Two police officers among four fatally shot in Canada: authorities

Emergency vehicles are seen at the Brookside Drive area in Fredericton, Canada August 10, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media. Kev Bourque/via REUTERS

By Anna Mehler Paperny

FREDERICTON, New Brunswick (Reuters) – Four people, including two police officers, were killed in a shooting in eastern Canada on Friday in the latest eruption of gun violence across the country that has led to calls for weapons bans in cities.

Police said a suspect was taken into custody just three weeks after a gunman walked down a busy Toronto street, killing two people and wounding 13 others before taking his own life.

Police in Fredericton, a city of about 56,000 that is the capital of the province of New Brunswick, said two of the dead were police officers but gave few details about the circumstances of the shooting and did not release names. They said the suspect was being treated for serious injuries.

Local media images showed emergency vehicles converging on a tree-lined residential street. Nearby facilities were closed and authorities imposed a lockdown for residents before issuing an all-clear message.

“It was scary,” said Marlene Weaver, who was in bed on Friday morning when she heard shots ring out in her neighborhood. “It takes you back to the shooting in Moncton.”

Three RCMP officers were killed and two more were wounded in 2014 in Moncton, New Brunswick, about 195 km (121 miles) from Fredericton, in one of the worst incidents of its kind in Canada.

Gun laws in Canada are stricter than in the United States but a proliferation of weapons has led to an increase in gun-related crimes in recent years.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) were assisting Fredericton authorities in the investigation.

New Brunswick had only three homicide shootings in 2016, according to Statistics Canada.

“Awful news coming out of Fredericton,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Twitter. “My heart goes out to everyone affected by this morning’s shooting. We’re following the situation closely.”

Jeff Magnussen, general manager of a golf course near the site of the shooting, said by phone he heard multiple gunshots before 8 a.m. local time.

“You hear a lot about gun violence in the United States,” he said, “but this morning when I heard those noises, what’s starting to sink in is that those noises were people losing their lives. To have it happen so close to us is shocking. Now we’re becoming the story that nobody wants to hear.”

In the wake of the Toronto bloodshed, the city council voted overwhelmingly to urge the federal government to ban the sale of handguns in the city. Gun laws are under federal jurisdiction.

“Why does anyone in this city need to have a gun at all?” Toronto Mayor John Tory said. Canada’s largest city has had 241 shooting incidents this year, resulting in 30 deaths, a 30 percent increase in fatalities.

On Thursday, Ontario pledged more money for police and to keep suspects behind bars while they await trial on gun crimes charges, as the Canadian province grapples with rising shootings involving domestically obtained weapons.

(Additional reporting by Danya Hajjaji and Allison Martell in Toronto and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Writing by Bill Trott; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Jeffrey Benkoe)

As some ‘White Helmets’ escaped Syria, most were left behind

Daman Ayed, a 20-year old former rescue worker with the White Helmets holds a document at a temporary camp in Aleppo countryside, Syria July 23, 2018. Picture taken July 23, 2018. REUTERS/ Khalil Ashawi

By Khalil Ashawi

MIZANAZ, Syria (Reuters) – Fearing for his life, Daman Ayed registered to be evacuated from Syria along with hundreds of other members of the White Helmets rescue service, hoping for a new life in Canada.

Daman Ayed, a 20-year old former rescue worker with the White Helmets is seen at a temporary camp in Aleppo countryside, Syria July 23, 2018. Picture taken July 23, 2018. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

Daman Ayed, a 20-year old former rescue worker with the White Helmets is seen at a temporary camp in Aleppo countryside, Syria July 23, 2018. Picture taken July 23, 2018. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

But the 20-year-old was not among the several hundred people who were spirited out of the country last weekend over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and into Jordan. When the list of names approved for evacuation arrived, his was not on it.

“They told us at midnight that the names had come. We were surprised how many names had not been approved,” said Ayed. Only two of the people working at his rescue center were on the list.

Instead, he joined thousands of other people boarding buses for opposition territory in northwest Syria under the terms of the rebels’ surrender to the government.

Many of the rescue workers and their families originally supposed to join the evacuation were not able to reach the frontier because of fighting, the White Helmets said.

