TORONTO — When gunshots sparked panic and chaos at a massive outdoor celebration for Toronto’s NBA champions this week, some fans caught in the stampede worked to keep others out of danger, at times putting their own safety at risk.
As authorities now look to learn lessons from the event marred by overcrowding and violence on Monday, accounts of acts of kindness by complete strangers have emerged.
The shooting — which took place shortly after the Raptors went on stage during a victory rally at Nathan Phillips Square — injured four people, police said. Three people were arrested and two firearms were recovered, with investigators still looking for another suspect and firearm.
As hordes of fans scattered in fear, Mo Hussein said a group of young adults he had just met helped shield his three-year-old daughter from the crowd.
Hussein had gone to the rally with family members, including his niece and nephew, and ran into some of his niece’s friends, whom he did not previously know. His daughter had just fallen asleep in her stroller when shots set off a wave of panic in the packed square, he said.
“All of a sudden the crowd started running towards us,” he said. “Fortunately I didn’t panic, my first thoughts were to protect my daughter who was asleep in the stroller. I just told people around me to come help me protect the stroller.”
Hussein said his niece’s friends formed a semi-circle around the stroller, protecting his daughter, who remained blissfully unaware of the commotion around her. When the crowd dispersed, “there were strollers around, there were shoes strewn all over the place, peoples’ hats and personal possessions all over the place,” he said.
That selfless act from the group prevented what could have been a terrible outcome, said Hussein, noting many children were put at risk at a purportedly family-friendly event.
“It basically means that even at the most evil point, humanity prevails,” he said. “(My niece’s friends) were afraid themselves and they were shivering after the fact, a lot of them had tears in their eyes and the fact that they were brave enough to actually help protect my daughter is something I really appreciate.”
Some who received a helping hand also witnessed other acts of kindness.
Kimi Marfa, who uses gender-neutral pronouns, said they were separated from friends moments after the shooting, which occurred steps away from their group.
“It was so scary not knowing if my friends were hurt or if they were safe,” Marfa said.
The 16-year-old said they ran into the nearby Old City Hall courthouse and saw children who had lost track of their parents. The kids were crying and looked scared, particularly when security announced the building was under lockdown, Marfa said.
Other parents who were still with their children stepped in to console those who were alone, Marfa said. “There were mothers acting as mothers to these others kids, hugging them and singing to them,” Marfa said.
Marfa was also helped through a panic attack by a woman in the courthouse, they said.
Suzanne Bernier said she ran into a nearby Canadian Tire where employees told distraught Raptors fans to come inside and stay calm. Store employees acted professionally and with compassion despite not being prepared to deal with dozens of terrified people seeking shelter, she said.
“It was so nice to see people stepping up to help each other,” she said. “It was just everyday citizens coming together to help each other out.”
Alanna Rizza and Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press
Military faces calls to train soldiers to identify neo-Nazis, hate-group members
OTTAWA — The Canadian Armed Forces is facing calls to train its recruiters and other service members to identify and screen out members of hate groups.
The military is also being accused of failing to take the issue seriously by adopting what several experts say is a wait-and-see approach rather than actively weeding out such individuals.
The criticism follows an internal military report and several high-profile incidents linking some service members to right-wing extremists and hate groups.
That includes an investigation this week into a reservist in Manitoba who is suspected of being a recruiter for a neo-Nazi group.
The Defence Department says the military already uses interviews and background checks to screen recruits for hateful beliefs and behaviour and takes very seriously any reported incidents by current personnel.
But several experts tell The Canadian Press that is not good enough, and that the military must launch a campaign similar to efforts to stamp out sexual misconduct to truly root out extremist beliefs and behaviour.
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Liberals unhurt, Tories not helped by scathing SNC-Lavalin report: Poll
OTTAWA — A new poll suggests a scathing ethics report on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair hasn’t so far hurt the Liberals’ chances of re-election this fall — and it hasn’t helped the Conservatives.
Indeed, the Leger poll suggests the two parties were locked in a dead heat, with the support of 33 per cent of voters, as they jockey for position at the starting gate for the Oct. 21 vote.
