On Monday afternoon at about 1.30 pm, as the City of Toronto finally began to thaw out from a long winter – as recently as last Thursday it was two degrees Celsius with snow on the ground –  the warm spring day was disrupted with the shocking news that a van had struck several pedestrians at the busy intersection of Yonge Street and Finch Avenue, in the north end of the city.

As the news of the incident spread quickly via television, radio and social media, the city braced itself for what many immediately thought was a terrorist incident. As more information unfolded, the anticipated panicked response was met with uncharacteristic calmness as the city responded to the tragedy in its own unique manner.

It appears that a twenty-five year old man acting on his own had driven a rental van onto the pavement and plowed into pedestrians at random. The ruthless and insane act left ten people dead and fifteen others injured, some critically.  Toronto had joined the growing list of cities which include New York, London, Nice, Barcelona and Stockholm, where the latest choice of weapon of destruction, a motor vehicle – a van in most instances – had been utilised to kill and maim innocent bystanders.

Eyewitnesses’ accounts recall the crazy manner and the insane speed at which the van had been driven along Yonge Street, before it mounted the curb, started picking off victims and sent them flying through the air.

The perpetrator of the incident was captured and taken into custody soon after, by a policeman who refused to be lured into the act of shooting him, despite being taunted by the calls of the driver to “kill me.” The police, of course, cordoned off the surrounding streets and went on high alert.

The horrific act struck at the heart of a city long considered to be one of the safest of the larger North American cities.  The response of the city, the police and the federal government, in avoiding the usage of the term terrorist was noteworthy, especially in the face of very direct questions from the over- zealous media and the rumour mill of the various social media platforms.

Yesterday morning, the driver of the van was arraigned and charged with ten counts of first degree murder and thirteen counts of attempted murder. The police and the city have stated that they will launch an investigation into the tragic event, leaving no stone unturned in an attempt to find out what happened and why. At the time of his court appearance, only one victim had been identified, as the police sought the assistance of the public in identifying the others.

Why? is usually the first question asked when these types of events occur. What’s the possible source or trigger to provoke a human being to unleash such a cowardly act of destruction? Why kill innocent people? The inevitable list of never ending questions that are posed at times like these are repeated again and again, like an old, scratched, overplayed vinyl record.

Based on present information released by authorities, it seems as though the driver acted on his own, and had recently posted some ‘suggestive’ statements on the social media forum of Facebook which have since been removed.  It appears that the issue of mental health might be a factor here.

The challenges presented by a big city like Toronto are many and varied and the state of flux of the accompanying pressures can generate different responses from the cosmopolitan population comprising of people from all over the world. It is hoped that the investigation will reveal that this tragedy was just an isolated incident and its trigger identified, so that a recurrence could be prevented.

Whilst the residents of Toronto mourn this sad incident with flowers and signatures at a memorial set up at the scene, here in Guyana, we must remember that we are our brother’s keeper. As the subject of mental health becomes more and more an everyday issue – the evidence continues to grow in front of our eyes – we, as a nation, have to deal with it.

Mental health can, and most likely, will affect all of us, during the course of our lifetime. Alcohol abuse and depression are two areas that need to be addressed urgently in our society. The government is obligated with the onerous task of seeing that the necessary personnel, programmes, institutions and finances are in place to tackle this growing burden.

We owe it to the next generation to ensure that they are properly informed and aware of the importance of a healthy and sound mind.

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