The hunt for a serial killer who preyed on gay men in Toronto was hampered by “serious flaws” in the police investigation – including the stereotyping of LGBTQ+ people by police officers and a lack of public trust – a new report has concluded.
Bruce McArthur, who targeted men living on the margins of society, was given eight life sentences in 2019. But members of Toronto’s LGBTQ+ community had long feared that police ignored critical leads as he continued to kill.
The four-volume report, Missing and Missed, released on Tuesday, is the most in-depth look into both into how police investigated McArthur’s “reign of terror” as well as the fractured relationship between officers and the LGBTQ+ community.
Compiled by the retired Ontario justice Gloria Epstein, the report found glaring problems with the Toronto police’s handling of missing persons cases.
Epstein dedicated the report to Andrew Kinsman, Selim Esen, Majeed Kayhan, Soroush Mahmudi, Dean Lisowick, Skandaraj (Skanda) Navaratnam, Abdulbasir Faizi, Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam – who McArthur killed – along with Alloura Wells, a trans woman found dead in a ravine in 2017 and Tess Richey, a young woman whose body was found in an outdoor stairwell by her mother after police failed to locate her.
Epstein concluded that while a number officers worked hard to investigate the disappearances, others had “misconceptions or stereotypical ideas” about the gay community – and that these perceptions hampered the search fo the killer.
At the same time, investigators “failed to appreciate” the barriers that “prevented some witnesses from coming forward”– including a deep mistrust of police in marginalized communities and a long history of criminalization of the LGBTQ+ communities.
McArthur was eventually arrested in 2018, but five years earlier he had been questioned by police in an interview Epstein said was “deeply flawed”. Although McArthur admitted knowing three of the missing men, he was interviewed for just 16 minutes and officers were “inadequately prepared for” the interrogation.
“I cannot say that McArthur would necessarily have been apprehended earlier if the investigative steps outlined in this report had been taken. He was a true psychopath. He disarmed others, including his interviewer, with his calm and ostensibly helpful approach to the interview,” Epstein wrote. “But the Toronto police did lose important opportunities to identify him as the killer.”
The report also drew attention to comments from the former Toronto police chief Mark Saunders, who told reporters in 2017 that police did not believe a serial killer was at loose, further eroding public trust in the investigation.
The report includes 151 recommendations, including a substantial overhaul of how missing persons cases are handled, using resources from other agencies, including social workers, and more civilian oversight of the city’s police force.