'Not a joke': York police warn of danger of school threats with fake guns

Residents should be aware that police will assume a gun is real when officers respond to any call involving a firearm or a threat to a school, York Regional Police said in a warning on Monday.

Warning comes after a string of threats against schools involving replica guns

York Regional Police are warning residents of the danger of school threats and possession of replica firearms following a string of incidents. (Greg Ross/CBC)

Residents should be aware that police will assume a gun is real when officers respond to any call involving a firearm or a threat to a school, York Regional Police warned on Monday.

"When police respond to any call involving a weapon, the weapon will be treated as real until an investigation can determine otherwise," police said in a statement.

The warning comes after a string of threats against schools involving replica guns.

York police, along with police in Toronto, Durham and Hamilton, have responded to several school threats where a replica firearm, such as a pellet gun, was found after the investigation.

"In the last few weeks we have responded to threats, many of them made on social media sites, that are connected to schools," York police said in a statement.

Arrests were made in most of those cases, but in one incident a couple of days after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Toronto police fatally shot a man who was reported to be walking around in the vicinity of a school with a rifle.

Police discovered afterward that the rifle was actually a pellet gun.

Police said they are encouraging parents to have a conversation with their teens about making threats.

Threats treated as legitimate

"These incidents are not a joke," York police said in a statement. "They result in high levels of fear in our community, the wasting of significant police resources and can result in very serious charges being laid against a suspect, regardless of their age."

Police reminded citizens that when officers respond to a firearm call or threat, they treats it as legitimate. It is only after the investigation that police determine whether a firearm was authentic or a replica.

York police remind the public of the following:

  • Officers have shot people in cases where the suspect's firearm is later determined to have been a replica and the officer has been found to be justified in his or her actions.
  • There is often no way to tell if the weapon is real before an investigation.
  • Replica firearms, air guns, gel guns or toy guns used in the commission of another offence are considered legitimate weapons and those responsible will face significant criminal charges.
  • If you damage property or injure a person or animal by discharging an air gun, you could be subject to criminal charges in addition to civil liability.
  • Residents must seriously consider the risks and responsibilities involved in owning any item that could be perceived as a firearm.
  • For the safety of communities, police strongly discourage the purchase and use of these items in the region.

Here's a list of cases involving suspects with replica guns in the GTA:.

On May 26, a suspect was shot dead by Toronto police after responding to a reports of a man with a rifle near William G. David Junior Public School in Scarborough. An investigation revealed that it was a pellet gun.

On May 27, police in Bowmanville identified a suspect after a social media threat to a school.

On May 30, two teens arrested in Aurora following threats made with fake guns.

On May 31, two teens were charged in two separate pellet gun shootings in Toronto schools.

On May 31, a teenager was arrested after a replica handgun was seized after receiving reports of a male with a gun near an Oakville school.

On June 1, Hamilton police investigated 5 shooting threats in 4 schools which turned out to be pellet guns.

On Monday, several schools in Toronto were placed in lockdown or hold-and-secure briefly following reports of a threat.