Toronto van attack one year later: How has the city boosted security?

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One year ago, a van plowed into a crowd of people along a busy sidewalk in North York, killing 10 people and injuring 16 others.

In the days following the devastating attack, the city was left grappling with the task of enhancing security to keep its citizens and visitors safe.

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Now, a year has passed since the deadly rampage, and a number of steps have been taken to bolster security across the city.

Concrete barriers and vehicle mitigation

Hours after the attack, concrete barriers were put up around Toronto’s Union Station to boost security around the high-traffic area.

According to Toronto Police 52 Division Unit Commander Michael Barsky, a vehicle mitigation strategy had also been put into place in the downtown core prior to the attack, focusing on areas of the city where large crowds gather.

Initially, Barsky says police focused on where large groups gathered.

“Unfortunately, in a big city, large crowds gather in many places,” Barsky said.

Barsky says since the attack, the scope has widened.

“We’ve certainly enhanced the footprint of what we do,” he said.

On Tuesday, for example, Barsky says people will notice a large police presence along the Bremner Corridor, where thousands of people are expected to gather to watch the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors playoff games.

Concrete barriers set up at Toronto’s Union Station following van attack on Yonge Street

“There will be a tailgate party which draws out thousands of people, so they can watch on the big screens,” Barsky said.

“You’ll see an enhanced vehicle mitigation strategy and security presence down there, so that we can make sure that the residents and fans and guests to our city are safe when they are coming and going from those areas.”

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Barsky says Toronto police have also taken notes from police forces around the world and how they react to acts of violence similar to the Toronto van attack.

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“We certainly educate ourselves and inform ourselves from all of the devastating attacks that happen around the world and what sorts of strategies are being used around the world, and that certainly informs us on how we can become better at deterring these types of things,” he said.

“But we don’t pretend to be experts. Until April 23 last year, we were a very fortunate city.”

Tory tight-lipped on security enhancements

In an interview with Global News’ Farah Nasser, Toronto Mayor John Tory confirmed that changes to security have been made throughout the city in the wake of the attack.

“We’ve had to make some obvious changes to security arrangements even in city hall, this very building,” Tory said. “We’ve made other changes to some of our larger public venues in light of events that have gone on in other places in the world and we’ve examined other very specific physical things that we may have to do to take account of the fact that this kind of thing can occur.”

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While Tory confirmed security has been boosted, he remained tight-lipped on what exactly those enhancements are.

“But if I listed them all, then you’re telling those who might cause us damage and tragedy what we’ve done,” he said.

Preventing violence and monitoring threats online

John McCoy, adjunct professor at the University of Alberta and executive director for the Organization for the Prevention of Violence, says while physical security infrastructure such as concrete barriers are effective in preventing vehicular attacks, he says it’s impossible for police to secure all places in a city.

“You can’t protect all the soft targets, you can take steps around things like sporting venues and major thoroughfares but it’s generally ineffective if you have a committed attacker,” he said.

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McCoy says when it comes to preventing these types of attacks, it’s about monitoring threats online.

“These sort of lone actor attacks can be mobilized out of a number of different ideologies online,” he said.

According to McCoy, many extremist communities exist online, and utilize online forums such as 4Chan, making it difficult for the RCMP and CSIS to monitor the threats.

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“Especially because many of the investigators don’t have training or understanding of those online communities and some of the language that individuals use on those boards, which indicates that they are mobilizing towards an attack or violence,” he said.

“So there’s a real necessity, first and foremost, to create standardized training for national security investigators and to attune them to threats that are related to ideological or extremist movements that are not typically on their radar for national security — for instance, the involuntary celibate (incel) movement.”

In Canada, McCoy says, that type of training doesn’t currently exist but is desperately needed.

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According to McCoy, 79 per cent of individuals will leak their motive and intent to carry out violence in the hours and days before committing the violence.

“Because it’s effectively impossible to harden all soft targets, and because the methodology for terrorism has grown to include a preference for low tech attacks, using knives or vehicles, that it is effectively impossible to harden all the soft targets and that’s why I think we should focus our efforts,” he said.

-With files from Farah Nasser

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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