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Toronto Police looking for suspect in Quebec after fatal shooting in Vaughan café

Investigators work at the scene of a multiple shooting at the Moka Cafe in Vaughan, Ont. on Wednesday, June 24, 2015.

Darren Calabrese/The Globe and Mail

Two weeks after a double homicide at a Vaughan café, police are looking for the suspect in Quebec, saying a man clearly shown in surveillance video may have come from out of province before the unusual rush-hour killing.

Police also said Moka Espresso Bar and Gelato, where the man opened fire on June 24, was home to a gambling operation. That discovery raises a possible link with organized crime in the area, where experts say illegal gambling rings can lead to coercion of small-business owners and violence toward gamblers who don't pay their debts.

However, investigators don't know the Moka café shooter's motive or intended target, said Constable Laura Nicolle of York Regional Police. The RCMP is helping circulate the image of the man, to Quebec in particular, she said.

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"We are trying to see if we can get a little bit wider coverage, considering the possibility that the person may not be from this area or may have left the area," said Constable Nicolle.

Surveillance cameras captured the man arriving at the café the morning before the attack, face uncovered, and then returning the next day just after 8 a.m., masked, armed and "with a purpose." He is black, just under 6 feet, with a muscular build. The black Nissan Versa he was driving was later found to have been stolen from a home in Napanee, off Highway 401 east of Toronto.

Maria Voci, a 47-year-old who worked at the café, and Christopher De Simone, 24, were pronounced dead at the scene. Former mayoral candidate Rocco di Paola was one of two men who were shot but survived.

With the killer still at large, the two survivors could be at risk, said Constable Nicolle. Both have been released from hospital and have spoken to investigators about safety planning, including the option of going to a different location than their homes. Those conversations are normal procedures, she said.

"We wouldn't want to put these people, obviously, in a scenario where that person could potentially be trying to follow up," she said.

The café, part of a strip mall near Islington Avenue and Highway 7, got a new owner in March after two years of unclear ownership, according to the provincial registry of business names. It was called Doppio Espresso Bar until that registration was cancelled in January, 2013. In March of 2015, it became Moka Espresso Bar and Gelato. Investigators found cards, card tables, boxes of cards and gaming machines in the space, said Constable Nicolle.

If the shooting was linked to illegal gambling, it was atypical, said Antonio Nicaso, an expert on Ontario organized crime. Hired killers tend to choose their targets carefully rather than opening fire in busy spots, he said. Public attacks are also more common in Montreal, where crime families and gangs vie for control over drug trafficking and other industries. Toronto is often where they quietly launder the proceeds, he said.

"You want to keep the place safe because you are investing the money," he said. "So you don't want anyone to break the piggy banks or create problems or create noise."

York police didn't say why they believe the suspect may have a link to Quebec.

Montreal's crime families have increasingly hired members of other groups and gangs to carry out killings, said Pierre de Champlain, a former RCMP intelligence analyst. In general, he said, organized crime in Toronto and Montreal are closely tied.

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