Of about 800 people, including about 250 White Helmets, along with 550 family members, in the plans, only about 100 rescue workers and about 300 relatives were able to cross through the Golan Heights and Jordan.

However, other White Helmets, including Ayed, were never cleared for evacuation. “We sent these lists…and some names were refused and some names were accepted,” said Ammar al-Selmo, a White Helmet working at the group’s headquarters in Turkey.

Britain, Canada and Germany were among the countries that offered resettlement and helped to arrange the evacuation.

Asked why some White Helmets were not included in the evacuation plans, a British Foreign Ministry spokesperson said: “This was a response to a specific and urgent situation”.

“We have worked, alongside our partners, to use our diplomatic channels to evacuate the maximum number of White Helmets and their families as was possible in an extremely constrained security context.”

German officials declined to comment.

Ayed, who has arrived in the northwest along with his parents and younger brother, said he still sees leaving Syria as his best hope of surviving the war.

“Regarding our departure for Canada, I consider it the only solution to save our lives,” he said.

People internally displaced from Deraa province walk near their belongings at a temporary camp at Aleppo countryside, Syria July 23, 2018. REUTERS/ Khalil Ashawi

People internally displaced from Deraa province walk near their belongings at a temporary camp at Aleppo countryside, Syria July 23, 2018. REUTERS/ Khalil Ashawi

IDENTIFICATION PAPERS

The northwest is the last major area still held by rebels. Idlib faces frequent bombardment and President Bashar al-Assad has said it is now his target.

Rescue workers with the White Helmets, which operates only in opposition-held parts of Syria, are at great risk if captured by the government, Ayed said.

“Our fate is worse than that of army defectors,” he said.

Assad has accused the White Helmets of being an al Qaeda front, and his government says they fabricated chemical weapons attacks as a pretext for Western air strikes.

The group, which receives funding from Western governments, says it is a civilian rescue organization that works under bombardment to pull people from the rubble.

Adding to his fear of capture by Assad’s forces, Ayed said when the army advanced into his district of the southwest this month, it seized paperwork at the White Helmets base.

“The most important thing is the names and identities of the volunteers, and our special identification cards. This is what damages us the most. The papers and the names were not destroyed, but stayed as they were and are in the hands of the regime,” he said.

SHELLING

Assad has crushed one center of the rebellion after another in recent years and last month turned to the opposition stronghold straddling Deraa and Quneitra provinces in the southwest.

Air strikes were followed by ground attacks and offers of surrender in return for safe passage to northwestern Syria for any who refused to come back under government control.

Ayed, who said he has been a White Helmet for 16 months, was based in Lajat, the first rebel area in Deraa to come under attack.

As the army closed in, it shelled the White Helmets center and the rescue workers fled before it was captured, he said. Its 30 staff split up, heading for different parts of the remaining rebel territory.

Some sought refuge in towns that were later captured by the government. “They were surrounded and their fate is unknown,” he said.

Ayed and his family ended up in Quneitra, near the frontier with the Golan Heights, the last patch of rebel ground in southwest Syria to surrender to the government.

He worked at the White Helmets center there for several weeks. Then one evening all its rescue workers were called in for an urgent meeting.

They were told to submit their names for evacuation through Israel and Jordan with the prospect of resettlement in Canada, he said. When the names came back, Ayed was not among them.

(Additional reporting by Thomas Escritt in Berlin and Andrew MacAskill in London; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Gunman dead after shooting 14, killing one, in Toronto: Canadian police

People leave an area taped off by the police near the scene of a mass shooting in Toronto, Canada, July 22, 2018. REUTERS/Chris H

TORONTO (Reuters) – Fourteen people, including a young girl, were shot near downtown Toronto, police in Canada’s biggest city said on Sunday, with one person killed and the gunman also dead.

The young girl was in a critical condition, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said.

People react after the sounds gunshots were heard near the scene of a mass shooting in Toronto, Canada, July 22, 2018, in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. Twitter @NSXOXOII/via REUTERS

People react after the sounds gunshots were heard near the scene of a mass shooting in Toronto, Canada, July 22, 2018, in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. Twitter @NSXOXOII/via REUTERS

“We are looking at all possible motives… and not closing any doors,” Saunders told reporters at the site of the shooting.

