Police have provided few details about a potential threat that led to the flooding of the GTA’s biggest tourist attractions with officers, put van-rental companies on high alert and fuelled fear and confusion on social media.
The public’s first hint of the security concerns came early Thursday when Toronto Police tweeted that they were responding to an “unconfirmed, uncorroborated piece of information relating to the GTA.”
Officers on foot, in cruisers and on bikes and horses were posted along key intersections and near major attractions such as the CN Tower, Ripley’s Aquarium, the Rogers Centre and Canada’s Wonderland, north of the city. Some cruisers were parked on sidewalks, with officers nearby who appeared to be on the lookout for suspicious activity. At a news conference shortly before noon, Toronto police reassured residents that the attractions and businesses were open, and they should not change their plans.
A leaked TPS internal memo revealed that police had received “credible information” a day earlier about a planned vehicle ramming attack near the CN Tower.
In response, Ontario Provincial Police had contacted U-Haul and other rental companies Wednesday “with a request to remain vigilant in reporting suspicious activity in the Toronto area,” U-Haul vice-president of communications Sebastien Reyes said in a statement.
U-Haul issued a reminder to workers in Ontario to “continue being mindful of suspicious behaviour and reiterated instructions on how to report such behaviour to police,” he said.
Toronto Police spokeswoman Meaghan Gray said Thursday that the leaked memo was a draft that was never approved. The document described an all-out response: Heavy vehicles were to be deployed, along with the Emergency Task Force and the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives response team.
Ms. Gray refused to elaborate on the information police received or any plans they developed.
Toronto Police Acting Superintendent Michael Barsky held a news conference Thursday that also revealed little. He said the increased officer presence was in response to a “potential risk to public safety,” but encouraged people “to come down and enjoy all of the venues that they would normally enjoy.”
“Visibility in police assists us in ensuring the public is safe,” he said, adding that the increased presence is “not inconsistent with anything we’ve done in the recent past.”
But, although tourists lining up for the CN Tower seemed unalarmed, residents familiar with the city’s downtown core maintained that the amount of officers patrolling the area was not normal.
False rumours swirled on social media as news of the heavy police presence spread, causing some confusion about public safety. Zahra Fadhlaoui, who works in Toronto’s downtown core, said she hoped there was more transparency on the part of the Toronto Police.
“Now there is all sorts of speculations and people don’t know what to believe,” Ms. Fadhlaoui said, adding that she had “heightened concern” about her commute home as a result.
Police assured the public that they should go about their business as usual, and the Foo Fighters concert at the Rogers Centre Thursday evening would go ahead as planned.
The RCMP in Ontario, Toronto Mayor John Tory, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and federal Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale were all briefed on the threat and monitored the situation throughout the day.
Police said in a news release they have resumed normal operations as of Thursday night.
With reports from Jeff Gray and Colin Freeze