Mayor John Tory calls for independent review of Bruce McArthur investigation
The calls for an independent review come after it was reported that the alleged serial killer was questioned by the Toronto Police years ago— and was let go.
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Mayor John Tory is calling for an independent review of the Toronto Police Service’s handling of missing persons cases and the circumstances surrounding the investigation of alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur.
Tory is also urging the province to consider holding a public inquiry once McArthur’s criminal case has completed.
The calls for review follows a Toronto Star report on Tuesday evening that, years before McArthur was charged with six counts of first degree murder, he was questioned by police in a separate incident unrelated to men missing from Toronto’s Gay Village and was let go.
Though Tory would not comment directly on the revelations that McArthur was questioned by police years before, he acknowledged there are many “unanswered questions” in what he called a “tragic” case.
The proposed external review would be in addition to the ongoing internal Toronto police investigation into how their officers probe missing persons cases. Tory will request the review at the Toronto police board meeting later this month.
“We’re going to get to the bottom of answering the unanswered questions so not only do justice to the people who have lost their lives but also address the very deeply held concerns of the community,” Tory told reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday, where he was attending a summit on gangs and guns.
“We’re going to do it in a methodical, independent way and make sure we get all those answers.”
Earlier Wednesday, Det. Sgt. Hank Idsinga, the lead detective in the investigation into the McArthur case, said last week he alerted the police professional standards unit about a related incident where fellow officers may have violated the service’s policies and procedures.
Idsinga would not comment on whether McArthur was previously questioned by police, but told the Star that he became aware of a related previous incident where the officers involved may not have done what they should have.
It was something "that became a concern to me since I became aware of it," Idsinga said.
Last week, he prepared a report and sent it to the Toronto police professional standards unit for an internal probe regarding "the actions of some officers in a previous occurrence (who), I am led to believe ... potentially did not do what they were supposed to have done, according to our policies and our procedures," Idsinga said.
"And that's something that should be investigated and I'm not the one to investigate that, so I prepared the report and I forwarded it to professional standards and they are now conducting that investigation," he said.
Toronto police spokesperson Meaghan Gray told the Star in a statement Tuesday night that the chief has always said, "if we come across issues that need addressing, we would not wait. We would act as soon as practical.”
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.
Sources have told the Star that McArthur 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.
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 Star 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.
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.
The Star has also confirmed that the police chief, Mark 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.”
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 news 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.
In a statement Wednesday, Tory said many of his calls for action, including the external probe, were recommended by representatives of the LGBTQ community, including the Alliance for South Asian Aids Prevention.
“I want to thank Toronto’s LGBTQ community for their leadership, strength and collaboration through this difficult time,” Tory said.
Speaking to reporters, Tory would not suggest who should lead the review but said such jobs often fall to retired judges because of their knowledge of the law and because they are respected as being neutral.
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