Three Toronto-area movie theatres evacuated after mystery substance causes coughing fits

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Movie theatres in Vaughan, Brampton and Scarborough were evacuated on Tuesday after an unidentified substance was sprayed in the venues, causing attendees to suffer from coughing fits.

York Regional Police (YRP) were called to Cineplex Vaughan around 9:20 p.m., along with emergency services personnel who treated several moviegoers for exposure to the unknown substance. Police said no serious injuries were reported.

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Roughly 200 people were evacuated from the theatre, which was playing an Indian Hindi-language film at the time.

YRP investigators are working with police partners in the Greater Toronto Area to determine what happened. They have released the images of two suspects who are wanted in connection with the incident.

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According to YRP, two male suspects wearing masks and hoods entered the theatre in Vaughan, walked around spraying the substance and then fled before police arrived.

In a statement to National Post, YRP Sergeant Clint Whitney said while the investigation is ongoing and the substance remains unknown, “initial information suggests it may have been an aerosol-based irritant.”

Police believe there were numerous witnesses present who may be able to assist with the investigation and are asking anyone with information, including video recordings, to contact them as soon as possible.

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The first suspect is described as a 5’10” Black male with a medium build. He was wearing a black sweater, a black jacket with a white logo on the front right side, dark pants with a white stripe and a black toque with a white logo on the front.

The second suspect is described as a 5’8″ male with a light brown skin tone. He was wearing a black sweater with a red logo above white text on the front, dark pants and brown boots. Both suspects wore black masks.

A video shared on Instagram by the account “SafeHomeVaughan” shows a large emergency presence responding to the incident.

The Vaughan incident followed an earlier police response at a movie theatre near Great Lakes Drive and Bovaird Drive in Brampton, where a mystery substance once again caused the theatre to be evacuated around 7:40 p.m.

The third instance occurred around 10:30 p.m. at Scarborough Town Centre and was initially reported as a possible “stink bomb.” That theatre, too, was evacuated.

In June, Cineplex Vaughan was subject to a similar incident after a fight broke out during a screening of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. During the altercation, a man released a noxious substance inside the venue, prompting an evacuation as moviegoers experienced difficulty breathing.

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Several people were also pepper-sprayed in March while watching a movie at Landmark Cinemas in Surrey, B.C. About 30 people were in the theatre, including children, and were treated at the scene.

“This was a disturbing assault on movie theatre patrons that will be fully investigated by police,” Surrey RCMP Cpl. Vanessa Munn told CBC.

In 2021, seven screens at Cineplex theatres in the Toronto area were torn while showing a popular movie in the Malayalam language, Kurup, a crime thriller, prompting the chain to shut down screenings of the film.

Similar incidents have occurred as far back as 2015, including noxious substances being sprayed in crowded theatres that were showing movies from south India.

Distributors alleged that a group of independent cinemas were behind the incidents in an attempt to corner the market on screening of the films, though those allegations were denied.

In 2019, a similar incident occurred at Landmark theatres in Whitby, Ont., during a screening of the Telugu-language Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy. In that case, three suspects slashed screens and released bear spray.

In April 2016, a noxious substance was sprayed into three Cineplex theatres around the Toronto area showing the Tamil-language film Theri, leading the company to stop screening the film.

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