Four people were injured in a shooting near Nathan Phillips Square during Monday’s rally for the NBA champion Toronto Raptors that sent panicked fans scrambling for cover at the culmination of an hours-long victory parade.
Toronto police arrested three people and recovered two firearms shortly after the shooting, which caused pandemonium in the area around Bay and Albert Sts. The sound of gunshots sent a surge of confused revellers running as the speeches by dignitaries including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were underway on the nearby Nathan Phillips stage.
Speaking to reporters Monday evening, Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders said four people were hurt in the incident. None of the injuries were considered life-threatening.
As of Monday evening, police had not released any information about criminal charges.
Acknowledging the shooting caused a “tremendous amount of alarm” for those in the immediate area, Saunders said the vast majority of those in attendance at the rally were unaware of what had happened.
“I’m not happy that there was a shooting that occurred,” Saunders said. “But I’m also not going to let the shooting define this fantastic event that took place when we had so many people that were here that had such a great time.”
The shooting came after thousands of people packed streets along the parade route and crammed Nathan Phillips Square to await the Raptors’ arrival. Police confirmed reports of a shooting at 3:45 p.m.., as players and dignitaries sat on the stage after the much-delayed parade.
The ceremony was delayed briefly by emcee Matt Devlin, who interrupted a speech by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment chairman Larry Tanenbaum. Devlin urged the crowd to stay calm as police dealt with what he called an “emergency.”
The ceremony resumed just before 4 p.m.
The shooting spurred chaos for those in the southeast corner of the square. Video shot from the roof of city hall’s east tower showed people suddenly rushing quickly away in all directions from area near Queen and Bay Sts. Some ran west into Nathan Phillips Square and along Queen St., exposing garbage-strewn areas of the roadway that had previously been jammed with people.
A spokesperson for Toronto Paramedic Services said no one was taken to hospital as a result of the stampede that followed the shooting.
Stephanie Agostinis was at the intersection of Bay and Queen Sts. when she heard a “pop, pop” and everyone started running. She ducked into the nearby Hudson’s Bay store, but said people in the crowd were confused about what had happened.
She made her way back outside and was near the intersection again when she heard another round of sounds — “pop, pop, pop, pop.”
“And everybody started running back inside Hudson’s Bay and then people just kept running. They were running toward, right through Hudson’s Bay towards Yonge St.,” she said.
“The frightening part was the mass of people running in the same direction,” said Adam Stecher, who was on an elevated platform near Nathan Phillips Square.
He described widespread confusion in the wake of the shooting. He and others took refuge in a nearby ramp into a parking garage, off Queen St.
Andrew Brown-Kerr, 25, of Brampton was in the crowd, standing under the arch at Nathan Phillips Square when he heard popping sounds that he said did not sound like fireworks.
“We tried our best to escape,” he said. “We saw a lady get trampled, a pregnant woman fall. We saw some kids getting trampled and parents trying to protect them.”
By the time Devlin resumed the program, some fans had already left, while police in cruisers and on horseback arrived in the area of University Ave. and Queen St. W. Fans were upset by reports of a shooting in the area, lamenting with friends and strangers about the violent end to an otherwise celebratory day.
At Queen and Bay Sts., police officers strung up yellow tape to block off the intersection, where two ambulances were parked. A person with a bandaged head was put on a stretcher and loaded into one of the ambulances.
Drake’s song “Started From the Bottom” could be heard over the sound of sirens as people moved away from the square.
In a statement Monday evening, Mayor John Tory thanked first responders and public, but said he was disappointed and angry about the shooting.
“I want to commend and thank the millions of other people who happily and peacefully celebrated our beloved Toronto Raptors,” Tory said.
Hours before the shooting, officers had been summoned to the Eaton Centre for reports of a stabbing following a fight involving a group of men. Police reported four people were injured, but did not make any connection to the shooting incident.
With files from Temur Durrani, Jennifer Pagliaro, Sherina Harris, Francine Kopun and Laura Armstrong
Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing. Reach her by email at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis