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Mourners attend a candlelight vigil in Toronto on Sunday, June 12, 2016 to honour victims of the mass shootings in Orlando.

Christopher Katsarov/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Candlelight vigils sprang up in many Canadian cities on Sunday evening after a mass shooting that left 50 people dead and injured dozens more at a gay nightclub in Florida.

The violence left Canadians reeling in a country widely seen as a global leader of LGTBQ rights, spurring impromptu evening vigils from Vancouver to Toronto to commemorate the victims.

An estimated 3,000 to 5,000 people, including Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Toronto Mayor John Tory, attended an evening vigil at Barbara Hall Park in the heart of Toronto's gay village.

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"What happened in Orlando happened to all of us," said Ms. Wynne.

Ms. Wynne cautioned the crowd against believing that LGBTQ rights have reached full acceptance in Ontario.

"Let's not pretend we have no homophobia, no transphobia. Let's not pretend that there isn't hate trying to divide us," Ms. Wynne said.

Toronto Mayor John Tory called on the city to re-double its efforts of inclusiveness during Pride month.

"We work hard here to respect each other, to embrace each other, to celebrate our differences," Mr. Tory said.

"This kind of hate-filled act has no place in the world. Love can conquer all. And it must not be placed at the hands of any particular faith. This represents no one."

The attack is a blow to LGBTQ communities who see clubs and villages as a safe space, said Francis Gaudreault, chair of the Church-Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area.

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"In Toronto, much like Orlando, LGBTQ rights are assumed to be equal. We're supposed to be part of the community," Mr. Gaudreault said. "When you hear 100 people were gunned down at a club just because they're gay, it's heartbreaking."

Zara Fischer-Harrison, 33, and Mark Sherman, 33, were handing out candles and hugging friends at the park's entrance.

Ms. Fischer-Harrison, who described herself as "queer and proud," said she felt unsafe and vulnerable after the attack.

"It's amazing how massive it was. Just the sheer numbers," she said, visibly shaken.

"It's tragic," Mr. Sherman added. "I hope everybody can reply with love so that we can prevent more tragedy."

Stacey Mortimer, 47, was wrapped in a rainbow flag at the vigil and said the shooting had left her "destabilized."

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"It's an in-your-face reminder of the persecution we're still facing," Ms. Mortimer said. "I don't know how to process this."

The executive director of Pride Toronto, a not-for-profit with the goal of bringing together the city's LGBTQ community, said the organization was already working with city police and the RCMP but would see if there were any additional security steps that could be taken.

"The main objective of Pride is to create a safe space for our community to gather together and feel comfortable," Mathieu Chantelois said.

A manager at a prominent Toronto gay bar said the massacre likely won't prompt his establishment to increase security at the club.

"You can't live in fear because of one incident," said Cameron Rennie, a manager and bartender at Woody's in Toronto.

Spencer Chandra Herbert, a member of the British Columbia legislature, was in Quesnel, B.C., celebrating the small town's second annual pride celebration with his husband when he heard the news. His immediate reaction was disbelief.

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"To think that in this so-called accepting day and age that this hatred is still there and could strike at any time, it's unbelievable," Chandra Herbert said.

"(Education) is still vitally important because there are still people hiding in closets, afraid of coming out because of violence or fear of being disowned by family members or being beaten up at schools. It's still an issue."

In Montreal's gay village, many people reacted with shock and sadness Sunday afternoon while pointing out that many LGBTQ individuals still face violence, even in Canada.

Francis Cavanagh, a bartender at Bar Aigle Noir, said the incident proves homophobia is not a thing of the past.

"It's a reminder that we still need gay villages, we still need Pride parades, and we still need solidarity to show we are all together," he said. "These things don't just happen in Russia or in faraway places."

- With a report from The Canadian Press

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