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Bruce McArthur was previously questioned, released by police in separate incident

Toronto police have launched an internal investigation after receiving information about an earlier incident involving alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur.

Bruce McArthur is facing six charges of first-degree murder.


Bruce McArthur is facing six charges of first-degree murder.

Years before he was named as an alleged serial killer, Bruce McArthur was brought in by police for questioning in a separate incident unrelated to men missing from Toronto’s Gay Village and was let go, according to sources familiar with the incident.

McArthur, who is now charged with six counts of first-degree murder, was brought in after the 2014 closure of a police investigation dubbed Project Houston, which investigated three missing persons, and before the 2017 launch of Project Prism, which culminated in McArthur’s January arrest, sources said.

Homicide detectives now probing McArthur’s case did not find out that police had previously questioned McArthur until after his arrest. These investigators then passed this information to the Toronto police professional standards unit and an internal investigation began Monday.

“The chief has always said, if we come across issues that need addressing, we would not wait. We would act as soon as practical,” Toronto police spokesperson Meaghan Gray told Torstar News Service in a statement Tuesday night. “Information was brought forward by our investigators that was concerning. That information was referred to professional standards and, as early as yesterday, an investigation was started.”

Gray said that police would not provide any details, “in order to ensure a fair disciplinary process and to protect evidence that is now part of a complex homicide investigation.”

“We know this information will be disappointing to some members of the community,” Gray added. “In addition to listening to their concerns, we have always said we are open to a public inquiry into these investigations, and Chief (Mark) Saunders has already taken steps to consider what areas can be reviewed right now, during the ongoing investigation.”

Torstar News Service does not know under what circumstances McArthur was brought in for questioning, nor the particulars of the information recently exchanged between officers that has triggered the internal investigation.

Torstar News Service has also confirmed that the police chief, Saunders, met Tuesday with Jaime Watt, who heads the high-profile crisis communications firm Navigator. In her statement to the Star, Gray said that Navigator had not been retained, “but rather the chief has met with Jaime Watt, an active leader within (the LGBTQ) community, to discuss our ongoing efforts to connect with the LGBTQ community.”

McArthur, 66, is facing six charges of first-degree murder in the deaths of men who began disappearing from the area of the Church-Wellesley Village in 2010.

He is charged in the deaths of Andrew Kinsman, 49; Selim Esen, 44; Majeed Kayhan, 59; Soroush Mahmudi, 50; Dean Lisowick, 47; and Skandaraj “Skanda” Navaratnam, 40.

On Monday, police held a press conference and took the rare step of releasing a photo of a deceased man they believe to be a seventh victim. Det. Sgt. Hank Idsinga, who is in charge of the McArthur investigation, said police decided to publicize the photo in the hope that someone can identify him. Sources with knowledge of the ongoing probe have told Torstar News Service that investigators uncovered reams of evidence in the case, including digital images linked to McArthur.

The remains of six people have been found in large planters at a Leaside home where McArthur did landscaping work. Three of those individuals have since been identified as Kinsman, who was identified through fingerprint evidence, and Navaratnam and Mahmudi, whose identities were confirmed through dental records.

McArthur’s arrest in January followed years of missing persons reports and suspicions in and around the Gay Village that a serial killer was at work. In November 2012, police convened a task force dubbed Project Houston to search for three missing men (Kayhan, Navaratnam and Abdulbasir Faizi, 44) who disappeared between 2010 and 2012. The task force was shut down after 18 months. Police said recently the project was closed because there was “no evidence to suggest criminal activity.”

In July 2017, after the more recent disappearances of Kinsman and Esen, police launched Project Prism, the ongoing investigation that is now focused on McArthur.

Saunders has faced criticism, most notably from the LGBTQ community, for how he and his force have communicated the progress of their investigations into the disappearances. Last week, in an interview published by the Globe and Mail, Saunders seemed to suggest that citizens were to blame for the slow progress police made in identifying a potential serial killer.

“We knew something was up … We did not have the evidence,” the Globe quoted Saunders as saying. “If anyone knew before us, it’s people who knew him very, very well. And so that did not come out.”

In a subsequent interview with CP24, Saunders defended his remarks by saying: “I don’t think there’s anything I said about ‘civilian fail,’ ‘community fail’ or victim-blaming.” He said if his comments to the Globe and Mail’s editorial board were “misconstrued or taken in the wrong context, then I definitely apologize for that.”

In December, during at a press conference announcing a review of how the police handle missing persons cases, Saunders said there was no evidence the disappearances were the work of a serial killer. Just over a month later, McArthur was arrested and charged with the murders of Esen and Kinsman.

Toronto police have committed to an internal review that would look at how all missing person files are handled. This followed recent criticism over several high-profile cases. At a monthly meeting last week, the police board passed a motion requiring the service make the results of that internal review public.

Torstar News Service recently filed a freedom of information request to Toronto police asking for more detailed reasons why Project Houston was shut down. Police responded that any records contained in Project Houston could not be provided because they were “related to a matter that is currently before the courts.” The response also said Idsinga, along with a now retired detective, Sgt. Deb Harris, were in charge of Project Houston.

In 2003 — long before Project Houston and Project Prism — McArthur pleaded guilty to hitting a man numerous times with a metal pipe on Halloween in 2001. He was barred from an area that included the city’s Gay Village and prohibited from spending time with male prostitutes.

A court recording of the sentencing, obtained by Torstar News Service after a court order was granted last week, shed some light on the circumstances around the 2001 attack, although the proceedings make clear that no motive was ever determined.

McArthur himself said he did not know why he attacked the victim.

“I just wanted to apologize to the court for what happened. My life’s been kind of a mess in the last year and a half, knowing what’s going to happen and what’s happened to me,” McArthur told now retired Ontario Court judge William Bassel.

“I’d like to apologize to the victim … I wouldn’t know what to say, other than I’m sorry for all the pain and anger I’ve caused him.”

Since McArthur’s January arrest, others have come forward to speak about encounters with the alleged serial killer that now haunt them. One man, Sean Cribbin, told Global News that he had a 2017 sexual encounter with McArthur that left him unconscious. Cribbin said he was willing to push his “limits” during the encounter but as it went on, he remembers he “couldn’t breathe.”

“He was cutting off my airway … with his hands, with his body weight sitting on my chest,” he told Global News, adding that the only reason he survived is that McArthur’s roommate returned.

A timeline of the McArthur investigation

April 2003: Bruce McArthur, now 66, is convicted of assault for hitting a man with a metal pipe. He is barred from the gay Village and prohibited from spending time with “male prostitutes.”

Sept. 6, 2010: Skandaraj “Skanda” Navaratnam, 40, disappears.

Dec. 29, 2010: Abdulbasir Faizi, 42, disappears.

Oct. 14, 2012: Majeed Kayhan, 59, disappears.

November 2012: Police commence Project Houston.

April 2014: Project Houston is shut down.

August 2015: Soroush Mahmudi, 50, disappears.

2016 or 2017: Dean Lisowick, 47, disappears.

April 14, 2017: Selim Esen, 44, disappears.

June 26, 2017: Andrew Kinsman, 49, disappears.

July 2017: Project Prism is launched into the disappearances of Kinsman and Esen.

Jan. 18, 2018: McArthur is arrested and charged with the murders of Esen and Kinsman.

Jan. 29, 2018: McArthur is charged with the murders of Kayhan, Mahmudi and Lisowick.

Feb. 23, 2018: McArthur is charged with the murder of Navaratnam.

March 5, 2018: Police release the photo of an unidentified deceased man who they believe is the seventh victim of McArthur.

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