Paramedics, firefighters and police converged on the shooting in Toronto’s east end, which has many popular restaurants, cafes and shops.

Police said the gunman had used a handgun. Earlier reports said nine people had been shot.

Reports of gunfire in the city’s Greektown neighborhood began at 10 p.m. local time (0200 GMT Monday), CityNews.com said.

Witnesses said they heard 25 gunshots, the news website reported.

Toronto is grappling with a sharp rise in gun violence this year. Deaths from gun violence in the city jumped 53 percent to 26 so far in 2018 from the same period last year, police data last week showed, with the number of shootings rising 13 percent.

Toronto deployed about 200 police officers from July 20 in response to the recent spate in shootings, which city officials have blamed on gang violence.

Toronto Mayor John Tory told reporters that the city has a gun problem and guns were too readily available to too many people.

(Reporting by Denny Thomas and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Paul Tait)

U.S., Canada urge delay in vote on Vietnam’s cybersecurity bill

A man uses an iPad device in a coffee shop in Hanoi, Vietnam May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kham

By Mai Nguyen

HANOI (Reuters) – The United States and Canada urged Vietnam on Friday to delay a vote on a proposed cybersecurity law, the U.S. Embassy said, amid widespread concern the law would cause economic harm and stifle online dissent in the communist-ruled country.

Vietnamese lawmakers are set to vote on the proposed cybersecurity legislation this month. It aims to impose new legal requirements on internet companies and intensifies policing of online dissent.

Facebook, Google and other global companies are pushing back hard against provisions outlined by the bill that would require them to store personal data locally on users in Vietnam and open offices in the country.

“The United States and Canada urge Vietnam to delay the vote on the draft law to ensure it aligns with international standards,” the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.

“We find the draft cyber law … may present serious obstacles to Vietnam’s cybersecurity and digital innovation future, and may not be consistent with Vietnam’s international trade commitments,” it said.

Trade and foreign investment are key to Vietnam’s export-driven economic growth, while its leaders have been promoting technology for growth.

The Vietnam Digital Communication Association (VCDA) had said of the latest draft that it could reduce Vietnam’s gross domestic product by 1.7 percent and wipe off 3.1 percent of foreign investment if it comes into effect.

The proposed law has also raised fears among activists about tougher restrictions on the voicing of dissent online.

“This bill, which squarely targets free expression and access to information, will provide yet one more weapon for the government against dissenting voices,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

The rights group urged Vietnam to revise the draft law and bring it into compliance with international legal standards.

If passed, the law would require social media companies in Vietnam to remove offending content from their platforms within one day of receiving a request from the Ministry of Information and Communications, and Vietnam’s Ministry of Security, the government body tasked with dealing with dissent.

(Reporting by Mai Nguyen; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Canada police seek suspects in restaurant bombing, 15 injured

A police forensic investigator photographs evidence at Bombay Bhel restaurant, where two unidentified men set off a bomb late Thursday night, wounding fifteen people, in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada May 25, 2018. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

TORONTO (Reuters) – Canadian police were looking for two suspects who walked into a crowded restaurant Thursday night and detonated a bomb, injuring 15 people, but police said on Friday the incident did not appear to be a hate crime or linked to international terror.

The blast went off in a popular Indian restaurant in Mississauga, a city west of Toronto, at about 10:30 p.m. local time on Thursday. Security camera footage showed two men entering the restaurant, one carrying an object.

“There’s no indication this is a terrorist act, no indication this is a hate crime at this time,” Peel Police Chief Jennifer Evans told reporters on Friday.

The explosion caused “a considerable amount of damage,” Evans said, adding there were two private birthday parties at the restaurant at the time, with children under 10 in attendance. There were no children among the injured.

A police forensic investigator collects evidence at Bombay Bhel restaurant, where two unidentified men set off a bomb late Thursday night, wounding fifteen people, in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada May 25, 2018. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

A police forensic investigator collects evidence at Bombay Bhel restaurant, where two unidentified men set off a bomb late Thursday night, wounding fifteen people, in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada May 25, 2018. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

Three people were critically injured, but by Friday morning, their condition was upgraded to stable, Evans said. Another 12 people ranging from 23 to 69 years of age suffered minor injuries.

