Toronto police provided more details Friday about their investigation into a suspect who allegedly threatened to shoot candidates running for mayor in Toronto and said the same person is believed to be responsible for online threats made against the candidates.
Police said Thursday that a suspect walked into a location near Mortimer and Greenwood avenues in East York at around 10:45 a.m. on June 1 and made threatening remarks about shooting mayoral candidates. Police said he then brandished what appeared to be a firearm.
The incident led several leading candidates to cancel public appearances and forced the cancellation of a debate that was scheduled to take place at OCAD University Thursday night.
Speaking with reporters Friday, Const. Victor Kwong said police worked non-stop to find the suspect after the threat was reported.
“From the moment we knew about this up until his arrest, we worked effortlessly and tirelessly to make the arrest,” Kwong said.
He said an arrest was made in the case “without incident” in 42-Division at around 9:30 p.m. Thursday.
Police announced Friday that 29-year-old Junior Francois Lavagesse, of Toronto, has now been charged with two counts of weapons dangerous, carrying concealed, uttering threats, and failing to comply with recognizance.
Police have told CP24 that Lavagesse was previously charged in connection with a sexual assault investigation in March. He was already wanted on the failing to comply with recognizance charge at the time of his arrest.
Kwong said the place where the threats were made “doesn't have anything to do specifically with the mayoral candidates” but he would not say exactly where it was in order to not disclose the location of witnesses in the case.
He said that police are constantly re-assessing the situation when a threat is made, but they felt strongly enough at one point yesterday that they notified candidates through a news release which went out around 3:30 p.m., and then an email to all 102 candidates.
“Yesterday there came a point where we believed that we had to put out a news release and notify everyone officially,” Kwong said.
He said the threat which sparked the warning to candidates was a “blanket threat” towards mayoral candidates, not directed at any one in particular.
“Once we had enough information to give out, we gave it out at exactly the same time,” he said.
However some candidates said they learned there was a threat against them hours earlier while participating in a Pride flag raising at city hall around the noon hour, while others said they learned about the threat through the media or only found the warning email by searching for it in their junk email folders.
“We did speak to corporate security at City Hall,” Kwong said when asked about the discrepancy. “And let's also face the fact that sometimes information gets out and might get out specifically to people.”
He said he couldn’t speculate as to how some people found out sooner, but said the official notification went out once police felt they had enough solid information.
“I can say that we act once we have solid, reputable information,” Kwong said. “We're not just going to start alerting people, especially one at a time. You know, we want to gather everything that we have and give everyone the right information all at once.”
Kwong also said that police are separately investigating online threats against candidates that were also reported Thursday, but investigators believe the same suspect is responsible.
“We believe it's the same person but the investigation is ongoing into the online threats,” Kwong said.
The suspect made a court appearance via video link Friday morning.
CANDIDATES RETURN TO CAMPAIGNING
Meanwhile most candidates in Toronto’s mayoral race were back on the campaign trail Friday, a day after many of them hunkered down while police searched for the suspect.
There were multiple appearances and announcements planned by candidates throughout the day.
The latest poll released Friday shows Olivia Chow continues to enjoy a strong lead in the race with just three weeks left to go before Election Day on June 26.
Speaking with reporters at an announcement Friday, Chow said she’s grateful the suspect has been apprehended.
“I’m grateful to the police, and that the threat is not here anymore,” Chow said. “I was concerned for my team. I wasn’t personally feeling too threatened.”
She added it’s important to create a city with the “social conditions where there are fewer crimes and we can all feel safe.”
She also said that as a visible minority politician, she’s received threats for years, including almost daily as an MP.