It was a day of joy and celebration, but there were a number of problems as well.
Organizers of Monday’s parade that celebrated the first ever Raptors NBA championship are hopeful the experience will help them better prepare for such large events in the future.
According to organizers, the nature of the event itself — a massive celebration for the fans — caused many of the problems, as exuberant paradegoers wanted to get close and personal the with players.
Unlike security-type events like the G20 where the objective is to keep people back, this was about allowing people to have fun, with the hope they can remain responsible, said city spokesperson Brad Ross.
“The sheer number of people wanting to get close to the players, to feel part of it,” he said, noting fans were “charging onto the streets” to get up close with the players — something that’s not the case for other parades like Pride or Santa Claus.
As a mammoth crowd of people — believed to be over a million in total, according to city’s conservative estimates — descended downtown to take in the sight of Raptors players bringing the Larry O’Brien trophy to the city, it didn’t take long for problems to arise.
The parade was late — very late — to start, and once it got underway, it was slow. Another problem was the lack of space in Nathan Phillips Square, where at least 100,000 people waited. Paramedics had difficulty removing nearly a dozen people from the crowd and transporting them to the hospital for treatment. No paths had been designated for people to squeeze out to get water or use the washroom.
Now that it’s over, the city and team owner MLSE are optimistic they can learn lessons.
Mayor John Tory told city council Tuesday that the city manager would work with emergency personal, the TTC and sports teams to review the details of the parade and see how it could have been improved.
“Yesterday we saw millions of people come out to celebrate our team and our championship and we saw the best of our city,” Tory said in the council chamber. He thanked the city’s first responders who he said kept the city safe amid the massive event, and acknowledged that a sense of anger still prevails due to the shooting and stabbing incidents.
“Amid the glow of yesterday’s many positive moments, we must also acknowledge this act of violence and ensure that those responsible will face justice,” he said.
In a short statement, MLSE said it would be “conducting debrief sessions with unified command and operations stakeholders to implement appropriate measures for future events of this scale because we look forward to celebrating more championships in Toronto.”
Having enough time to prepare can go a long way in ensuring the success of parades, said Andrew Ricketts, head of public relations for Toronto Caribbean Carnival, the annual festival whose preparations start right after the previous year’s festival is over.
“Attendance is a huge contributing factor for the festival,” he said, calling the Raptors parade “a huge success” given it was prepared in only three days and drew unprecedented crowds.
The crowd that showed up to celebrate the historic championship also brought record numbers for public transit ridership in the city.
According to the TTC, there was approximately a 70 per cent increase in rides compared to a normal Monday. About 2.7 million rides happened — in comparison to about 1.6 million rides for the past few regular Mondays, according to TTC’s preliminary estimates.
“This is a massive one-day bump unlike anything we’ve seen in recent history. Even with events like Pride and Nuit Blanche, we only see increases of 8-10 per cent over regular volumes,” said TTC spokesperson Stuart Green.
Green said the TTC’s plan to divert congested areas of the parade “went very well,” with the exception of a few problems including subway service disruption at Queen and Dundas stations. Overall service was back to normal by 7 p.m., he said.
Metrolinx said they won’t have the final tally of Monday’s ridership across their transit platforms but expect it to be higher than the typical 200,000 customers on a weekday.
“We expect the number to hit a record, likely double or more based on what we saw on GO and UP trains, GO buses, at ticket sales and at stations across our corridors,” said CEO Phil Verster in a statement.
Ross, the city spokesperson, said there will be a number of things to look at that could have made the experience better, such as putting more barricades on both sides of the streets and in the square.
“Nobody is suggesting for a moment that this was perfect,” he said, noting the timeline to pull it at off was fairly tight.
Steve Summerville, a former staff sergeant with the Toronto police, said officials did well, especially considering the magnitude of the event. Police were dealing with so many variables and had little time to prepare for unprecedented crowds — “there were a lot of unknowns,” he said.
Although many people will respond well to police and other officials instructing them to move back to allow the parade to move through, others “want to reach out and touch their heroes.”
“And that creates a slow moving crowd, some of the optics associated to it is you got to go slow, you got to be in mind of public safety and some of your resources cannot be stretched along the parade route waiting for the parade, there’s got to be a mobile security presence,” Summerville said.
With files from Wendy Gillis, Ben Spurr and Jennifer Pagliaro