A Toronto police officer who refused to shoot the man suspected of ploughing a van into crowds of pedestrians, killing 10 people, has been praised for restraint in the face of a suspect who claimed to have a gun.
Video footage showed the police officer staring down the suspect at gunpoint in the middle of a street on Monday, while the man pointed what appeared to be a gun and shouted “Kill me”.
The video, obtained by CBC News, showed the suspect repeatedly pulling an object from his side and aiming at police.
Toronto police identified the man arrested as Alek Minassian, 25, of Richmond Hill, a neighbourhood close to Toronto.
The arrest was praised as a welcome example of police restraint in the midst of chaos, coming just minutes after a white rental van ploughed into a lunchtime crowd in north Toronto, killing 10 people and injuring 15 in one of the most violent incidents in Canadian history.
As the suspect shouted “Kill me,” the officer replied, “No, get down.” When the suspect said, “I have a gun in my pocket,” the officer responded: “I don’t care. Get down.”
“It’s quite apparent that the suspect was trying to be executed. He was really looking for ‘suicide-by-cop’,” Gary Clement, a retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police superintendent with 34 years experience of policing, told Reuters.
After multiple pedestrians plowed down on Toronto sidewalk, driver gets out holding what appears to be a gun. Police arrest him. No shots fired. pic.twitter.com/xWHeylS1d8
— Michel Boyer (@BoyerMichel) April 23, 2018
The Toronto Police Service declined to name the officer involved in the stand-off, but Clement said he appeared to be a “very seasoned and mature officer.”
“I would say this individual met the right police officer,” Clement said.
Nobody knows how they’re going to react. In this situation a lot of it comes down to muscle memory. This guy reacted in a very mature manner.”
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said the officer’s behaviour reflected the “high calibre of training that takes place.
“They are taught to use as little force as possible in any given situation,” he said.
It helped that the officer had a clear view of the suspect, who was out of the van and pacing between the sidewalk and the arresting officer, Clement said.
Police in the US have been criticised for being too quick to pull the trigger after a series of high-profile police shootings and deaths of suspects during arrest.
Toronto Deputy Police Chief Peter Yuen did not provide any possible cause or motive of the incident.
“This is going to be a long investigation,” Deputy Chief Yuen said at a press conference.
“We have one person in custody and the investigation is ongoing.”
Mr Yuen said police were still interviewing witnesses and examining surveillance video of the incident.
“I can assure the public all our available resources have been brought in to investigate this tragic situation,” he said.
Police were called just before 1.30 pm local time to the corner of Yonge Street and Finch Avenue in the north end of the city after reports that a van drove onto the sidewalk and hit multiple people, Toronto Police spokeswoman Meaghan Gray said.
The incident happened about 30kms from where the G7 foreign ministers of industrialised nations – including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK and US – were meeting on Monday. There was no noticeable change in security around the Intercontinental Hotel where the ministers gathered.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said officials were investigating.
“We’re still gathering information and as soon as we can, we’ll share more information with Canadians,” Mr Trudeau told reporters about an hour after news of the incident broke.
Our thoughts are with all those affected by the terrible incident at Yonge and Finch in Toronto. Thank you to the first responders working at the scene – we're monitoring the situation closely.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) April 23, 2018
Witness Shayne Klayman told the Toronto Star he was sitting in his car nearby when he heard people screaming.
“I looked out my window and everyone is just running in front of the vehicle trying to flag down cops and direct cops to where the assailant was,” he said.
“I never heard screams like that before ever in my entire life. People were running all around trying to flag cops down, like running in front of moving cars trying to flag an officer down.”
The United States and Europe have seen a string of deadly attacks in which vehicles were used to mow down pedestrians, including an October 31 attack in New York that killed eight.
Six people were killed and many more injured when a car drove through Melbourne’s busy Bourke Street mall and along the footpath for several blocks on January 20, 2017.