News / Toronto

Toronto’s gay community shocked in the wake of McArthur investigation revelations

Members of the community are processing the news that McArthur had been interviewed by police years before being arrested on multiple counts of murder.

In this Feb. 13, 2018 photo, people hold a candlelight vigil to remember the victims of alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur in Toronto, Canada.

AP Photo/Rob Gillies

In this Feb. 13, 2018 photo, people hold a candlelight vigil to remember the victims of alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur in Toronto, Canada.

Upon hearing the news that Toronto police plan on undergoing an internal investigation of how its officers handled the Bruce McArthur case, community activist Nicki Ward’s first concern was that other cases being probed by the police force will be put on the backburner.

Before McArthur was arrested, police had already begun probing its handling of cases in Toronto’s gay community and around the village, like the murder of Tess Richey.

Richey, 22, was found strangled in Toronto’s gay village last year. But police didn’t initially treat Richey’s disappearance as suspicious. A week after she was found, police said its professional standards unit would be examining how officers handled the case. Kalen Schlatter, 21, has been charged with second-degree murder in Richey’s death, and his case is now before the courts.

Ward also raised the case of Alloura Wells, a 27-year-old transgender woman found dead in the Rosedale ravine in August 2017. Wells’ family had reported her disappearance Nov. 6 last year, and were allegedly told the case was “not high priority” because Wells had been homeless for a number of years. Police spokesperson Mark Pugash told the Star that was “certainly not the proper response from any part of this organization,” and Chief Saunders said the force may take a look at its “sensitivity” in such cases. Wells’ body had been discovered in August, but was only identified by police weeks after she was reported missing.

Even Dean Lisowick, one of McArthur’s alleged victims, was an illustration of an even larger problem, Ward said. He was homeless, and never reported missing.

“My concern has always been that there are mechanical issues, in addition to the high probability that there were some LGBT bias or other biases,” Ward said. “The distinction between the ability to easily report and record someone as missing was highly problematic, in the case of Tess Richey, Alloura Wells, and indeed Dean Lisowick.”

“Then there’s the overwhelming issue of cultural competence, or lack thereof. So, the difficulty in actually setting up a meaningful conversation, not a series of monologues from the police services.” She hopes the other cases being probed, and the larger issues at hand, don’t fall to the wayside while police zero in on what happened in the McArthur case.

Meanwhile, members of the community are processing the news that McArthur had been interviewed by police years before being arrested on multiple counts of murder. “The fact that Bruce McArthur was interviewed by police earlier and that information was not made available to the current investigation just really boggles my mind,” said Angus MacDougall, a member of Toronto’s gay community.

“What I’m furious about is the timing of all of this. I’m just a person watching the story unfold like everybody else, but what it seems to look like to me is there were active killings occurring during the investigation but there were also signs pointing towards Bruce McArthur,” he said.

Michael Erickson, co-owner of Glad Day Bookshop in the village, said what shocked him was that carding data was available to officers, but information about someone who was interviewed by police could get lost or be inaccessible. “It continues the pattern that not everyone is being policed fairly and equally, and that the way in which police are profiling or giving value to certain people in our community is unfair,” he said.

City councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, who represents the Ward where the village is based, told the Star that the community has been “fully aware that there are delicate matters that cannot be discussed in public.”

“What they’ve been asking for since day one is a level or respect when they do have interactions with the police. They were asking that their lives be taken seriously,” she told the Star. “And they’re asking for the same level of service that the police officers would give any other community.”

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. Its executive director, Haran Vijayanathan, told the Star he believes the internal investigation is a necessary first step. But he, along with Tory, believes having an independent external investigation conducted is critical as well.

Vijayanathan’s understanding is that public feedback will be collected on the internal review report for 120 days after it’s released, and then the mandate of an independent review would be crafted from that feedback. The group currently has a “good working relationship” with both Tory and Chief Saunders’ offices, he said.

“We’re going to sit down and have a conversation. I know there is an intention and motivation to have that done as well, because in all honesty, we can always look internally to see what we did wrong, but it still may be biased in some capacity,” he said. “So it’s important to have that external third party investigate it as well. We can look what police think they did well, and then what actually happened, and then look to see what gaps exist and find solutions based on that.”

Shakir Rahim, a board member with ASAAP, said the community always knew there were problems with the police response to their concerns. “The question now is: What kind of negligence happened?”

Along with Tory’s pledge to call for an independent review, the mayor also urged the province to consider holding a public inquiry once McArthur’s criminal case has completed. Vijayanathan believes a further step could be to look at each individual case, but noted that would have to wait until any court proceedings end. “This is just the tip of the iceburg,” he said.

“We still need to go beneath the waters.”

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