Killings prompt review of Toronto police handling of missing persons cases


TORONTO — How Toronto police handled the cases of men missing from the city’s gay village will undergo some form of external review in light of six murder charges laid against an alleged serial killer, the police oversight board decided on Thursday.

In a motion to the board, Mayor John Tory said a series of “troubling questions” had arisen in light of the killings for which self-employed landscaper Bruce McArthur has been charged.

“The genesis of today’s motion goes back to series of tragic and horrific events that deeply affected all of us in Toronto,” Tory said. “It’s fair to say that the list of unanswered and very troubling questions that have caused a lot of anxiety in the community has grown longer.”

Tory said it was time to get answers to questions around missing-persons reports in an effort to maintain or renew confidence in policing in the city.

Tory’s unanimously approved motion calls for a seven-member working group — which would include three external members — to be set up by April 28 to advise the board by June on the composition and structure of an external review or reviews.

What’s important, Tory stressed, is that any review not interfere with judicial proceedings against McArthur, who has been charged with six counts of first-degree murder. The remains of some of the 66-year-old’s alleged victims were found in planter boxes at homes where he worked.

Chief Mark Saunders, who has already initiated an internal review that will be made public once completed, has also been calling for some kind of a public inquiry. Saunders said it would be in the public interest to have the review.

“For Toronto’s LGBTQ community, this has been a very difficult time and I know that many are very upset and many are still grieving,” Saunders told the board. “They have many questions about what happened and what could have been done differently.”

Some members of the public who spoke to Thursday’s board meeting expressed anger at how police have treated the community. One of them accused Saunders of engaging in “victim blaming” by saying police had little co-operation in responding to missing-persons reports.

“You are not innocent in any of this,” said deputant Brian De Matos.

Police initially began investigating the disappearance of three men in 2012 but ended the project in 2014 after they were unable to classify anyone as a suspect. In August, police launched a second operation that looked into the disappearances of two men from the gay village, eventually leading to McArthur’s arrest earlier this year.

Tory said some questions will have to wait until the ongoing police investigations and any trials are completed. He said he continues to support asking the province to consider a full-scale public inquiry at the appropriate time.

“This case is beyond horrific and our community deserves justice, absolute answers and closure,” Tory said. “While I recognize all these things could take time after such a tragedy, I am dedicated to this process so that we can restore trust, confidence and begin what I’m sure will be a lengthy healing process.”

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press