August 2, 2018 11:49 am
Updated: August 2, 2018 2:42 pm

Residents of Toronto mass shooter’s neighbourhood warned about ‘fringe hate group.’ JDL march called off

Friends, family and members of the public showed up to pay their respects to two young victims of the Danforth shooting. Shallima Maharaj has their story.

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Eleven days after the mass shooting in Toronto, residents of the gunman’s neighbourhood were warned Thursday about a planned visit from a “fringe hate group.”

A notice to residents of Thorncliffe Park said the Jewish Defence League intended to march in the neighbourhood that evening.

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“Based on their past behaviour, it is possible that members of our community may be confronted and provoked by JDL members in an attempt to instigate a response,” an advisory warned residents.

READ MORE: Older brother of Toronto mass shooter was facing drug and weapons charges: court docs

The JDL called off the march hours before it was to take place. JDL leader Meir Weinstein said on Facebook it had been postponed because he had to visit a friend in hospital.

But the head of the local neighborhood association said he was concerned about the impact of conspiracy theories about the shooting coming from groups like the JDL, which has alleged a cover-up of what it calls a “terrorist attack.”

“We are worried about that because it’s really dividing people,” said Ahmed Hussein, executive director of The Neighbourhood Organization.

Among those who had indicated on Facebook they would attend, or were interested in attending, the aborted JDL “fact-finding mission” to Thorncliffe Park were two whose profiles featured photos of military-style rifles, and a self-described Islamophobe and member of the Proud Boys racist group.

Advisory to Thorncliffe Park residents about “fringe hate group.”

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Thorncliffe Park community groups responded by sending safety notices to buildings telling residents to walk in groups of two or three, stay out of alleys and avoid confrontations.

“Our stand is to not really engage them,” said Hussein. Police assured him they would have an increased presence in the neighborhood, he said.

No evidence has yet emerged to fully explain why Faisal Hussain opened fire in Toronto’s Greektown on July 22, killing Reese Fallon, 18, and Julianna Kozis, 10, and injuring 13 others before turning the gun on himself.

Police have said their investigation had not turned up any national security links, and there was no indication a claim of responsibility from the propaganda wing of the so-called Islamic States was credible. Speaking for his family, his brother said Hussain was mentally ill.

READ MORE: Toronto gunman had ‘severe mental health challenges,’ according to family

But far-right groups have tried to capitalize on the lack of a known motive to push an anti-Muslim agenda, with one well-known activist tearing pages from a Koran in a video filmed at the memorial for the victims.

The Southern Poverty Law Centre describes the JDL as a “radical organization” that has “orchestrated countless terrorist attacks” and engaged in “intense harassment” of Muslims and others.

“The JDL is a fringe hate group who the mainstream Jewish community also do not consider representative of their community and disavow,” the Islamic Society of Toronto said in an advisory to Thorncliffe Park residents.

READ MORE: Opposition against Jewish Defence League in Montreal growing

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said it had asked the JDL privately to “reconsider” its plans.

“We and the vast majority in the Jewish community support freedom of assembly but completely reject inflammatory actions,” said Noah Shack, a CIJA vice president. “Whatever the intention, such activities risk undermining the crucial conversations we must have on radicalization, gun violence and mental health.”

“Since learning about this, we have been deeply concerned about the prospect of an altercation. In addition to speaking with police, we have urged the organizers to reconsider their plans.”

WATCH: Anti-Islam protestor thrown into fountain

The Toronto Police Service said it watched for “issues that peripherally arise because of incidents such as the Danforth shooting.”

“We also have been in close contact with our community partners to ensure that any concerns are brought forward and issues of safety and security are addressed,” said Meaghan Gray, a Toronto police spokeswoman.

But she said police would not provide an update on the investigation.

“Our position remains the same: No determination will be made on a motive until we have evidence to support that conclusion.”

Stewart.Bell@globalnews.ca

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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