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Three charged, guard wounded in attempted Toronto armoured-car heist

Police are shown at the scene of an attempted armoured-car robbery on Avenue Road north of Lawrence Avenue early Thursday morning.

JOHN HANLEY/The Globe and Mail

An armoured car guard was gravely wounded in a daring overnight shootout outside a Toronto bank by three teenaged suspects who police say also attempted to rob the same guard and his partner two weeks ago.

The guard, who was in serious condition after undergoing surgery, was attacked as he left his GardaWorld armoured vehicle at a TD Canada Trust branch on Avenue Road north of Lawrence Avenue about 1:15 a.m. Thursday.

"He was ambushed by three male suspects," Staff Inspector Mike Earl of the Toronto Police holdup squad told reporters. "And when I mean ambushed, he was immediately fired upon with a handgun. He took four rounds to the body."

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The 37-year-old guard returned fire as a suspect continued to shoot at him. In all, more than 10 bullets were discharged in less than a minute, police said, with some lodging in an apartment building across the street.

During the gun battle, the guard's partner remained in the armoured truck in lockdown mode, Staff Insp. Earl said.

The three suspects – who did not manage to steal any money – escaped on foot but were later arrested in the Lawrence Heights area. Officers seized a semi-automatic handgun and believe it was the sole firearm used in the shootout.

Jaden Beckford, Nicholas Cross and Rashid Clarke, all of whom are 18 years old, face a long list of charges, including attempted murder and armed robbery. Mr. Cross is from Toronto; the other two accused have no fixed address.

They also face conspiracy charges related to a similar attempted robbery involving the same two armoured guards on June 5. That incident occurred at 1 a.m., near Lawrence Avenue and Bathurst Street, suggesting that the suspects tracked the company's armoured trucks as guards made cash drops at banks.

"These individuals no doubt planned this and attempted this on an earlier date, in my mind and the investigators' minds," Staff Insp. Earl said.

The suspects have not had previous run-ins with police. They were expected to appear in court later on Thursday.

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GardaWorld said it is co-operating with police, but would not provide any other details about the attempted robbery or its employees. The armoured truck bears the logo of G4S. GardaWorld acquired the company's cash services operations earlier this year.

Spokesman Joe Gavaghan said the company would review the incident to see if its security procedures could be tightened. "We try and learn from these incidents with an eye toward making things more secure for our people and for our clients," he said.

A spokeswoman for TD declined comment.

A security expert said the attempted robbery should be a wake-up call for tougher regulation of the armoured car industry, including mandating three-person crews to better protect guards and the public.

"This is a safety issue," said Paul Carson, a director at Paragon Security who worked as an armoured guard during the early 1990s, when three-man crews were standard. "This is a failure of procurement, this is a failure in risk assessment, this is a failure in health and safety."

Mr. Carson said with a two-guard crew, the driver typically stays in the truck, leaving the so-called messenger to drop off bags of cash unaccompanied.

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"This is a coroner's inquest or a royal commission waiting for a place to happen because you're going to get into a protracted battle like these guys got today … and it could have involved the general public."

Last year, Unifor, the union representing some armoured guards, called on the federal government to strengthen industry regulations, including requiring minimum crew levels in certain cases.

The union urged three-person teams in higher-risk public areas and for night drops at bank machines, among other scenarios. It also urged mandatory bulletproof vests and better firearms training for guards.

"Establishing minimum requirements and levelling the playing field will turn around market competition based on the unacceptable lowering of safety standards," says a report prepared by the union.

The report says there have been more than 70 attacks on armoured cars in Canada since 2000. The most deadly was in Edmonton in 2012, when a guard attacked his co-workers, killing three.

At the scene of the attempted heist on Thursday, police cordoned off a block of Avenue Road, from Fairlawn Avenue to Brookdale Avenue, keeping several businesses closed, including a real-estate office, flower shop and a fur clothing store. Residents on that stretch of the road were unable to get in and out of their homes.

Shannon Snider, who lives a few streets down from the TD bank, said the shooting was unexpected for the neighbourhood. "There has been a lot of break-ins and there have been some home invasions but something like this, no, I wouldn't expect it for this area at all," she said. "Everybody knows each other. … You kind of keep an eye on each other. It's a very affluent neighbourhood."

Jennifer Song was on the computer at her home on Brookdale Avenue just behind the TD bank when she heard what sounded like fireworks. "I can't forget that sound," she said. "I hear fireworks around here a lot, but it kind of sounded different."

It occurred to her that the at least seven "pops" she heard might be the sound of gunshots and after hearing sirens outside her window five minutes later, she ran outside to see police cars and fire trucks along the road.

"I thought it was really safe here and I like walking around outside at night," said Ms. Song, who has lived in the area for nearly five years. "I was going to go outside at night yesterday.

"I'm so glad I didn't."

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