Police plan to avoid repeat of violence at Toronto beach this Canada Day

In-person fireworks displays for Canada Day are back in Toronto this year and police say they have a "robust" plan and “a variety of resources” to ensure public safety, after violent incidents broke out at Woodbine Beach over the Victoria Day long weekend.

The city says Toronto police will continue to respond to public safety issues in parks and beaches during this Canada Day weekend, as thousands of spectators are expected to attend various city parks to watch fireworks.

Police are also expected to be in full force at Ashbridges Bay Park, in Toronto’s Beach neighbourhood, this weekend after people were shot, stabbed and robbed at gunpoint at the park on May 22, the night before Victoria Day.

Seven police officers were also injured that evening, with one breaking a leg in pursuit of a shooting suspect, and others struck by multiple fireworks.

A total of 19 people were arrested and charged for the incidents, including 10 minors. The charges laid included common nuisance, assaulting a peace officer with a weapon and robbery.

In anticipation of a busy weekend at Ashbridges Bay and other city parks hosting fireworks, the city says there is a plan to ensure public safety.

“There is a policing operation in place for Ashbridges Bay and a variety of resources will be in the area to ensure everyone can enjoy the beach safely. City bylaw enforcement officers will also be present to monitor busy parks and beaches, and to respond to issues as required,” city staff said in a statement.

Toronto police say the city will have a number of city cameras set up at parks and police will be wearing body cameras, and will have the ability to “mobilize cameras” for investigative purposes if there is any criminal activity.

“We want to assure residents and visitors that public safety is our top priority. We have a variety of resources that will be in the area to ensure everyone can enjoy the event safely. The service will continue to respond to public safety issues in parks and beaches during the Canada Day long weekend,” police said in a statement.

At a news conference on Thursday, Const. Alex Li said police are expecting large crowds along the waterfront for the long weekend. He noted that Toronto police has a "robust policing plan" in place.

"While we can't go into specifics about our operational plans, we want the public to know that there will be a visible police presence and a variety of resources. We will be in the area to ensure everyone enjoys the weekend safely," Li said.

Li reminded that possessing and lighting personal fireworks in city parks and beaches are not permitted and warned that any reckless behaviour involving fireworks, including using them as weapons against the public and officers, will not be tolerated.

"Arrests will be made and charges will be laid where appropriate," he said.

Mayor John Tory says there should be “zero tolerance” for people who engage in “reckless, irresponsible acts.”

“There were no incidents if you recall on Victoria Day itself. The problems were on the preceding days of the weekend, where people, for reasons best known to them, decided to come and cause trouble on our beaches,” Tory told reporters at an event on Tuesday.

“And so I can tell you that the police have learned from those kinds of experiences. They will operationalize their own plan to make sure people are kept safe. I think certainly the chief has my full support in making sure that anybody who's engaged in that kind of act is brought to justice and dealt with because it is just not something that is acceptable in a city like this or anywhere.”

Ward 19 Councillor Brad Bradford, who represented the Beach neighbourhood, says he spoke with police about local residents’ concerns with safety and was reassured that city and police resources will be allocated to the area.

“I sat down with Chief (James) Ramer to reiterate the experiences and requests I've been hearing from residents in the area. The Chief and his team understand how important this long weekend is to so many – and they'll be continuing to do everything they can to ensure folks safely and responsibly enjoy the Beach,” Bradford said in a statement to CP24.com.

A local police community liaison and neighbourhood watch representative says she’s not concerned about violence occurring in the Beach specifically during this weekend’s fireworks display, but about unplanned events that may result in violence.

“It wasn't the planned city events that we were having difficulty with…But what happened on the May 24 weekend was an unplanned social media event. So, our city-planned events don't seem to cause a lot of problems like this,” Cindy Cass told CP24.com.

Cass has been in talks with the local police division and says that community members have suggested rerouting certain TTC routes and putting up more barricades around the park to keep crowds out of residential areas.

Cass also stressed the importance of a neighbourhood watch program in all communities for crime prevention.

“By knowing your neighbours, by producing events within your own little community you become familiar with your neighbours, you know who they are, you can recognize suspicious activity that's going on.”

The city will also be hosting fireworks at Stan Wadlow Park, Milliken Park and Mel Lastman Square tomorrow.

Fireworks will not occur at Centennial Park as the Rotary Club Ribfest event has been postponed this year.

All fireworks displays at city parks will begin at 10 p.m.

For residents who would rather avoid the crowds on Canada Day, they can host their own fireworks, without a permit, on their private property until 11 p.m.

“Fireworks are not permitted in city parks or on beaches, balconies, streets, parking lots or a property not owned by the person setting off the fireworks. Only adults 18 years of age or older should supervise or set off fireworks,” staff said.

Police say there will also be several demonstrations across the city this long weekend.

"Toronto has seen countless protests over the last two years. And our role is always to ensure public safety. We will monitor the situation and where we are required. We will attend to ensure the safety of those involved and to the wider public," Const. Li said.

When asked whether police have heard anything about a convoy protest in the city, Li said he cannot go into specifics about the planned demonstrations but reiterated that all will be "treated as per usual."

In the nation's capital, officials are bracing for possible convoy protests on Canada Day.

"We have plans in place to adapt to a changing environment if needed," Li said. "We will continue to monitor each situation individually."