By Canadian Press
A vigil was held at Nathan Phillips Square to honour the victims of two mass shootings at New Zealand mosques.
Friday evening, Torontonians gathered to pay their respects to those impacted by the incidents that left at least 49 people dead.
The Toronto sign, located outside city hall in Nathan Phillips Square, was dimmed as speakers came to the podium to offer their condolences.
“To think that a mosque, a place of peace, tranquility, reflection, and meditation becomes a place where people are targeted simply because of their faith is horrifying and we can’t let that happen in Canada or anywhere around the world,” Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada Ahmed Hussen told the crowd at the vigil.
Toronto’s Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong said the attack has left many people in the city’s Muslim community “shaken.”
“We are here today to stand with our Muslim community and to make it clear that you have our unwavering support,” he said.
“That’s what we do here in Toronto, we support each other. I want each and every member of our city’s Muslim community to know that your city supports you, your city is dedicated to protecting you and your city respects and embraces you, just as Toronto embraces people of all backgrounds.”
Police said a heavily-armed gunman entered two mosques during prayers in Christchurch, New Zealand on Friday afternoon, local time. Two improvised explosive devices were located in a car, according to investigators.
Brenton Harrison Tarrant, 28, was later detained by police. He made a court appearance on Saturday morning, local time, amid strict security.
As many as 49 other victims were being treated for gunshot wounds in hospital around New Zealand after the attack.
“I am deeply saddened by the terror attack in New Zealand & stand with our Muslim community to condemn this hate-fuelled violence,” Toronto Mayor John Tory tweeted on Friday morning.
“On behalf of all Torontnians, we send condolences to the families & friends of those killed in Christchurch & those injured in this heinous attack.”
The Premier also weighed in on the tragedy, tweeting: “I strongly condemn the horrifying attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. I join people across Ontario and Canada and stand with all legislators at Queen’s Park in condemning this hatred and violence towards our Muslim brothers and sisters.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the attack as well and offered his support to those grieving.
“Attacking people during prayers is absolutely appalling, and Canada strongly condemns today’s shootings in New Zealand,” he wrote on Twitter. “Our thoughts and hearts go out to the victims and their families, and we join New Zealanders and Muslim communities around the world in grieving.”
Increased police presence in wake of mass shootings
Meanwhile, police services across the Greater Toronto Area said Friday they increased their presence in and around mosques and other places of worship in response to the attack.
The announcement came ahead of Juma, the most important weekly gathering for prayer in Islam.
In York Region, police assigned their helicopter, Air2, to patrol over Baitul Islam Mosque on Jane Street in Maple.
Baitul Islam’s imam, Muhammed Mirza, told CP24 morning prayers Friday were dedicated to the Christchurch victims and he hoped Canada would not suffer any more violence.
“I hope and pray that Canada, which is best country in the world, stays calm and peaceful.”
Anyone who witnessed anything suspicious was being urged to contact officials immediately.
York Regional Police spokesperson Const. Andy Pattenden said they had no information that any place in York Region was threatened or targeted, but they wanted people to feel safe nonetheless.
“With these tragic events we want to assure our community that we’re out there and we are taking note of what took place.”
In Peel Region, police told CP24 said they “were in contact with leaders” in the local Muslim community relating to the attack and steps they could take to remain safe.
Toronto police would not confirm any specific steps they are taking but said they are making “appropriate adjustments to our plans in order to mitigate the potential risks to public safety.”
In Durham Region, police echoed the same as Peel Region officers, saying they were in contact with imams and had stepped up uniformed patrols around mosques.