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Bruce Arthur: Toronto responds like a champion when celebration turns to chaos

Toronto Star logo Toronto Star 2019-06-18 Bruce Arthur - Sports Columnist
a group of people standing next to a woman: A chaotic scene during Monday’s Raptors rally at Nathan Phillips Square turned celebration to tears for some rally-goers. © Rick Madonik A chaotic scene during Monday’s Raptors rally at Nathan Phillips Square turned celebration to tears for some rally-goers.

It was already a bit of a mess. There were so many people. The concrete city hall arches weren’t secured, and some brave idiots clambered up and danced on top, with no fear of falling. The video and audio on the big screens in and around Nathan Phillips Square didn’t work, so people stood shoulder to shoulder and baked in the sun and cheered other occasional dangerous climbing stunts, or fireworks, or purple and red flares. There wasn’t enough water, and some people passed out and had to be dragged from the square. Cops couldn’t get in; people had trouble getting out. God, they were patient in there.

Across town, the Toronto Raptors parade buses were sent down a route with no barriers, as narrow as a Tour de France ascent through a madding crowd. By the time they reached city hall, they were three hours late. They used to joke in this town — in other towns, more, making fun of the Leafs — Plan The Parade. Turns out it can be harder than it looks.

And then came the Raptors, the conquering heroes, a reward. The politicians showed up too, and Doug Ford was given the righteously vicious booing he deserved. The crowd roared for their guys, for the champs. So many people were there, full of collective joy and purpose. A group combined to lift people out of the crowd on the east side, onto a ramp: children, people in distress, two people in wheelchairs. They lifted them above their heads and the hot, bored crowd cheered them afterwards. Despite everything, it could be a wonderful day.

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Owner Larry Tanenbaum was talking when the people started running. When a crowd runs it lurches like an animal, desperate, and they lurched from the southeast corner of the square. Some tried to run up to the concrete catwalk where the media were working, and were stopped by police and security. The panic spread. Someone was down. “Four shots,” said a witness.

“Every possession, every basket, every steal, every block … They never gave up. Because our Raptors never give up,” said Tanenbaum, in what must have been one of the great moment of his successful and illustrious life. “The Raptors united an entire country with 50 Jurassic Parks. Nobody has ever done that before.”

In the crowd people yelled “Gun, gun, he’s got a gun” and ran. On the southwest corner, lawyer Michael Paris was in the crowd. People were hot and testy, and suddenly he heard a rumble and people screaming and falling and he was pushed back, like he was up to his shoulders in a wave. He repeated fire drills in his head: stay calm.

“I’m thinking, it could be fireworks,” Paris said. “Some people were saying the wood platform planks collapsed over the fountain. But you also think (about the Toronto van attack of 2018).

He said, “And I shamefully tried to shield my face or get behind someone in case it’s bullets.”

Also watch: Highlights from the Raptors parade (Provided by CityNews)

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It wasn’t shameful. Paris realized he didn’t have his wallet and keys, because they were in his bag and he’d been separated from the bag in the wave. He looked, and a man was holding it up. The man’s name was Nicholas. He had picked up two other bags and was looking for their owners, too.

On the catwalk, police officers yelled “Get down” on the catwalk and the TV people and the Raptors staffers and a lot of kids — a surprising number of kids — got down. A police officer ran and yelled “Medic” to the three paramedics standing by the corner. He sent them down the stairs.

On the stage, the speeches continued. Matt Devlin, Toronto’s play-by-play man and rally emcee, heard through the earpiece that there was an emergency. He was told: Cut Larry off, talk to the crowd, tell them there’s a situation. Keep it cool.

“I was so focused in on the moment of just trying to make sure everybody stayed calm,” Devlin told the Star. “I think there was a question of what is going on. When you’re up there, you’re trying to speak from the heart and make sure the situation doesn’t escalate. At that point, I’m not thinking of anything other than, you want to convey a message (that) will keep the situation as calm as possible.”

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Devlin kept people calm. Devlin did a hell of a job.

The cops were still yelling “Get down” and more people were running. On James St. a block to the east; out of 483 Bay, right there; then out of the Eaton Centre, a block east down Albert St. Police officers, of course, ran in.

On the stage, Nick Nurse was hoarse. The crowd had chanted “box and one” earlier, in reference to the gimmicky, grade-school defence the Raptors coach had successful hauled out in the NBA Finals, of all places. He yelled, “Bono said: ‘The world needs more Canada.’ The world just got it.”

Justin Trudeau was still on the stage; Ford was still on the stage; the mayor was still on the stage. There was yellow crime tape at Queen and Bay. The cops might have recovered the two firearms by then, or taken the three people into custody, and maybe the paramedics were trying to help the injured by then. Maybe that happened later. It happened, though.

There are too many guns in this city. There are so many good people, too, who help each other out, always. On Monday so many people together were patient, worked together, stood shoulder to shoulder, helped each other out. That’s Toronto. Champs.

With files from Dave Feschuk

Bruce Arthur is a Toronto-based sports columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @bruce_arthur

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