Man arrested after threatening to shoot Toronto mayoral candidates, police say

Toronto police have arrested a man who allegedly threatened to shoot mayoral candidates on Tuesday.

Mayoral debate cancelled following threat, several candidates pulled out of event

Six candidates stand at podiums on a stage.
From left to right: Toronto mayoral candidates Ana Bailão, Brad Bradford, Olivia Chow, Mitzie Hunter, Josh Matlow and Mark Saunders at a debate at George Brown College on May 24, 2023. (Nav Rahi/CBC)

Toronto police have arrested a man who allegedly threatened to shoot mayoral candidates on Thursday.

The alleged gun threat was followed by the cancellation of a Toronto mayoral debate on Thursday night. Multiple candidates had pulled out of the event by the time the event was cancelled.

Police say the man is now in custody and that more information will be released on Friday morning.

Earlier on Thursday, three mayoral hopefuls indicated their public campaign activities were disrupted after they learned of the threats.

On Thursday morning, Toronto police responded to a call in East York, where a man allegedly made the threats. No candidates were present at the time and the location was unrelated any candidate appearances, police said.

"The suspect made threatening remarks about shooting mayoral candidates and showed what appeared to be a firearm," Const. Alex Li, spokesperson for the Toronto Police Service said Thursday evening.

Li said the threats were made against "unnamed" mayoral candidates and described them as a "blanket threat."

Police are also looking into an online threat believed to be made by the same person, he said.

Police had said the man was wanted for allegedly threatening bodily harm, carrying a concealed weapon and possession of a dangerous weapon.

Candidates speak out after threat

Candidates Ana Bailão, Brad Bradford, Chloe Brown, Olivia Chow, Josh Matlow and Mitzie Hunter were scheduled to face off in a debate at OCAD University on Thursday night.

But hours before the scheduled debate, the university tweeted it had been cancelled. No reason was provided.

Police said they had not advised candidates to cancel any appearances, but would be present at the debate.

Toronto's top six mayoral candidates are pictured here. From top left to right, Olivia Chow, Ana Bailao and Josh Matlow; and from bottom left to right, Mitzie Hunter, Mark Saunders and Brad Bradford.
Three Toronto mayoral hopefuls, Matlow, Saunders and Bradford, indicated their campaign activities were disrupted on Thursday as police searched for a man who allegedly threatened to shoot several candidates. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

On Thursday afternoon, Josh Matlow announced he would not attend the debate and he said in a tweet that his campaign office will be closed until the suspect was caught. Matlow said he closed his campaign office temporarily.

"It's awful and it's very sad that this is happening in the midst of a really important campaign and a really important election that affects the future of our city," Matlow said.

Mark Saunders also said he wouldn't attend the debate, according to his spokesperson. Saunders said in an interview later that he was told by police that they planned to call all 102 candidates.

"As former police chief, I had to deal with situations like this in the past. But in that capacity, you have access to the tools and skilled investigators and the skill teams and resources necessary to really create the best plan. Under this circumstance I I don't have those privileges or accesses anymore. But my bigger concern really is for my staff."

And Brad Bradford announced in a tweet that he would pause public events until the suspect was apprehended.

"It's disappointing that this is happening, doesn't feel good, but at the end of the day, we've had lots of debates. There will be more to go in the future and there's plenty of time left in this election. Right now, the priority has to be safety," Bradford said.

Olivia Chow, for her part, said in a statement that she was made aware of the verbal threat made against candidates earlier on Thursday.

"Moments like these can be unsettling for people involved in the election. Like you, we are still learning more and I want to assure you that my family, my campaign team and volunteers are safe," Chow said in the statement.

Mitzie Hunter said in a statement that she would be suspending her campaign activities for the rest of the day out of an abundance of caution for volunteers and members of the public. She said she will reassess campaign events on Friday.

"It would have been certainly a wonderful opportunity to connect with people and to speak about the issues of importance in this mayoralty election. And that's where my mind was. But when a threat is made on safety, everything stops because there's nothing more important than public safety and individual safety," she said.

Ana Bailão said she plans to continue all of her campaign activities and that she will not be intimidated. 

"I want to be extremely clear that no threat or intimidation of any kind will ever stop me from taking part in the democratic process and working to represent Toronto residents as their Mayor," Bailão said in a statement.

"Threats against any elected officials or those seeking election are totally unacceptable."

Toronto mayoral candidate Chloe Brown is pictured during the CARP mayoral debate, hosted by Zoomer radio’s Libby Znaimer, in Toronto on Oct. 13, 2022.
Toronto mayoral candidate Chloe Brown is pictured during a debate, hosted by Zoomer radio’s Libby Znaimer, in Toronto on Oct. 13, 2022. The debate occurred during the last municipal election campaign. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Chloe Brown, another candidate, said in a text that she had "no intention" of cancelling public appearances and doesn't believe the threats were directed at her or her team. Brown said she had been allowed to take part in the debate.

"I wish I could debate. I've been frozen out of debates for the last couple of weeks, so this would have been my first opportunity to have been at a large debate with 60 residents associations and someone decided to ruin that," Brown said. "You're going to stop doing politics anytime someone threatens you?"

Brown said she doesn't have the luxury of shutting down her campaign.

"I still have to go out, still have to do my own flyering, be seen, because I don't have the luxury of a machine behind me."

Don Young, co-chair of the event steering committee, said organizers were prepared for a demonstration outside of the debate, but not the threat reported by police.

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," Young said.

With files from The Canadian Press