The two male suspects fled after detonating the improvised explosive device, police said. No one has claimed responsibility and the motive for the attack was still not known.

Kul Prasad Sapkota said he was shocked to wake up to news that someone had exploded a bomb in the popular restaurant that he had known intimately during his six years as a chef there until 2016.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a post on Twitter: “We’re in solidarity with the victims of this violence, and wish a swift recovery to the injured. We’re working closely with police and officials in Mississauga on this.”

The blast in Mississauga comes a month after a driver deliberately plowed a white Ryder rental van into a lunch-hour crowd in Toronto, killing 10 people and injuring 16.

“These are shocking incidents, made all the more shocking because they have been unusual in our society,” Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne told reporters on Friday.

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Toronto police eye deadly van attack suspect’s ‘cryptic message’

Mourners attend a makeshift memorial a day after a van struck multiple people along a major intersection in north Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 24, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegr

By Anna Mehler Paperny and Nichola Saminather

TORONTO (Reuters) – The man accused of plowing a rental van into pedestrians on a crowded Toronto sidewalk, killing 10 people in Canada’s deadliest mass killing in decades, left a “cryptic message” on social media before his attack, police said on Tuesday.

Suspect Alek Minassian, 25, was charged with 10 counts of murder and 13 counts of attempted murder in the incident.

One possible clue to his motive emerged on Tuesday as Facebook confirmed Minassian wrote a post before the incident that referenced an “incel rebellion.” The term is shorthand used in some online message boards for “involuntary celibacy”, a loose social media movement of men who blame women for their celibacy.

Canadian authorities have declined to say whether anger toward women had motivated the attack.

A mourner reacts at a makeshift memorial a day after a van struck multiple people along a major intersection in north Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 24, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

A mourner reacts at a makeshift memorial a day after a van struck multiple people along a major intersection in north Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 24, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

The post also voiced admiration for a man who killed six college students before taking his own life in California in 2014 and who cited the “cruelness of women” for his virgin status.

“The accused is alleged to have posted a cryptic message on Facebook minutes before” the attack, Graham Gibson, a Toronto police detective sergeant, told a news conference. The majority of the victims were women, ranging in age from their mid-20s to early 80s, Gibson said.

He said the question of whether the attack was driven by anger against women was “going to be part of our investigation.”

Facebook has since deleted Minassian’s account, a representative said. “There is absolutely no place on our platform for people who commit such horrendous acts,” she said in an email.

Minassian kept his shaved head down during a brief court appearance in Canada’s largest city, speaking quietly with a defense lawyer and stating his name in a steady voice when asked to do so.

The incident had the hallmarks of deadly vehicle assaults by Islamic State supporters. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there was no reason to suspect any national security connection.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Toronto Mayor John Tory visit a makeshift memorial a day after a van struck multiple people along a major intersection in north Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 24, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Toronto Mayor John Tory visit a makeshift memorial a day after a van struck multiple people along a major intersection in north Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 24, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Trudeau called on all Canadians to stand united with Toronto as flowers and scrawled messages in multiple languages piled up at a makeshift memorial in the city’s north end, an ethnically diverse neighborhood of towering office buildings, shops, restaurants and homes.

“We cannot as Canadians choose to live in fear every single day as we go about our daily business,” Trudeau told reporters outside of parliament in Ottawa.

The prime minister said the incident had not changed the country’s threat level or security preparations for a G7 summit in Quebec in June.

Minassian had briefly served in Canada’s armed forces in late 2017 but asked to be voluntarily released after 16 days of training, defense ministry spokeswoman Jessica Lamirande said.

The suspect’s two-story red-brick home in a suburb north of Toronto was a crime scene Tuesday, taped off and surrounded by police vehicles. Officers went in and out of the house.

SOUTH KOREANS AMONG VICTIMS

Details about the dead began to emerge on Tuesday, with a South Korean foreign ministry representative saying that two of that country’s citizens were killed and one injured in the attack. The representative spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media.

