Police in Canada's biggest city are piecing together witness accounts and surveillance video trying to determine why a driver ploughed a rented van along a crowded footpath, killing 10 people and injuring 15 in what many said seemed a deliberate attack.

A 25-year-old suspect was quickly captured in a tense but brief confrontation with officers a few blocks away from where his van jumped the sidewalk yesterday and continued for more than a mile, leaving people bloodied and dead in his wake. But last night authorities had not disclosed a possible motive or cause even as the police chief agreed with witnesses that it seemed intentional.

"The incident definitely looked deliberate," Police Chief Mark Saunders told reporters.

Saunders said the suspect, Alek Minassian, who lives in the Toronto suburb of Richmond Hill, had not been known to police previously. An online social media profile described him as a college student.

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The brutal incident - which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a "tragic and senseless attack" - was one of the most violent in recent Canadian history.

Toronto police were praised for not opening fire in a tense standoff with the suspect who claimed he was armed.

Video footage shot by a bystander shows police closing in on the suspect who shouts, "Kill me," and points an unidentified object at a policeman.

The officer replies, "No, get down."

When the suspect says, "I have a gun in my pocket," the officer responds: "I don't care. Get down."

The suspect was then arrested without shots being fired.

The tragedy struck as Canada was still recovering from the shock of a highway crash in Saskatchewan earlier this month that killed 16 people on a bus carrying a junior hockey team.

"It was with great sadness that I heard about the tragic and senseless attack that took place in Toronto this afternoon," Trudeau said in a statement. "We should all feel safe walking in our cities and communities."

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Emergency services close Yonge Street in Toronto after a van mounted a sidewalk crashing into a crowd of pedestrians. Photo / AP
Emergency services close Yonge Street in Toronto after a van mounted a sidewalk crashing into a crowd of pedestrians. Photo / AP

Officials played down a possible connection to terrorism, a thought that occurred to many following a series of attacks involving trucks and pedestrians in Europe and the presence in Toronto this week of Cabinet ministers from the G7 nations.

"I can assure the public all our available resources have been brought in to investigate this tragic situation," Toronto Police Services Deputy Chief Peter Yuen said.

The incident occurred as Cabinet ministers from the major industrial countries were gathered in Canada to discuss a range of international issues in the run-up to the G7 meeting near Quebec City in June.

The driver was heading south on busy Yonge Street around 1.30pm local time (5.30am NZT) and the streets were crowded with people when the van jumped onto the sidewalk.

Ali Shaker, who was driving near the van, told Canadian broadcast outlet CP24 that the driver appeared to be moving deliberately through the crowd at more than 50km/h.

"He just went on the sidewalk," a distraught Shaker said. "He just started hitting everybody, man. He hit every single person on the sidewalk. Anybody in his way he would hit."

Witness Peter Kang told CTV News that the driver did not seem to make any effort to stop.

"If it was an accident he would have stopped," Kang said.

"But the person just went through the sidewalk. He could have stopped."

- AP