Members of the U of T community gathered alongside thousands of other Torontonians in a vigil on April 29 to commemorate the victims of the deadly van attack in the city.
The event, called Toronto Strong, began at Olive Park Square in North York, with attendees marching south to Mel Lastman Square on a route that recalled the path the van took to deliberately kill pedestrians on the sidewalks of Yonge Street on April 23.
Among the victims was 22-year-old U of T student So He Chung. Chung studied molecular biology and was a member of the U of T Korean Students’ Association. She was identified on April 26 as one of the victims of the attack.
The vigil was hosted by CP24 Breakfast host, Pooja Handa; CBC News Toronto anchor, Dwight Drummond; and Lily Cheng, Willowdale resident and co-founder of the We Love Willowdale group. Volunteers sported brightly coloured shirts with the phrase “Free hugs and prayers” while handing out #TorontoStrong buttons.
“This neighbourhood is my home,” Cheng said to the crowd. “We are like a family. This past week we have endured incredible tragedy, pain, suffering, and loss. Today we gather here to show our love, our support, and our compassion to a community that has been shaken.”
“We are to help and to heal together.”
Neeky Dalir, one of the organizers of the vigil and a Willowdale resident, highlighted the importance of the vigil in demonstrating the resilience of the North York community in a message to The Varsity. “It shows the world that in the face of tragedy, we come together more united than ever before,” wrote Dalir.
Among the religious groups present at the vigil were members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, whose members carried signs that read “Love for all, Hatred for none.” The group also handed out flowers to attendees as a message of peace.
Hassaan Shahid, a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim contingent at the vigil, told The Varsity that they “believe that in the face of hateful actions perpetrated by certain people, as a response to that, Torontonians [and] Canadians [should] come together with a message of ‘Love For All, Hatred for None,’ which binds everybody.”
Shahid said that they “truly believe that Toronto is one big family and we lost 10 members of our family.”
Members of the Toronto Area Interfaith Council also addressed the crowd, providing messages of hope and support.
“Today, we are members of a global family, we share our joys and sorrows, likes and dislikes, success and failure. Canadians are multiracial and a multicultural mixture of caring and compassionate people,” said Pandit Suraj Persad, a Hindu chaplain at the U of T Multi-Faith Centre.“If we continue to join together, and collectively think noble thoughts, speak sweet and soothing words, and perform selfless actions, we can definitely make this world into a better place for all.”
University College Principal and philosophy professor Donald Ainslie was present at the march. “I think the attack on Yonge Street pedestrians was an awful tragedy, motivated, it seems, by misogyny. I wanted to come express the fact that’s something Toronto doesn’t believe in,” Ainslie said. “We’re here to say we’re together and stronger than this hate.”
Performances at the vigil included local community choirs such as the Toronto Jewish Chorus, Toronto Youth Choir, and the Willowdale Choir. Students from Cardinal Carter Academy of the Arts and Earl Haig Secondary School, two Willowdale-area high schools, performed the national anthem. The vigil also featured a drumming performance by the Red Spirit Singers, a group of First Nations drummers and singers.
Politicians present at the event included Governor General Julie Payette, federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, Toronto Mayor John Tory, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. The dignitaries signed a book of condolences and marched alongside attendees on the walk along Yonge Street.
Alek Minassian, a 25-year-old man from Richmond Hill, was apprehended by police shortly after the end of the attack. He has since been charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder, with at least one more attempted murder charge expected. He will appear in court on May 10.