Canada Despite an unknown threat, it was business as usual in Toronto

03:50  13 july  2018
03:50  13 july  2018 Source:   thestar.com

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a group of people walking down the street: Pedestrians walk by police officers at John St. and Front St W. on Thursday. While emphasizing that Torontonians should go about their day as normal, police increased the number of officers in the downtown core in response to a “potential risk to public safety.”© Provided by Carlos Osorio Pedestrians walk by police officers at John St. and Front St W. on Thursday. While emphasizing that Torontonians should go about their day as normal, police increased the number of officers in the downtown core in response to a “potential risk to public safety.”

As a heavy police presence descended on a city whose streets are still lined with concrete barriers nearly three months after the worst mass murder in its history, Torontonians, for the most part, went about their business.

In an unusual move, Toronto police tweeted Thursday that it was responding to an undisclosed “unconfirmed, uncorroborated piece of information.” It was followed by a statement from Doug Ford’s Twitter account that the premier was “aware of the reported potential threat in the city of Toronto.”

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But despite the warning, activities around the downtown area continued uninterrupted.

Along Bremner Blvd., from Scotiabank Arena to the Rogers Centre, it seemed to be business as usual — patios were open, with diners eating their lunch. Hotdog stands, ice cream trucks, gift shops were all open. At Ripley’s Aquarium and the CN Tower, visitors filed in and out.

From time to time, people approached officers to ask what’s going on. Many seemed unbothered.

“They’re saying don’t worry,” said Matthew Laroche, who said he’s on vacation from Montreal with plans to visit the CN Tower. “I’m glad nothing is cancelled. Seems pretty safe to me.”

An internal police memo obtained by the Star and other media Thursday afternoon described the threat as a “potential vehicle ramming attack” in the area of the CN Tower.

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The threat was especially alarming for the city, which in April saw a van attack that killed 10 people and injured 16.

The memo said that on Wednesday, police received “credible” information regarding this potential threat, and outlined a plan for increased police presence in the area, including road closures, “vigilant patrol” and followup on any “suspicious behaviour.”

Toronto police later tweeted that the memo was a “draft operational plan that was never approved.”

“Our officers were provided with most up to date/accurate info this morning, as was public. Our current policing response in the downtown core is appropriate based on the info we have. We will update public as necessary,” police said in the tweet.

Asked if the description of the potential threat as a “vehicle ramming attack” in the memo was inaccurate, a Toronto police spokesperson said the service would not be releasing any specific details about the information they received.

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Even so-called "soft targets" such as restaurants and cafes did not lose business after the attack, as business owners and hospitality workers reported that all was " business as usual ".

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A police source told the Star that some officers were notified Wednesday that their shifts would be increased to 12 hours on Thursday, to enable patrol in the area around the Rogers Centre and the CN Tower.

In a press conference Thursday morning held beside the Rogers Centre, Insp. Michael Barsky wouldn’t elaborate on what information led police to deploy more officers downtown, while emphasizing that Torontonians should go about their day as normal.

“We encourage people to come and enjoy all the venues they would normally enjoy,” Barsky said.

Near the CN Tower, four police cruisers could be seen stationed at the intersection of Bremner Blvd. and Lower Simcoe St. Another four were parked at Bremner and Navy Wharf Ct., on the west side of Rogers Centre. In between, a number of police officers could be seen, some on foot, others on bikes and horses.

Barsky said the police presence would remain for the rest of the day.

“Whenever we have a report of a potential risk, we take that seriously,” he said, adding police focused on the downtown core as it’s a high-density area.

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Despite the heavy police presence, visitors generally seemed calm.

Some fans could be seen lining up for the Foo Fighters concert at the Rogers Centre hours before doors opened. Barsky said there would be no disruption at the dome.

Online, the public’s response to the tweet reflected confusion and concern, with some Torontonians tweeting that they were uncomfortable with the lack of information.

When asked at the news conference whether the original tweet — which did not mention a public safety risk — could have caused undue distress, Barsky said he “can’t speculate on how people are going to interpret our message.

“I appreciate the fact (of the tweet) being vague,” Barsky said. “Because there (is) a potential risk, that’s something from an investigative standpoint we have to continue to monitor. If we had more specifics, if we could provide more specifics, we would certainly be more forthwith with that.”

Kent Roach, a University of Toronto law professor who specializes in counterterrorism and public safety, said it is understandable for police to be vague in their messaging when an investigation is ongoing.

“I have some sympathy for the police on this one,” he said, noting part of the police’s job is to provide early warnings, even if the risk doesn’t materialize.

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Definition of business as usual : A phrase which refers to the normal conduct of business regardless of current circumstances, especially difficult events which pose a potential negative impact. The phrase can also mean maintaining

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“They could be criticized for saying nothing if something bad happened, but have to be careful not to alarm people especially with uncorroborated intelligence.”

John Tory’s office said the mayor had been briefed by police Chief Mark Saunders and “he will be continuing to monitor the situation.”

At Queen’s Park, a message from the premier’s Twitter account said, “While the information is unsubstantiated, the premier has been briefed by the provincial security advisor and is actively monitoring the situation.”

York and Peel region police forces both said they were aware of the situation and working with Toronto police. York police also said they were increasing their presence.

There was also increased police presence at Canada’s Wonderland in Vaughan. But the park remained open and it was business as usual.

Back downtown, Kevin Dobbin and his fiancée, Amanda, visiting from Sault Ste. Marie, said they hadn’t heard about the police announcement. Nonetheless they weren’t altering their sightseeing plans.

“Go ahead and threaten me, I’ll carry on with my life. I’m hiding from nobody,” he said.

With files from Robert Benzie and Jennifer Pagliaro

Gilbert Ngabo is a general assignment reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @dugilbo

Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing. Reach her by email at wgillis@thestar.ca or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis

Alexandra Jones is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star's radio room in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @AlexandraMaeJ

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