Liberal support was unchanged from last month, despite last week’s damning report from federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion, who concluded that Trudeau violated the Conflict of Interest Act by pressuring his former attorney general to halt a criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.
Conservative support was down three percentage points from last month, despite the party’s best efforts to re-ignite public outrage over the SNC affair, which propelled the Tories into a commanding 13-point lead over the Grits at the height of the controversy last April.
The poll put support for the Green party at 13 per cent, up one point and ahead of the NDP at 11 per cent. Maxime Bernier’s fledgling People’s Party of Canada stood at four per cent.
The online survey of 1,535 eligible voters was conducted Aug. 16-19 for The Canadian Press and weighted to reflect the makeup of Canada’s population. It cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered random samples.
Leger executive vice-president Christian Bourque said the latest results suggest voters have largely put the SNC-Lavalin affair behind them and moved on to issues that affect them more directly — at least for now.
The two main parties are back in a “neck-and-neck race,” which is where things stood in February before the SNC controversy rocked the Liberal government, costing Trudeau two cabinet ministers, his most trusted aide and the country’s top public servant.
“I think that those who changed their mind on the PM and turned their backs on him did that in the spring already,” Bourque said in an interview.
But he said other Canadians appear to be fatigued with the issue and may be thinking “regardless of what I think of the behaviour of the PM, at the end of the day how does this change my life and that of my children, which is nil.”
Still, Bourque warned that “doesn’t mean that it won’t come back to haunt the prime minister” during the campaign, particularly should the RCMP decide to investigate, as Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has repeatedly pressed the Mounties to do.
The Conservatives and New Democrats tried to revive the controversy at a meeting Wednesday of the House of Commons ethics committee, where they moved to invite Dion, Trudeau and others to testify about the ethics report.
However, the Liberals used their majority on the committee to block the bid to magnify the report just a couple of weeks before Trudeau officially fires the starting gun for the election.
The poll put the Liberals back into a solid lead in the Atlantic provinces, Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia. The Conservatives enjoyed a commanding lead in Alberta and Manitoba/Saskatchewan, with 55 per cent support in both regions.
The Liberals had the advantage in the two most populous provinces, where more than half of the country’s 338 seats will be up for grabs.
In Ontario, home to more than one-third of the seats, the Conservatives appear to be suffering a “spillover effect” from the unpopularity of Doug Ford’s provincial Progressive Conservative government, Bourque said. The Liberals enjoyed the support of 38 per cent of Ontarians, compared to the Conservatives’ 30 per cent, the Green’s 14 per cent, the NDP’s 13 per cent and the People’s party’s three per cent.
In Quebec, home to SNC-Lavalin, the Liberals stood at 34 per cent, compared to the Tories’ 27, the Bloc Quebecois’ 18, the Greens’ nine, the NDP’s eight and the People’s party’s four per cent.
Dion concluded that Trudeau broke ethics law by improperly pressuring former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene to stop the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin on corruption charges related to contracts in Libya.
Trudeau has acknowledged that he wanted Wilson-Raybould to reconsider her refusal to overturn a decision by the director of public prosecutions, who decided last fall not to invite the Montreal-based engineering and construction giant to negotiate a remediation agreement. Such an agreement would have allowed the company to avoid the risk of a criminal conviction, which would result in it being barred from federal contracts for 10 years.
While he has taken full responsibility for the mistakes that were made, Trudeau has refused to apologize. He has insisted that he was only standing up for the interests of SNC-Lavalin’s 9,000 employees, pensioners and suppliers, who stood to be negatively affected by the potentially crippling cost of a conviction.
Scheer maintains Dion’s report suggests the prime minister’s conduct went beyond a violation of ethics law and warrants a criminal investigation into possible obstruction of justice.
Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet over the affair in late February, followed shortly by cabinet ally Jane Philpott. Both women were subsequently booted out of the Liberal caucus and are running for re-election as Independent candidates.
Joan Bryden , The Canadian Press
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