On April 23, the lives of Torontonians changed. Just before 1:30 p.m., the unthinkable happened.
A man drove a rented van 16 blocks down Yonge St., deliberately targeting people on the sidewalk and in intersections. Ten people were killed, 16 others were injured.
The man behind the wheel was Alek Minassian. He is currently in custody, charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder.
Since the attack, an outpouring of support has taken place, from funds being raised for the victims and their families, to a growing memorial at Mel Lastman Square, which is one of the four locations where people were targeted.
But despite the horrific loss, there is incredible strength and determination.
“We are taking a peaceful action in the face of violence,” Rebecca Levan tells Global News.
Levan is organizing a walk on May 1, at Mel Lastman Square to honour the victims of the van attack and to help take back the city. Levan says the walk will start at the square, but more symbolically it will walk north on Yonge St., away from where the attack took place, away from the violence.
Levan has named the event the “One to One Hundred Walk.”
“Every time there is a person committing an act of violence, there will always be 100 people committed to acts of kindness, help, and support,” said Levan. “I started picturing 100 people walking against such an attack, to walk in deliberate opposition to an attack.
“I thought if I can present that image to my son and my community, that’s what I can do to help.”
Faizan Jamal came to Canada in 2017 from Dubai. He says Canada has welcomed him with open arms and he was not going to allow what happened on April 23 to weaken the city he now calls home.
Jamal is a marathon runner. On May 6, he will be running the Toronto Marathon. Its start line is at a well-known landmark: Mel Lastman Square.
Jamal tells Global News that in light of the attack, he along with several other runners will be dedicating their runs to the victims.
“When I saw a hashtag on twitter that said #TorontoStrong, my mind immediately went to #BostonStrong from 2013″ said Jamal.
“Rather than the knee-jerk reaction of being divisive, they all came together. We all came together. We said no, this is not us. We are all about love, we are all about respect, we are all about dignity and this is not going to break us apart.”
Jamal started running around four years ago when his son was born, to help him quit smoking and start living a healthier lifestyle. Toronto will be his fifth marathon and his first one on Canadian soil.
“This is just a very small way to pay our respect to this amazing city, the people and what it represents. We are in this together,” Jamal told Global News.
“Being respectful, being loving, being more compassionate, being more kind in this hour of grief is what will bind us stronger. This is home and I just want to say thank you to the amazing people of Toronto, to Canada in general for helping us make this city our home.”
Meanwhile, Levan says the walk she is organizing for May 1, will carry a significant lesson for her children, especially for her nine-year-old son. She says she hopes it will help teach him dignity and respect.
“He is going to be a man in this society one day and I need him to understand his role. And his role is to use his privilege to explore issues that are important to other people.
“I want him to move in opposition to self-interest. I want him to move in opposition to the status quo for men. He took the news of this attack relatively calmly and I am not sure he understands,” added Levan.
“My goal is to make sure he understands it, help him realize what he can do as both a young boy and eventually man in this world.”