The Arrest of Bruce McArthur Will Not Save Toronto Police’s Relationship to 2SLGBTQ+ Community
TPS relationship with Toronto’s 2SLGBTQ+ community still strained following series of mishandled investigations
Content Note: Discussion of violent crimes and police relations
On Jan. 18, 2018, Toronto Police Services (TPS) arrested and charged 66 year-old Bruce McArthur in the murders of two missing Toronto men. Evidence found in the investigation after his arrest connected him to at least six homicides. The remains of Andrew Kinsman, Selim Esen, Skandaraj Navaratnam, Majeed Kayhan, Soroush Mahmudi, and Dean Lisowick were found on properties connected to McArthur and his landscaping business. However, on Feb. 27, 2018, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders made comments about the investigation that have come under harsh criticism.
“I’ve heard a lot of sources say certain things, and had those sources said those things when we had Project Houston, I think there is a very strong potential that the outcome could have been different,” Chief Saunders told the Globe and Mail. Project Houston was the original taskforce into the 2010–2012 disappearances of Skandaraj “Skanda” Navaratnam, Abdulbasir “Basir” Faizi, and Majeed Kayhan.
While Chief Saunders did follow-up with an apology hours later and released the audio recording of the interview to prove that his words were taken out of context, Toronto’s 2SLGBTQ+ community was more than upset. Even Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam was concerned with the headline. She told the CBC, “I find it rather difficult to understand why he may be blaming the community and I hope it’s just a distorted headline.”
These comments are even more disturbing after publications like the Toronto Star were reporting that the missing men from the Project Prism investigation — a second taskforce dedicated to looking into the disappearances of Kinsmen and Esen — were leading “double lives.”
“The number two reason for heterosexual relationships to end up in divorce is infidelity and cheating,” Haran Vijayanathan told Nuance over the phone. Vijayanathan is the Executive Director of the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention (ASAAP). “So heterosexual people live a double life, homosexual people live a double life, everybody lives a double life. So that is not a guise for not searching.”
McArthur’s arrest came just over a month after the police announced that they had no evidence of a serial killer active in the Village or that there was a connection between either disappearances. In a report from Global News, it was revealed that McArthur was under investigation since October 2017.
McArthur is a self-employed landscaper known to frequent Toronto’s Gay Village. He was also active on several dating and social media apps, and it is now known that McArthur had been involved in a sexual relationship with Kinsman. Several properties have been searched in connection to the homicides, including his Thorncliffe apartment and properties that he has worked on. McArthur was connected to Kinsman and Esen through traces of blood found in a vehicle that he had sold to an auto parts shop in the fall of 2017.
But even more information is coming out about the investigation before McArthur’s arrest, and that information is shaking the community. After his arrest, McArthur’s Facebook profile revealed that he was Facebook friends with Navaratnam, the first of the men to go missing from the Church-Wellesley neighbourhood beginning in 2010. And according to Xtra, Navaratnam formerly dated McArthur and was fearful of McArthur’s violent temper after they stopped seeing each other.
Navaratnam’s disappearance was as part of Project Houston. The investigations did not turn up any leads into their whereabouts despite their digital connection. Neither did McArthur’s prior assault charge from 2001. McArthur was barred from the area including and surrounding the Village as part of his sentence.
Another witness claims that there was also a connection between Bruce McArthur and Kayhan, one of his victims, that was known to police. According to a man, whose identity was protected by CTV on W5, he said that he saw Kayhan with McArthur and had reported it to the police after his disappearance in 2012. A friend of Kayhan’s also told the Globe and Mail that he recommended TPS look into Bruce McArthur after he was interviewed by police in 2013.
Even as late as 2016, another man reported to TPS that McArthur tried to choke him during a sexual encounter. A friend of this man, Geoff Davis told the Globe and Mail that the man had connected with McArthur through a dating app and after the incident had gone to the police. A source with police knowledge also told the Globe that McArthur claimed that he was the one attacked and so charges were never laid.
