Police seek help solving Toronto tunnel mystery

Canadian federal police smashed a mafia drug trafficking ring with the arrest of 19 alleged high-ranking members of the Calabrian Ndrangheta criminal organization in a sweep, authorities announced (AFP Photo/Jag Gundu)

Ottawa (AFP) - Toronto's deputy police chief asked for the public's help Tuesday in determining who built a mysterious tunnel near a major sporting venue and a university in Toronto, and why.

A wildlife official was walking through woods near York University and the Rexall Center last month when he spotted a piece of corrugated metal on the ground, lifted it up and found a passageway.

Deputy police chief Mark Saunders said the tunnel was more than six feet (1.8 meters) high, almost three feet (0.9 meters) wide and about 33 feet (10 meters) long, and was hidden in a densely wooded area of the city, "well off the beaten path."

Had it continued, the tunnel would have exited on the other side of a hill overlooking nearby tennis courts and a sports facility that will host the Pan American Games in July.

But it would not have posed a threat to the Games, Saunders insisted, explaining that the tunnel would not have "come up covertly anywhere."

"There is no criminal offense for digging a hole," he told a nationally-televised press conference.

However, authorities would like to understand its purpose in the interests of public safety. "We are just trying to find out who built it, why they built it, (and) what were their intentions," Saunders said.

The second-in-command of Canada's largest city police force described the interior of the tunnel as humid and warm -- before authorities filled it in.

The walls were lined with plywood and reinforced with wood framing. It was lit by an electric generator and a sump pump was used to keep it dry.

Police also found a bucket and pulleys and a wheelbarrow likely used in the dig.

As well, a rosary with a poppy attached was nailed to an inside wall, and discarded food and beverage containers point to someone having used the tunnel over the winter, Saunders said.

National security officials have been alerted but there was no suggestion the tunnel posed a threat.

Officials have been on heightened alert after a recent video by the Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgent group threatened Canada's massive West Edmonton Mall, along with a mall in the United States and a major shopping district in Britain.

Police also dismissed the likelihood they had stumbled upon a covert drug lab.

A forensic investigation of the tunnel's contents, meanwhile, continues.