A Jordanian citizen was also killed, said an official at the country’s embassy in Ottawa.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp identified one of the victims as Anne Marie D’Amico, an employee of asset manager Invesco Canada. In a statement, Invesco confirmed that one of its employees had been killed but did not name her.

It could be days before all the victims are publicly identified, said Ontario Chief Coroner Dirk Huyer said, adding that the extent of their injuries was making some identities difficult to determine.

“It ranges from scrapes and bruises to terrible injuries that I won’t get into discussing here,” Gibson added.

The attack shook the usually peaceful streets of Toronto, which recorded 61 murders last year.

The drama started at lunchtime on a warm spring day, when the driver drove his vehicle into the crowds. The street was soon covered in blood, empty shoes and bodies.

Last October, eight people died in New York when a man driving a rented pickup truck mowed down pedestrians and cyclists on a bike path. The Islamic State militant group encourages its supporters to use vehicles for attacks.

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny and Allision Martell; Additional reporting by Andrea Hopkins in Ottawa; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Cynthia Osterman)

Toronto van attack suspect faces murder charges in court

A damaged van seized by police is seen after multiple people were struck at a major intersection northern Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 23, 2018. REUTERS/Saul Porto

By Allison Martell and Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – The driver suspected of killing 10 people and injuring 15 others when he plowed a rental van into pedestrians in Toronto made his first court appearance on Tuesday, where details of a motive for the attack were expected to emerge.

While the worst mass killing in Canada in decades has the hallmarks of other deadly vehicle assaults by Islamic State supporters in the United States and Europe, officials said it did not represent a threat to national security.

Suspect Alek Minassian, 25, entered a Toronto courtroom on Tuesday morning. His head was shaved and he was looking down as prosecutors announced they were charging him with 10 counts of first-degree murder.

The proceedings began after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the attack outside of parliament in Ottawa, calling on all Canadians to stand united with Toronto.

“We cannot as Canadians choose to live in fear every single day as we go about our daily business. We need to focus on doing what we can and we must to keep Canadians safe while we stay true to the freedoms and values that we all as Canadians hold dear,” Trudeau said.

The prime minister said that, while it would take time before the motives of the attacker were understood, the incident had not changed the country’s threat level or security preparations for a G7 summit in Quebec in June.

People left flowers at a makeshift memorial, which grew as commuters returned to work on Tuesday morning. Blank white posters left against a stone wall were covered with messages.

The Canadian flag was lowered to half-staff at parliament and at Toronto city hall.

Minassian, who was not previously known to authorities, attended a high school program where one classmate remembered him as “absolutely harmless.”

The officer who apprehended Minassian was praised for making a peaceful arrest even as the suspect shouted “Kill me” and claimed to have a gun.

Canadians mourned as the victims began to be identified on Tuesday.

“We are a peaceful, tolerant, free society. The horrific violence on Toronto’s Yonge Street will strengthen rather than undermine these truths,” columnist John Ibbitson wrote in the Globe and Mail national newspaper.

The attack shook the usually peaceful streets of Toronto, a multicultural city with a population of 2.8 million. The city recorded 61 murders last year.

Downtown Toronto’s iconic CN Tower, which is normally lit up in the evening, went dark on Monday evening.

The drama started at lunchtime on a warm spring day, when the driver drove his vehicle into the crowds. The street was soon covered in blood, empty shoes and bodies.

Canada is still recovering from the shock of a highway crash in Saskatchewan earlier this month that killed 16 people on a bus carrying a junior hockey team.

Last October, eight people died in New York when a man driving a rented pickup truck mowed down pedestrians and cyclists on a bike path.

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny and Allision Martell; additional reporting and writing by Andrea Hopkins in Ottawa; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Jonathan Oatis and Jim Finkle)

Toronto van attack suspect due in court on Tuesday

A damaged van seized by police is seen after multiple people were struck at a major intersection northern Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 23, 2018. REUTERS/Saul Porto

By Allison Martell and Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – The driver suspected of killing 10 and injuring 15 others when he plowed a rental van into pedestrians in Toronto will make his first court appearance on Tuesday when details of a motive for the attack were expected to emerge.

