Thousands gathered for a vigil in Toronto on Sunday evening to mourn for the victims of the van attack along a busy city street less than a week ago.
Police were expecting around 25,000 attendees at Mel Lastman square, where screens were set up so that those too far from the stage and watching from balconies could hear the speakers, including faith leaders, and performances from choirs representing various ethnic and religious groups in the city.
People held banners reading #TorontoStrong and “Love for All, Hatred for None.”
Before joining the vigil, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau marched with hundreds of others down Yonge Street, along the van’s path, which is now marked with makeshift memorials with flowers and cards for the victims.
“We as a city lost so much on Monday,” Reverend Alexa Gilmore told the crowd. “We lost the lives of 10 beautiful women and men, and we gather this evening to discover that our sorrow is reflected in the eyes of the stranger standing next to us.”
The crowd remained completely silent in between speakers, taking a communal deep breath at the urging of one of the emcees.
Ten people were killed and 16 were injured after 25-year-old Alek Minassian allegedly drove a van down one of Toronto’s busiest streets last Monday, mowing down pedestrians in his path. He faces 10 counts of first degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder, with three more charges pending.
Eight of the 10 people who were killed were women. A status posted on Minassian’s Facebook account just before the attack appeared to have invoked “incels,” an online community notorious for its misogynist views and calls for violence against women.
There was a significant police presence keeping watch over the vigil crowd. The city has beefed up security at most large public gatherings in the days following the attack. Speakers thanked the police for their response during the attack. Police tactics including deescalation have been praised for ensuring the suspect was arrested without being shot.
The crowd applauded as the first responders who attended the scene of the attack joined the vigil.
Imam Refaat Mohamed and Reverend William Metzger stood side by side, leading the crowd through prayers.
“There are no right words for such an occasion as this. Only clumsy attempts to verbalized a deep anguish,” said Metzger.
“The divine being who created us is the one that has formed the language of the heart and can whisper the words of nurture to our souls,” said the reverend before reciting a prayer.
“Reassure us this evening, repair us, restore us. We pray for a society where common love prevents isolated loneliness,” he said. “Please heal the injured and grant comfort to the hearts that are aggrieved.”
A Hindu priest, who is also a Toronto police officer, led the crowd through a collective “Om” chant, and then recited a prayer.
Speakers urged the public to donate to the #TorontoStrongFund, a campaign launched to raise money for the victims and their families, as well as others impacted by the tragedy. So far, it has raised $1.8 million.