Toronto Police Service’s guns and gangs task force is leading the investigation into an early morning shooting on Saturday that injured five Muslim men in a strip-mall parking lot and the case is also being monitored by the hate crimes unit, a police spokesperson said.
Police responded to a call of a reported shooting at 1 a.m. on Saturday, at the parking lot of the Cedar Heights Plaza at Lawrence Avenue and Markham Road in Toronto’s Scarborough area. Five men were seriously injured, though as of Sunday at least three had been released from hospital and all are expected to make a full recovery.
Police reports say the men were shot by an individual driving by in what may have been a blue car.
Toronto Constable David Hopkinson said police have not yet identified a motive for the attack and are still collecting evidence, including any video surveillance footage captured by nearby shops and other organizations.
“I know that some people are thinking this is some kind of a random act, but we don’t have any evidence to suggest that. We only are speculating right now, and we don’t like to speculate,” he said.
Interim Police Chief James Ramer announced on Twitter on Saturday that the hate crimes unit had been “engaged,” but according to Constable Hopkinson, in cases like this the unit will not be an active participant in the investigation, which is being led by Detective Mandeep Parmar of the guns and gangs task force.
“The fact that all the people are of the same faith gives us some concerns,” said Constable Hopkinson.
The men were attacked in the middle of Islam’s holiest month of Ramadan, and this stretch of Lawrence Avenue has several mosques and religious centres. During Ramadan, members of the Muslim faith fast and abstain from eating between dawn and dusk, and attendance increases for events such as evening prayers that can last until close to midnight.
According to Yusuf Ingar of the Scarborough Muslim Association, some of the men had just completed evening prayers at nearby Scarborough Muslim Cultural Centre, about a 20-minute walk away.
“Please do note that we do not have reason to believe this was a hate crime at this point. We’re working with 43 Division and hopeful that TPS will put adequate resources to investigate this shooting,” the association said Sunday in a statement.
Wa’il Khan, an imam at the Central Mosque across the street from Cedar Heights Plaza, said police have already reviewed the mosque’s security footage from the night in question. “The scary part is there are families leaving maybe half an hour earlier with kids. We had about 50 people leaving,” he said.
He said he believes some of the injured men are regular attendees of the mosque.
In the Toronto Police hate crimes unit’s most recent report, covering 2020, hate crimes were up 51 per cent from 2019 to 210 reports (the 10-year average is about 152 a year). There were 82 reports of religiously motivated hate crimes (the largest category of crimes with 39 per cent of the total) but only 5 per cent of the reported victims were Muslim, while 76 per cent of the reports were against those of the Jewish faith (63 reports).
Police services across Canada have come under scrutiny for the relatively poor clearance rate of cases that involve hate crimes, according to analysis by The Globe and Mail. Toronto Police hate crimes investigations were solved with a charge less than 20 per cent of the time.
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