While the worst mass killing in Canada in decades has the hallmarks of other deadly vehicle assaults by Islamic State supporters in the United States and Europe, officials said it did not represent a threat to national security.

Alex Minassian, 25, identified by police as the suspect, will appear in a Toronto court at 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT), Toronto police said. Charges will be made public at that time.

Minassian, who was not previously known to authorities, attended a high school program where one classmate remembered him as “absolutely harmless.”

People left flowers at a makeshift memorial, which grew as commuters returned to work Tuesday morning. Blank white posters left against a stone wall were covered with messages.

The Canadian flag was lowered to half-staff at parliament and at Toronto city hall.

The officer who apprehended Minassian was praised for making a peaceful arrest eve as the suspect shouted “Kill me” and claimed to have a gun.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who called the incident a “tragic and senseless attack,” was to speak to reporters at 8:25 a.m. EDT (1225 GMT) in Ottawa.

Canadians mourned as the victims began to be identified on Tuesday. “We are a peaceful, tolerant, free society. The horrific violence on Toronto’s Yonge Street will strengthen rather than undermine these truths,” columnist John Ibbitson wrote in the Globe and Mail national newspaper.

The attack shook the usually peaceful streets of Toronto, a multicultural city with a population of 2.8 million. The city recorded 61 murders last year.

Downtown Toronto’s iconic CN Tower, which is normally lit up in the evening, went dark on Monday evening.

The drama started at lunchtime on a warm spring day, when the driver drove his vehicle into the crowds. The street was soon covered in blood, empty shoes and bodies.

Canada is still recovering from the shock of a highway crash in Saskatchewan earlier this month that killed 16 people on a bus carrying a junior hockey team.

Last October eight people died in New York when a man driving a rented pickup truck mowed down pedestrians and cyclists on a bike path.

(Additional reporting and writing by Andrea Hopkins in Ottawa; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

Driver kills nine, injures 16 plowing van onto Toronto sidewalk: police

Firemen cover a victim of an incident where a van struck multiple people at a major intersection in Toronto's northern suburbs, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 23, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

y Anna Mehler Paperny and Allison Martell

TORONTO (Reuters) – A driver plowed his white Ryder rental van into a crowd, killing nine people and injuring 16 along a roughly mile-long stretch of busy Toronto sidewalk during lunch hour on a sunny Monday afternoon, police said.

Officials declined to answer questions about what motivated the driver to steer his vehicle toward people just before 1:30 p.m. (1730 GMT). They said the driver was in custody and stopped short of calling it a deliberate act.

But at least one witness described the driver as appearing to deliberately target victims on his roughly mile-long (1.6 km-long) rampage, according to media reports.

“This is going to be a long investigation,” Toronto Deputy Chief Peter Yuen told a news conference after disclosing the death toll.

People react to an incident where a van struck multiple people at a major intersection in Toronto's northern suburbs, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 23, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

People react to an incident where a van struck multiple people at a major intersection in Toronto’s northern suburbs, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 23, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

A Reuters witness saw at least two tarp-covered bodies at the site of the incident. Five people remained in critical condition at Sunnybrook Health Services Centre on Monday afternoon, the hospital said.

Canada’s public safety minister, Ralph Goodale, declined to comment on what may have motivated the attack.

“The investigation is at a stage where no further information can be confirmed at this point,” Goodale told a news conference said. “The police are conducting obviously their thorough investigation to determine what happened and why it happened, the motivations involved.”

Ryder System Inc spokeswoman Claudia Panfil confirmed that one of the company’s rental vehicles had been involved and said the company was cooperating with authorities.

There have been a string of deadly vehicle attacks in the United States and Europe, including an Oct. 31 attack in New York that killed eight. Islamic State militant group encourages its supporters to use vehicles for attacks.

Toronto police investigates an incident where a van struck multiple people at a major intersection in Toronto's northern suburbs in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 23, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Donovan

Toronto police investigates an incident where a van struck multiple people at a major intersection in Toronto’s northern suburbs in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 23, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Donovan

‘IT’S UNPRECEDENTED’

The incident was one of the most violent in recent Canadian history.

