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Man arrested after threats to Toronto mayoral candidates cause debate cancellation

Toronto mayoral candidates Josh Matlow, left to right, Olivia Chow, Mitzie Hunter, Brad Bradford, Mark Saunders and Ana Bailao take the stage at a mayoral debate in Scarborough, Ont. on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. A leading Toronto mayoral candidate has paused public events and another has closed his campaign office after a man allegedly threatened to shoot those running in the election. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Toronto police say they have arrested a suspect after a man allegedly threatened to shoot mayoral candidates, which prompted a debate to be cancelled and some leading contenders to pause their campaigns.

Police say a 29-year-old man from Toronto is in custody. They say investigators are also aware of an online threat and believe it's linked to the same person.

Police say they were called to the area of Mortimer and Greenwood avenues in the city's east end around 10:45 a.m. Thursday. Police say a man "entered a location," allegedly threatened to shoot mayoral candidates and then brandished what looked to be a gun. 

Police said it was a "blanket threat," not naming any specific candidate, and provided no further details about the location. The man was considered armed and dangerous, police said. 

OCAD University said a debate to be hosted Thursday night at the school's downtown auditorium was cancelled. Several candidates had withdrawn, including Brad Bradford, Josh Matlow and ex-police chief Mark Saunders.

Olivia Chow, Chloe Brown and Mitzie Hunter were also set to attend and Ana Bailão had previously pulled out of the debate over a scheduling conflict. 

There were no reported injuries and several candidates issued statements saying they, along with their teams and families, were safe.

"Debates are a very important part of our local democracy and we will work closely with organizers, and the other campaigns, reschedule at the earliest opportunity and when it is safe to do so," Matlow said in a social media statement. 

Bradford said his campaign was pausing activities and Matlow said he would close his campaign office until the suspect was caught. Saunders' team said it was going to change how it shared location information ahead of campaign events. 

Hunter said "out of an abundance of caution" she would suspend her campaign activities and reassess on Friday. 

In a statement Thursday evening, Bailão said she had been made aware of the threats earlier in the day.

"Police were clear I could continue going about my day," she said. "I will continue all my campaign activities because I will never be intimidated as a candidate or as your mayor." 

Thursday's debate was co-organized by the North Toronto Residents' Association and the Federation of South Toronto Residents' Association. 

"It is a gut punch to the 14 to 18 individuals who have been planning this since the beginning of April," said Don Young, co-chair of the event steering committee. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2023.

The Canadian Press

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