Even in campus environment that’s considered safe, students should exercise caution: Ryerson Security
Verlaine Prado knew that if she wanted to end up in Toronto in the long run, it would be in her best interest to attend a downtown school, as this would allow her to create the connections needed to pursue her desired career.
“I didn’t want to start my career in a city that I didn’t really know,” Prado said. “I figured my undergrad was a good time to get out of the house, try to figure out things on my own and gain independence.”
Prado is not alone in wanting to get the most out of her education by attending a school with a prime location. Many students are drawn to Ryerson University because of its downtown location which may offer considerable opportunities for their futures.
But for some, moving to the big city also means being exposed to things that make them concerned about their personal safety.
Raised as the youngest daughter of Filipino immigrants, Prado, who is now a third-year-bio-physics student, lived what she describes as a “bubble-wrapped” life.
“My parents were pretty strict immigrant parents,” Prado said. “They always wanted to know where we were or they were always with us. We would just stay at home most of the time, so when I told them I wanted to go to school and move to Toronto, they were not too happy.”
Growing up, Prado attended church regularly and took part in a children’s choir, but she says that despite having traditionally strict parents, her childhood was “amazing.”
She was raised in Hamilton, which she says made a move to Toronto not seem like a major life change.
However, no amount of stranger-danger talks from Prado’s parents could prepare her for what was to happen.
It was a hot summer afternoon in Kensington Market and Prado was on her way home with hands full of groceries and headphones securely in her ears. She lives behind Toronto Western Hospital and has always felt safe with the amount of security present.
“I made it to the front of my house and there was a guy standing in front of the gate,” Prado said. “I can see that he is trying to talk to me because he is trying to make eye contact and he’s moving his mouth, so I paused my music and realized he was asking if I wanted any help with my groceries. I shook my head and replied ‘no.’”
Prado instinctively turned off her music — something she does anytime she feels uncomfortable — as she made her way to her front door.
“I started to walk up the steps to my house with my headphones in, but no music playing so he might have thought that I couldn’t hear him,” Prado said. “So, while on my porch trying to unlock the door, this guy opens the gate on my front lawn, and runs up the stairs. Once I realized what he was doing I tried to unlock the door as quickly as possible. The minute I unlocked it I step in and slammed the door shut. When I closed the door, he had just finished climbing the stairs so he was maybe a metre and a half away from the door.”
Shaken from what had just happened, Prado ran into her room and called her boyfriend and then her sister.
The man waited on the porch for a few minutes before eventually leaving the property.
Prado had done everything right to keep herself safe, according to Ryerson’s manager of crime prevention and community engagement, Mike Hollands.
Hollands says being aware of and alert to your surroundings by decreasing distractions, such as loud music or walking while texting, is a good step in prioritizing personal safety.
This incident shifted Prado’s perspective on some of the risks associated with being downtown. Although she knows the majority of the population on the Ryerson campus are students, because of how easily accessible the campus is she stays alert while travelling — especially when it comes to her belongings.
Hollands says the university has unique characteristics because of its downtown location. As such the community safety and security department analyzes trends of incidents reported to it and regularly review safety policies and procedures, all with the aim to enhance safety and security on campus.
There are several programs and services offered at the school including: personal safety planning sessions, a walk safe program, self-defence classes and a program called “Get out. Hide. Fight.” Hollands also offers some tips if students ever find themselves in an unsafe situation.
“In the rare case that you face an active attacker or witness an active threat situation in progress, our advice is to get away as quickly as possible,” Hollands said. “If you’re in an open area, look for your nearest, safest escape and get away as quickly as you can. Keep solid structural objects between you and the attacker and get as far away from them as possible. If it is safe to do so, call 911.”
One of the issues with safety at Ryerson is that the campus is so spread out. For example, the Ted Rogers School of Management, TRSM, is located on Dundas and is connected to the Eaton Centre. Additionally, students at Ryerson may even take a class inside one of the movie theatres at Yonge-Dundas Square.
Andrew Yim has been working in the Eaton Centre for two years and knows first-hand the dangers that come with being in the downtown core. In 2018, the Danforth shooting shook Torontonians. Two people were killed and 13 injured when a man opened fire on pedestrians and on people in street-side restaurants. Yim described feeling particularly terrified that day.
After walking in the Danforth area on a warm summer day, Yim and his friends went into a Greek restaurant and requested to be seated on the patio, to enjoy the weather. Little did they know that the serene calmness of the day was only going to turn into a dark storm that they would never forget.
“While in the middle of eating our food, I heard what I thought was a firework,” Yim said. “But then we heard continuous sounds, followed by people screaming and shouting, so we realized we were in immediate danger. We later on found out that we were about 150 metres away from where the shooting had happened.”
Yim has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and says no matter where he is, there is always a thought in the back of his mind that something terrible could occur. Sitting in a classroom — or a movie theatre, Yim added — tends to create uncontrollable fearful thoughts inside his mind.
The following year, Yim was involved in another scary situation at the Eaton Centre during the Toronto Raptors’ championship parade.
After an NBA championship win for the Raptors, the city of Toronto celebrated with a parade, which later took a turn for the worse after four people were shot near Nathan Phillips Square.
The thousands of people in attendance began to flee the scene, with many of them running into the Eaton Centre.
The scene inside the Eaton Centre was confusing for mall employees, Yim says.
“I was at the back of the store near the registers and I heard screaming, but because it was during the parade, I had heard screaming all day, so I didn’t think much of it,” Yim said. “However, when we started to see people run, it became clear something bad was happening.”
Yim says he could not believe that the terror he had endured a year prior could be unfolding in front of him yet again.
“While trying to figure out what was going on, I ran to my friend who was also at the Danforth shooting, and we both said to each other, ‘I can’t believe this is happening to us again,’” Yim said. “What were the chances of the same thing happening to me again, in Toronto.”
Juliet Hirst was also working in the Eaton Centre that day and described the event as shocking.
“We didn’t know if there was a shooter in the mall, or if someone was outside shooting the whole crowd or if this was a targeted thing,” Hirst said. “It was scary not knowing what was happening while you hear people screaming from behind closed doors.”
Hirst, a nursing student at McMaster University, is currently doing her placement in downtown Toronto. She says that she is always on edge when walking to and from subway stations.
“I never thought I’d be a part of something like this and it really left its mark on me,” Hirst said. “If I know there is going to be a large crowd downtown, I try my best to actively avoid being there.”
Hollands says that while a major threat to a student’s safety is unlikely to occur while on or off campus, everyone should be aware because that a threat to one’s safety can occur anywhere, at any time.
“Being aware of your surroundings is a key principle of personal safety, no matter where you are.” Hollands said.
“The best advice I can offer to Ryerson students is that each individual can prioritize personal safety by taking simple precautions and suing the services and resources that are available to the Ryerson community.”