A former Canadian university student last month pleaded guilty to killing six men praying in a Quebec City mosque in January 2017.

In September, a Somali refugee who was charged with attempted murder on allegations he ran down four pedestrians with a car and stabbed a police officer outside a sports stadium in Edmonton, Alberta.

“It’s unprecedented,” said John Flengas, acting superintendent in the city’s paramedic services. We’ve never seen anything like this in the city of Toronto.”

The incident occurred about 30 kms (18 miles) away from the site where Toronto is hosting a Group of Seven foreign ministers.

A man who gave his name as Ali told CNN he saw the van and that the driver appeared to have been targeting people.

“This person was intentionally doing this, he was killing everybody,” the man said. “He kept going, he kept going. People were getting hit, one after another.”

He said a number of the victims were older people and at one point he saw a stroller fly into the air.

At least one person was struck outside on the sidewalk outside an Anglican church, north of where the van came to rest in front of a currency exchange in a condominium tower.

Yonge Street is large, divided boulevard at the point where the incident occurred, its center meridian dotted with planter boxes and sculptures.

Some of the victims were struck in a public square popular with office workers on lunch breaks. Aerial photos of the scene posted on social media showed a food truck parked just a few feet away from where emergency workers busily transferred people onto stretchers.

There was no noticeable change in security around the Intercontinental Hotel where the ministers of Canada, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan were meeting on Monday.

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny and Allison Martell in Toronto; Additional reporting by Jim Finkle, Nichola Saminather, Carlo Allegri and Julie Gordon; Writing by Andrea Hopkins and Scott Malone; Editing by Grant McCool)

Trudeau attends emotional vigil for Canada bus crash victims

Community members leave notes and flowers at a memorial at Elgar Petersen Arena in Humboldt, April 7, 2018. REUTERS/Matt Smith

By Katherine Fitzpatrick

HUMBOLDT, Saskatchewan (Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined religious and community leaders at an emotional vigil on Sunday night to honor the 15 members of a junior ice hockey team killed in a bus crash that shocked the hockey-loving nation.

Hundreds of people including National Hockey League (NHL) players attended the vigil at the Elgar Petersen Arena, home of the Humboldt Broncos club at the center of one of the worst disasters to hit Canada’s sporting community.

“We’re here behind you. We will be here for you,” Rob Muench, mayor of the small farming town of Humboldt in Saskatchewan province, told the gathering.

“We will get through this.”

Fourteen other members of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team were injured in the accident, which occurred as the team was traveling to a league playoff game in the town of Nipawin, about 200 km (125 miles) northeast of Humboldt, on Friday.

The bus collided with a semi-trailer truck. Canadian police are looking into road, weather and vehicle conditions.

Former NHL star Sheldon Kennedy was among those who were expected to attend the vigil, along with former players Bob Wilkie and Peter Soberlak. Kennedy was on board a bus involved in another fatal crash in 1986, in which four members of the Swift Current Broncos were killed.

One minute silence was observed at the time when the playoff was scheduled on Sunday evening.

“Today and for every day forward we are all humble Broncos and we will be forever humble Broncos strong,” Broncos President Kevin Geringer told the members attending the vigil.

For the prairies community of Humboldt, population about 6,000, ice hockey is a sport that unifies the town and gives it its identity, bringing home two national championships.

Townspeople and team supporters gathered at the local Uniplex sports and education complex to comfort each other. An online fund-raising initiative to help the victims’ families has raised C$3.7 million ($2.9 million).

Rob Eichorst, the team’s governor, said Sunday’s interdenominational vigil was organized by local religious leaders “for healing of the community, the hockey team, the province, the country.”

“There’s no playbook on how to handle this,” Eichorst said. “People are bringing food … We’ve got multinational companies helping us, we’ve got national companies offering stuff. The support is overwhelming and truly appreciated.”

He estimated 300 to 400 people had gathered at the complex on Friday evening. Grief counselors were on hand and the Red Cross was providing support to players’ families as well as the families who billet players.

(Reporting by Katherine Fitzpatrick in HUMBOLDT, Saskatchewan; Writing by Denny Thomas; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Stephen Coates)