The lead investigator in the Bruce McArthur murder case, Hank Idsinga, stepped forward to praise the work and perseverance of Toronto police on Tuesday.
After launching Project Prism in 2017, police zeroed in on McArthur. They gathered evidence, found the remains of other victims and secured eight guilty pleas to first-degree murder, all within two years.
They deserve credit, says criminal Lawyer Ari Goldkind. By not going to trial, he says, it saved the court system hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it offered a measure of closure to families.
“It saves the families the friends of the deceased men being put through the rigour of a trial,” Goldkind said.
But McArthur was known to police for much longer than two years. Sixteen years ago, he was convicted of assault and banned from visiting the Village, the historic home of Toronto’s LGBTQ+ community.
WATCH BELOW: Village reacts to Bruce McArthur guilty plea
McArthur’s murder spree in the Village began almost nine years ago with the disappearance of Skandaraj Navaratnam. Seven more men would disappear between 2010 and 2017. Police even spoke with McArthur during that time, but it was not until 2018 that he was arrested.
Some in the Village believe police did not take the cases of missing gay men seriously enough.
Outside the Toronto courthouse, Haran Vijayanathan, the executive director of the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention, asked, “Why did it take 10 years?”
Vijayanathan suggested front-line officers need to “get the support they need to do their jobs better, so we can find people sooner rather than later.”
The Toronto detective on the McArthur case, David Dickinson, was brief when asked that question. “If there were mistakes made,” he said, “we should learn from them and move forward.”
Some critics say this case is not unlike that of the women who were killed by mass murderer Robert Pickton in British Columbia. There, too, police were criticized for doing little follow-up on many of the missing women who were prostitutes.
For years, Arshy Mann was a reporter for Xtra, a newspaper that extensively covered the missing men in Toronto, as well as the resulting anxiety within the city’s LGBTQ+ community.
Mann, who is now a reporter and host on Canadaland, says people who are living on the margins of society become more vulnerable, “and that vulnerability makes them a target for people who want to cause them harm.”
When they go missing, Mann says, too many institutions in society simply don’t take notice.
“It’s not just the police that failed these men in Toronto,” Mann said. “It was the media, it was social services, it was a wide variety of institutions that honestly didn’t take them seriously enough.”
But the main inquiry now will be aimed at police. Toronto police have initiated an internal investigation into one part of the McArthur investigation. An external review, to be conducted by Justice Gloria Epstein, will look into missing persons investigations by Toronto police.
Kash Heed, a former police chief in British Columbia, suggests police forces do not always represent marginalized communities as they do others.
“We know that police respond to these communities differently,” he says, insisting there needs to be accountability. “Some people have to be held accountable as to why they did not respond in addressing community concerns when they were brought to the forefront several years ago.”
Now that McArthur’s guilt is beyond doubt, a review can be conducted without distractions into why police took so long to establish what many in the Village believed for years — that there was a serial killer in their midst.
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