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Racialized LGBTQ men were disappearing for years in Toronto. Why did the McArthur arrest take so long?

Majeed Kayhan was reported missing in 2012. This week, Toronto Police named him as another victim of alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur, who now faces five charges of first-degree murder.

(Left) Majeed Kayhan's case was originally investigated along with the disappearances of Skandaraj Navaratnam (right) and 44-year-old Abdulbasir Faizi in what police called Project Houston. Toronto police spokespeople call allegations of racial bias 'absolutely not true,' noting that Project Houston had dedicated resources and lasted more than a year.

Toronto Police Handout

(Left) Majeed Kayhan's case was originally investigated along with the disappearances of Skandaraj Navaratnam (right) and 44-year-old Abdulbasir Faizi in what police called Project Houston. Toronto police spokespeople call allegations of racial bias 'absolutely not true,' noting that Project Houston had dedicated resources and lasted more than a year.

Members of Toronto’s LGBTQ community are openly questioning whether bias played a role in how long it took for police to make an arrest in a series of missing persons cases that stretches back years.

Majeed Kayhan was named this week as one victim of alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur, who now faces five charges of first-degree murder.

Kayan was reported missing in 2012, but “it’s not until Andrew Kinsman disappeared that police really took action,” said Kerolos Saleib, who works with the Alliance for South Asian Aids Prevention (ASAAP).

“All of a sudden this white guy goes missing, and then [police] start to put out warnings, and get more involved,” said Andrew Stewart, who has lived in the village for the past six years.

Salieb believes race was a factor in how much attention police gave Kinsman’s case when he disappeared in 2017, compared to the disappearances of Kayhan and two other men between 2010 and 2012.

“I can’t help but think that some lives could have been saved,” he said.

Abdulbasir Faizi, 44, was reported missing to Peel police on Dec. 29, 2010. Faizi's car was found abandoned; he was last seen in the same area as Skandaraj Navaratnam.

Toronto Police Handout

Abdulbasir Faizi, 44, was reported missing to Peel police on Dec. 29, 2010. Faizi's car was found abandoned; he was last seen in the same area as Skandaraj Navaratnam.

The fear that a serial killer might have been targeting men in the village had been a rumour within the community since about 2012. Some village residents told the Star they didn’t feel it was taken seriously.

“There were whispers. I’d go for my morning coffee and I’d hear people talking about it,” said resident Michael Reyes. “When you have an entire community of people saying, ‘Hey, we noticed this’ … and then police released a statement a few weeks ago saying what we reported at the time was true, it’s a little concerning.”

In wake of the McArthur investigation, Mayor John Tory has pledged to speak to LGBTQ community members about policing concerns. “I certainly want to address the broader issue of the community and its relationship with the police,” Tory said.

Kayhan’s case was originally investigated along with the disappearances of Skandaraj Navaratnam and Abdulbasir Faizi in what police dubbed Project Houston.

At that time, said Toronto police spokesperson Meaghan Gray, investigators “had a missing person and added two other missing cases because we felt there were similarities among the missing but nothing that connected the disappearances to one another.”

In an emailed statement, Gray called allegations of racial bias “absolutely not true,” noting that Project Houston had dedicated resources and lasted more than a year.

“We are always listening when a community feels they have not received an appropriate or respectful level of policing,” Gray added.

“I want to be clear that we do not dismiss those concerns.”

Toronto police have laid three additional counts of first-degree murder against Bruce McArthur, bringing the number of charges to five. Shown, from left top are, Selim Esen, 44, Andrew Kinsman, 49, Soroush Mahmudi, 50. From bottom left are Majeed Kayhan, 58 and Dean Lisowick, 47.

Toronto Police Handout

Toronto police have laid three additional counts of first-degree murder against Bruce McArthur, bringing the number of charges to five. Shown, from left top are, Selim Esen, 44, Andrew Kinsman, 49, Soroush Mahmudi, 50. From bottom left are Majeed Kayhan, 58 and Dean Lisowick, 47.

Former village resident Rich Seviora thinks the arrest of a suspect is proof that police were listening to the gay community.

“Without having listened to us, there would have been no investigation,” Seviora wrote in an email.

Enzo Yaksic, co-director of Northeastern University’s Atypical Homicide Research Group, told the Star in an email that serial killers can target marginalized communities because they “produce those that are willing to connect with anyone, regardless of the personal risk, and whose absence may be overlooked due to systemic biases.”

Community service groups in the village are now offering services like ASAAP’s “safe program,” intended for use by LGBTQ people who feel they can’t share their whereabouts with friends or family, either because they are closeted or because it is unsafe for them to do so.

ASAAP intends to launch the project in upcoming weeks.

With files from Tamar Harris and David Rider

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