Toronto

Fake monk arrested near CN Tower, Toronto police say

Toronto police have arrested a man they say has repeatedly passed himself off as a monk to scam unsuspecting people in downtown Toronto.

51-year-old has history of violating Safe Street Act, police say

Men dressed as monks panhandle near the CN Tower in downtown Toronto. Members of the city's Buddhist community say real monks would never ask for money in public. (John Rieti/CBC)

Toronto police have arrested a man they say has repeatedly passed himself off as a monk to scam unsuspecting people in downtown Toronto.

Police said the 51-year-old suspect had been arrested once a month since May for running afoul of the province's Safe Streets Act and was violating the conditions of his release following an aggressive panhandling charge from the week before.

When he was arrested, police said the suspect was operating in the CN Tower area.  

Police have been warning about the fake monks since June, when officers in downtown's 52 Division said they'd be cracking down on the fraudulent monks who were operating in the Front Street West and Union Station area.

The men dress the part — often wearing robes or shaving their heads — and put small tokens into the hands of passersby, then hassle them for money. 

"Obviously this is a lucrative financial business for them," said Const. Scott Mills, who recently ran into the fake monks.

Previously, when shown footage of the fake monks in action, a Buddhist nun said real monks would never behave that way.

"We never do this," said Venerable Miao Mu.

"I think this is a kind of cheating," she said.

While there are absolutely no laws against Buddhist people accepting donations in public, Mu said real monks only accept donations inside the temple.

Police have issued several warnings about the monks, especially as concerns grow that the men may get physical with their targets.

"If the person reaches out and grabs your hand and you're trying to get away, that's an assault," Mills said.

He said victims of the scam need to come forward in order for police to lay charges.

The accused man is charged with mischief and tampering with property.

He made a brief court appearance on Thursday afternoon. 

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