The heads of two prominent first responder unions in the city are voicing concern about how a situation involving a baby suffering a fatal medical episode at the Toronto Raptors championship parade was handled.
Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack told Global News officers have expressed concern with what they said was “poor planning” and a “lack of support” for the event which took place June 17.
Global News has learned from multiple sources that a baby suffered a medical episode during the event and that due to the large number of people, it was difficult for emergency services to get to them.
Sources told Global News the baby was being breastfed by its mother along the parade route on University Avenue at Front Street when it became unresponsive.
Toronto police media relations officer Caroline de Kloet confirmed to Global News that approximately around 1:30 p.m., that police responded to a medical complaint in the area of University Avenue and York Street.
A source said the mother alerted two paramedics who flagged down officers who then had to force their way through the crowd to get to the infant.
According to de Kloet, police rushed the baby to hospital along with paramedics. It is alleged that they traveled in a police cruiser, instead of an ambulance.
Mike Merriman, the paramedic and EMS unit chair for CUPE Local 416, confirmed to Global News the paramedics who initially helped the woman were honour guards, which are former paramedics and/or volunteers. He said they are receiving counselling.
He also confirmed the baby later died.
Merriman said, in comparison, paramedics have more resources at Caribbean Carnival’s Grande Parade every year than they did at the parade.
He called the event a “total disaster” and added that another person at the parade suffered cardiac arrest and it took paramedics an hour to get them to the hospital.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, sources in Toronto’s emergency response community said there was concern from first responders involved as to how difficult it was to not only get to the infant and mother but to then get them to the hospital.
Furthermore, McCormack said Chief Mark Saunders potentially rejected offers of help for the parade from other police services in the GTA.
WATCH: Chief Mark Saunders denies report police turned down help for Raptors parade
When asked by Global News about whether Toronto denied offers of help from other neighbouring police forces Saunders said, “I don’t recall turning down resources.”
“We had over 525 resources that were there,” he said. “What you saw in the public was not all the resources we had that were available. And I’m certainly not going to draw two million officers because that’s just not going to be possible.”
Saunders said the feedback he received from many officers was that they had a positive experience.
“Yes, it was taxing, but how the men and women from the Toronto Police Service acted was how I expected them to be. To be professional, to be courteous, to deal with the circumstances to the best of their ability and they did a fantastic job.”
He said there were issues of hydration and other factors and that they were “working with the city and other agencies to look at best practices going forward.”
“I look forward to figuring out what we need to do to get it better. But overall, my men and woman did a fantastic job,” he said.
McCormack said there will be a meeting with Saunders Friday morning to discuss the issues.
In a joint statement by Toronto police, the City of Toronto, and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Thursday evening, officials acknowledged the infant’s death, but disputed some of unions’ claims.
“At approximately 1:30 p.m., the mother noticed her child was suddenly unresponsive and called out for help. Paramedics began attending to the infant,” the statement read.
“A radio call went out for a medical distress and a nearby Toronto Police SUV with two Toronto Police Service employees including an officer and a civilian arrived and rushed the paramedics and the infant to hospital, arriving in 6 minutes … Reports that neither medics nor police could get to the baby are unfounded. The infant arrived at hospital in 6 minutes from the police arriving at the scene.”
The statement also said the infant regained vital signs that afternoon, but passed away on June 19.
While the exact number of parade attendees was never provided, city officials estimated over two million people were on-hand to watch the celebration, which took over five hours to complete rather than the planned three.
Mayor John Tory told Global News he only learned of the incident Thursday and called the event a “terrible tragedy.”
He said the situation only “underlines and increases” his own determination to see that the review he called for earlier looks at every aspect of the parade. The City of Toronto said it will review the way it plans for future championship parades.
“The parade was supposed to be a joyous occasion but the success of it put a huge strain and caused significant risk and I think we’re going to have to find ways to do it better going forward,” he said, adding the review will look at the resources used, the amount on hand and how it all compares to other large events the city has pulled off in the past, such as the Caribbean Carnival.
Tory said he would be reaching out to the family.
Overcrowding became an issue early in the day, as officials were forced to close down Nathan Phillips Square – where the parade route ended- at around noon due to it being overcapacity.
Several fans climbed the arches at NPS to get a better vantage point. The festivities were put on pause while officials went on the loudspeaker to tell them to get down due to safety concerns.
City of Toronto spokesperson Brad Ross told Global News at the time several people suffered from heat stroke but were treated by paramedics.
Fire district chief Stephan Powell said firefighters dealt with about a dozen calls for dehydration in the packed NPS.
The ramp to city hall was blocked off, but police were lifting people who want to leave up and over the wall. Emergency services set up a medical post at the intersection on bay Street, south of Dundas Street and just east of City Hall. They asked if anyone is feeling unwell, to look for the parked ambulance to get medical help.
Four people were also shot near NPS at around 3:45 p.m., moments after the Raptors took to the stage alongside political leaders Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier Doug Ford and Tory.
Police are still searching for a person of interest in connection with the shooting.