The 27-year-old man who was shot dead by Toronto police this week amid a school-lockdown panic was carrying a fake rifle, an Ontario civilian oversight agency has revealed.
“It was actually a pellet gun,” said Kristy Denette, a spokesperson for Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit, which investigates all police-involved shootings in the province. Toronto Police Service had refused on Thursday to comment on the type of weapon the man was carrying.
Bystanders called 911 Thursday afternoon to report that there was a gunman wandering Scarborough’s streets near several schools. School officials told hundreds of schoolchildren in nearby schools to hide under their desks, in some cases for about two hours.
The incident took place just two days after a teenaged gunman killed 19 elementary-school students and two teachers in Uvalde, Tex.
The SIU said it has identified the man, but that it does not have the family’s consent to identify him publicly. An autopsy is scheduled for the weekend.
The agency said the man was walking around the east Toronto community with his realistic-looking rifle for at least 20 minutes before he was confronted by police.
Police-involved shootings of individuals brandishing pellet guns or replica guns have happened before. In March, a coroner’s jury in Nunavut responded to such a 2017 fatal shooting by recommending better training for officers in mental health and suicide matters.
“Police do not want to kill people carrying around an imitation firearm. We’ve seen efforts by different police forces to limit that,” said Blake Brown, a history professor at St. Mary’s University. He suggested that Parliament could tighten legislation curbing replica firearms in Canada.
In an essay published last year, Prof. Brown argued that while the policy challenges surrounding such firearms are longstanding, one emerging area of concern is the growing popularity of airsoft rifles that allow hobbyists to fire low-velocity plastic pellets from realistic-looking guns.
“Unfortunately some of the appeal of airsoft seems to be to use things that look like real firearms,” he said.
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