On Jan. 24, 2018, ASAAP released a statement calling on TPS to repair their relationship with the South Asian and Middle Eastern LGBTQ+ community. Speaking as a representative for the community, ASAAP is calling for an internal and external review of how TPS conducted their investigations of the missing persons involved.
“If [the officers in Project Houston] did extensive online searches and talking to witnesses, the evidence was there that there was that connection, why wasn’t that followed up on?” said Vijayanathan. “So that’s why we asked for the inquiry, because there’s a lot of things that are just not adding up, and that’s why we said racism is clearly a part of this conversation.”
Vijayanathan said that they don’t just want to have TPS investigated, but to use the results in order to further the education and training that TPS goes under to work with marginalized communities.
This sentiment was echoed further through the community. After ASAAP released their statement, Queers Crash the Beat released a statement of support urging TPS to follow through on ASAAP’s demands for an inquiry.
“We were alarmed to learn that the police moved in to arrest McArthur only once they saw a man enter his premises. Are the police again using community members as bait to catch a violent serial predator?” included the statement. “Were the cops further endangering our vulnerable community members in their effort to catch McArthur? We demand accountability.”
On March 7, 2018, Mayor John Tory released a statement supporting ASAAP’s demands. Tory has already moved a motion at the Police Services Board calling for an internal review, which he said is already under way. He also said that he is going to move a motion for an external review as per ASAAP’s demands.
The relationship between Toronto police and the 2SLGBTQ+ community has already faced a lot of strain. Controversy flared when the Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter stopped the 2016 Toronto Pride parade in protest of the inclusion of uniformed officers, stemming from its history of discrimination and violence against the queer community. In November 2016, the police were criticized for Project Marie, an undercover sting operation that targeted a popular cruising area for gay men in Etobicoke.
The urgency of the investigations into Kinsman’s and Esen’s disappearances was amplified by the discovery of the bodies of two missing Toronto women who were last seen in the Church-Wellesley area. Alloura Wells was a transgender woman who was reported missing on Nov. 6, 2017, although she was had not been seen since July 2017. Wells’ body had been discovered in early August but was not identified until Nov. 30, 2017 because of the state of decomposition. An official cause of death has not been identified because of the state she was found. In December, Wells’ boyfriend was considered a person of interest in the case. No more information about the case has been reported since.
While the investigation into Wells death was taking place, another Toronto woman went missing on Nov. 25, 2017. Tess Richey was a 22 year old who was last seen in the Church and Wellesley area. TPS was once again under criticisms when it took until Richey’s mother drove down from North Bay, Ontario, to discover her daughter’s body. Richey’s mother found her remains just doors from the location she was last seen.
Initially the coroner’s office reported that Richey died from neck compression and her death was ruled accidental, however it was later ruled a homicide. In December 2017, TPS released photos of a man who was with Richey when she was last seen and is suspected in connection to her death. New information has been revealed from a witness regarding Richey’s last hours. On Feb. 5, 2018, 21 year old Kalen Schlatter was finally arrested for the second-degree murder of Richey.
McArthur’s arrest has not alleviated the tension between Toronto Police Services and Toronto’s queer community. Volunteers who worked alongside Kinsman Alphonso King and John Allan criticized TPS for waiting until a white man had gone missing to take the investigation seriously, while several Middle Eastern men remained and still remain missing. King also criticized TPS for focusing heavily on being included in the Pride parade while allowing cases such as these to slip beneath their radar.
“If they so badly want to be a part of our parade and all of those things, then they actually have to work with us and be with us. It can’t be a photo op. We are not a photo op,” King said outside of the courthouse.
It isn’t hard to imagine why the 2SLGBTQ+ community is troubled and doesn’t feel safe when institutions like Toronto Police Services have been focusing more on combating criticism of their investigations than they are on preventing further violence from happening to our communities.
2SLGBTQ+: a variation on the LGBTQ acronym that aims to recenter Two-Spirit Indigenous folks who have had their identities erased by colonial education