meeting on Tuesday, Toronto Mayor John Tory said council would convene in the morning to express its condolences to the families of the victims but then recess and not deal with the rest of its agenda until Wednesday. Mr. Tory says he made the decision after discussions with many on council.
“This is a time when this community should come together,” he said. “These are not the kinds of things that we expect to happen in this city. We hope they don’t happen anywhere in the world, but we especially don’t expect them to happen in Toronto.”
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said all levels of government and law enforcement were working together to deal with the situation.
“I think we are all unsettled and very disturbed by a situation like this. I think it’s impossible not to be,” she said. “It’s frightening and we have to rely on the people who are trained, who can make sure that information is available as it needs to be and that the precautionary measures are taken here in the city and around the province.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and several provincial politicians also offered sympathies to those affected by the incident and their loved ones.
With a report from Jill Mahoney, David Shoalts and Justin Giovannetti in Toronto
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