The findings were contained in a report commissioned in 2018 by the Toronto Police Services Board into how police conduct missing persons investigations. Its catalyst was, in part, criticism of the force after the arrest of McArthur, 69, whose case deepened a long-standing chasm between the LGBTQ community and the police.
“This report finds that systemic discrimination contributed to the deficiencies in a number of the investigations I examined,” Gloria Epstein, a retired Ontario Court of Appeal justice, wrote in the report. “This finding is not dependent on an intention to discriminate but on the effect of differential treatment on communities traditionally overpoliced and underserviced.”
She wrote that while she couldn’t say whether McArthur “would have been apprehended earlier if the investigative steps outlined in this report had been taken,” the police lost “important opportunities to identify him as the killer.”
The report also looked at the handling of other missing persons investigations, including those of Tess Richey, whose body was found by her mother in a stairwell not far from where she was reported missing in 2017, and Alloura Wells, a transgender woman who disappeared that same year.
James Ramer, interim chief of the Toronto police, said he accepted the report’s findings and pledged to implement its 151 recommendations. They include proposals to “create a new model” that would give public health and community agencies some “critical responsibilities for responding to disappearances.”
“We know that many in Toronto’s LGBTQ2S+ communities felt, and still feel, that our communications deepened a sense of mistrust between us,” Ramer said at a news conference. “That was not the service’s intention, and we apologize for the anger, hurt and damage that caused.”
For years, members of Toronto’s LGBTQ community complained that the police brushed off their concerns that a serial killer was stalking members of them.
McArthur, a former landscaper and mall Santa, was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to life in prison without parole for at least 25 years in 2019.
During his sentencing hearing, the court heard how he dismembered his victims, many of them Middle Eastern and South Asian men, hiding their remains in a client’s flower planters and a ravine. Some of his victims had substance use disorders. Others had not revealed to their families that they were gay.
McArthur had twice been questioned by the police years before his arrest — and released.
In 2012, police launched an inquiry into the disappearances of three men who, it later emerged, were his victims. Their interview of McArthur, Epstein wrote, was “inadequately prepared for and poorly conducted.” The probe was shut down, even though, she added, officers had information by the end of the interview that he had a significant connection to all three missing men.
The murders continued.
McArthur was questioned a second time in 2016 after a man claimed that he tried to choke him in a van. McArthur claimed it was consensual sex. Detectives did not file charges.
The tide turned in 2017 when Andrew Kinsman went missing. Police launched a probe into his disappearance and that of another man. Activists argued that police took Kinsman’s disappearance more seriously because he was White.
Epstein wrote that Kinsman’s friends and family “mobilized in a highly public way” but that proper missing persons investigations “should not depend on whose voices are loudest in sounding the alarm.”
She also wrote that investigators failed to appreciate or address barriers that prevented witnesses from coming forward, including “how police are perceived and often mistrusted by marginalized and vulnerable communities … prompted by a long history that includes criminalization of certain members.”
And she was critical of comments that former Toronto police chief Mark Saunders made in December 2017 that there was no serial killer on the loose in the city’s Gay Village — mere weeks before McArthur’s arrest.
Epstein wrote that the statement was “inaccurate” and “had the effect of further rupturing an already precarious relationship” with the LGBTQ community because it reinforced the views of some of its members that the police “were indifferent to their fears and concerns.”