TORONTO — Droves of jubilant Raptors fans packed downtown Toronto on Monday for a parade for the NBA champions, raising safety concerns as problems with overcrowding persisted.
The parade route ends in a square outside City Hall, where police have begun to lift those seeking safety over barricades to help them escape the crush. A child pulled over a barrier and onto a stretcher was among those evacuated. City officials have prevented any further entry into the square and have shut down several subway stations near the parade due to overcrowding.
Mayor John Tory previously urged every resident to come celebrate the Raptors’ first championship and declared Monday “We The North Day” in Toronto, after the franchise’s slogan.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was scheduled to attend, as was Ontario Premier Doug Ford. Rapper and Toronto native Drake, among the Raptors’ best-known fans, was celebrating alongside the players on one of the parade buses.
Some 1.5 million fans withstood the conditions to attend the parade. Nicolas Caramanna, 21, said the crowd started to get rowdy shortly after he arrived at 9 a.m.
“I’m really hot and tired, but I’m going to stick around,” he said. “When else am I going to get a chance to do this?”
Many others chose to miss school or work. Cypher Sabanal, 15, said his mom let him skip class to attend the celebration.
“I actually have exams this week, but being here is worth it,” he said.
John Moreira called in sick to work so he could be part of Toronto’s first celebration of this magnitude since the Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series in 1993.
“I told my boss I wanted to be at the parade and he said there wasn’t much he could do if I called in sick, so that’s exactly what I did,” the 31-year-old said. “I’m looking forward to seeing the whole team. They all work so hard and deserve all the fans being out here.”
As the parade inched forward — discernibly behind schedule — a number of Raptors could not help but marvel at the fan response.
“It’s been amazing,” star forward Kawhi Leonard said. “Thank you Toronto, thank you Canada for the support, we did it.”
Several fans were seen carrying signs imploring Leonard to re-sign with the Raptors. The two-time Finals MVP will be a free agent this summer.
Star guard Kyle Lowry, the team’s longest-serving member, was seen hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy while his teammates smoked cigars.
“This is unbelievable,” he said.