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‘Love and kindness will win’: Sombre ceremony marks four years since Yonge Street van attack


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‘Love and kindness will win’: Sombre ceremony marks four years since Yonge Street van attack

A sombre poem and impassioned speeches in memory of those injured and killed during the 2018 Yonge Street tragedy were part of a vigil held to mark the fourth anniversary of those impacted by what Mayor John Tory called an “act of senseless violence that was fuelled by toxic misogyny.”

Mayor Tory, who attended Saturday’s commemorative events at Mel Lastman Square alongside Willowdale residents and friends of those impacted, vowed to the families that “we will never forget them,” adding the “effects are lasting and sometimes multi-generational.”

Tory went on to say that it’s important to remember what motivated the attack, in order to maintain vigilance in collective efforts to prevent similar heinous acts in the future.

The mayor also posted a message to his Twitter account noting how the event profoundly impacted first-responders, everyone across the community and reverberated globally. The Toronto sign outside City Hall will be dimmed on Saturday evening in memory of the 11 lives lost and 15 people injured.

“Truly, remarkably, we came together, as a community, on that day and in the days that followed, to make sure it did not break our city’s spirit,” Tory said on Twitter.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, the Yonge Street Tragedy Commemoration Committee hosted the virtual vigil via the We Love Willowdale Facebook page, while a small group including the mayor gathered in person for the memorial.

“We connect to proclaim that darkness, hatred and violence, especially violence against women, is not welcome in our community,” said one of the speakers at Saturday’s event, adding “love and kindness will win.”

The group also read a poem of remembrance that was placed at the memorial at Olive Square Park by an anonymous person. The park is one of the places where a temporary memorial popped up in the days following the attack.

In his Twitter statement, Tory also remembered city long-term-care worker Amaresh Tesfamariam, 65, who this past October died from injuries sustained during the attack.

The Willowdale woman was one of 16 people injured on the afternoon of April 23, 2018, when a man deliberately drove a speeding van through crowds of people walking on the sidewalk on Yonge Street, south of Finch Avenue East.

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Ten others — Ji Hun Kim and So He Chung, both 22; Anne Marie D’Amico, 30; Andrea Bradden, 33; Chul Min (Eddie) Kang, 45; Renuka Amarasingha, 45; Dorothy Sewell, 80; Geraldine (Gerry) Brady, 83; Munir Najjar, 85; and Betty Forsyth, 94 — were killed that day during the attack.

The attack left Tesfamariam paralyzed from the neck down and unable to breathe or speak without the assistance of a ventilator. Her injuries meant she never returned to her home near Mel Lastman Square.

She died on Oct. 28 at Michael Garron Hospital, after three and a half years in hospital. Her death brought the number of those killed in the attack to 11.

Alek Minassian of Richmond Hill, Ont. was convicted last year of 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder in the April 2018 attack.

He faces one sentencing date in June, for one of the counts. The Star has previously reported that the prosecution is waiting to sentence until the Supreme Court of Canada rules on how judges can determine parole eligibility in cases involving multiple murders.

He now faces an automatic life sentence. The court will only determine how long the 28-year-old must wait until he can first apply for parole. A first-degree murder charge comes with a mandatory parole ineligibility period of 25 years, and legislation introduced in 2011 allows a judge to add additional 25-year periods where there are multiple first-degree murders.

The “parole stacking” provision was found unconstitutional by the Quebec Court of Appeal last year.

Cathy Riddell, 71, one of the 15 people injured in the attack, has spoken out about the impact of the delay, telling The Canadian Press she wants to move on.

“I really have had enough, I carried the burden long enough,” Riddell told the wire agency. “I want to move on from it somehow. I want to get my life back on track and if the court isn’t going to help me do that, then I’m going to do it on my own.”

With files from The Canadian Press, Joanna Lavoie and Alyshah Hasham

Jason Miller is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star covering crime and justice in the Peel Region. Reach him on email: [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @millermotionpic

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