Gay Village disappearances and police behaviour show ‘whose lives are disposable'
Serial killers succeed when they know their victims are not valued. And so it would be with these missing gay men, writes Shree Paradkar.
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Two years ago, when Black Lives Matter halted Toronto Pride demanding that Toronto Police leave their uniforms out of the parade, there was an uproar among the good white people of this city, the bad white people, the wannabe white people, and those who didn’t experience police the way Black people do.
They shared happy photos of gay-friendly police spraying water and wearing rainbow colours at Pride and asked, “Why are these nice guys being excluded?”
Bruce McArthur, too, shared one such photo on social media.
To be clear, there was no reason for those individual officers to think anything was amiss with this man.
Avuncular, white-haired, white guy. “Harmless” is the word that springs to mind, right?
That’s the kind of thinking that allowed Jeffrey Dahmer’s killing spree to go unchecked between 1978 and 1991 in Milwaukee, Wisc. Police actually took a bleeding, naked, incoherent Asian boy who managed to escape him, back to Dahmer’s house over the protestations of the two Black women who had flagged them.
“The intoxicated Asian naked male was returned to his sober boyfriend,” the police officer said on the radio. Had he bothered to check, he would have seen Dahmer was already a registered sex offender. (That officer eventually became president of the Milwaukee Police Association)
Closer to home, Vancouver serial killer Robert Pickton was convicted of murders in 2007. Families of the marginalized women he targeted accused police of ignoring the alarm bells. The RCMP also face accusations of indifference in the cases of the hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
Now, Toronto’s LGBTQ community members are raising the same questions of bias.
“It is saddening and unacceptable that it took the disappearance of Andrew Kinsman to reopen public interest in the cases of the missing South Asian and Middle Eastern men,” notes an open letter to the Toronto Police from the Alliance for South Asian Aids Prevention (ASAAP). It calls for an internal and external review of the investigation.
It was the probe into Kinsman’s death that linked police to another victim, Majeed Kahyan, who went missing in 2012.
What about Project Houston, the investigation set up after three men — Kahyan, Skanda Navaratnam and Basir Faizi — disappeared? Does that not show police action?
Not adequately, according to Haran Vijayanathan, executive director for ASAAP.
“We don’t know what the investigation unravelled. We don’t know how the investigation was completed. We don’t know if there was adequate resources or time (devoted), given the complexity of the situation.”
Navaratnam has been missing since 2010. As is now being reported, he worked at McArthur’s landscaping business.
“If the police had actually looked at who’s connected to Skanda, they would have seen Bruce,” says Vijayanathan.
It is possible they looked and, despite McArthur’s prior conviction, thought nothing of it.
“We need answers to these questions. Especially when you look back and you see . . . whose lives are disposable and whose lives are not.”
A gay Toronto man in his mid-30s, who is Muslim, and of Bangladeshi origin, says gay men of colour who are in the closet face particular vulnerabilities. He asked to remain anonymous as he is not out to his family.
“When I saw the image of those guys, I was thinking, they were easy bait for the killer,” he says.
“Easy bait because it’s easier for a white guy to attract POC (people of colour) men . . . kind of like a top of food chain effect. White guys can get whatever the hell they want honestly . . . .”
Alan Wong is an English professor at Vanier College, and a member of the LGBTQ community. He has spent time in gay villages in Montreal and Toronto, and did a dissertation on the processes of identification and belonging among racialized LGBTQ activists in Montreal.
Racialized gay men often face opposing dilemmas — fetishization and discrimination, he tells me on Facebook. The “overt racial fetishization (is) based on common sexual stereotypes (e.g., the submissive Asian, the well- endowed black man).”
The racism is based on outright rejection, he says, for example “no Blacks, no Asians, White men only,” etc.
“It is not always necessarily white men who demonstrate this kind of behaviour, either, but they are usually the culprits.”
White men who are not poor are also attractive to men of colour — indeed to many marginalized people, gay or otherwise — for the privilege they represent. They get attention when they speak, and their words are given value.
Serial killers succeed when they know their victims are not valued.
And so it would be with these missing gay men.
The ones who came from South Asian and Middle Eastern communities would likely be wrestling with not only homophobia in their communities and around them, but also battling stigma connected to their religious and cultural identities, and class issues if they were new immigrants — all of which layer up as compounding pressures.
The Bangladeshi-Canadian man has navigated those pressures. He also acknowledges his own privileges.
He is educated, he grew up as an expat in Saudi Arabia, and has a strong network of friends with whom to be open.
“Here’s the thing,” he says. “I lived in a very racist country growing up in Saudi. So, Canada is quite the breath of fresh air in comparison.”
Yet, he says, if he were in trouble, he wouldn’t go to police.
“I don’t feel safe with police. Period.”
Those who feel upset by accusations of police bias may be those who “only interact with the police not at a situation where they’re being criminalized but at a situation where they needed help or they were socialized with them — where they went to a Pride and they took some pictures there,” says Vijayanathan.
“When you look at the Tamil community in Malvern, or when you look at the Black community at Jane and Finch, or any racialized community, there has always been a negative confrontation with police,” he says.
As the motto “Believe Women” becomes more widespread in light of #MeToo, let’s expand that in light of police attitudes to the marginalized. Believe Black people and definitely Believe Black trans people.