Serial killer Bruce McArthur’s victims are shown in these Toronto Police Service handout photos. Top row (left to right) are Selim Esen, Soroush Mahmudi, Dean Lisowick and Abdulbasir Faizi. Bottom row (left to right) are Skandaraj Navaratnam, Andrew Kinsman, Kirushna Kanagaratnam and Majeed Kayhan. McArthur pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder in a Toronto courtroom on Tuesday.THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Toronto Police Service
By Canadian Press
An independent review into the way Toronto police handle missing persons cases will be expanded to cover the investigation into the disappearances of men who were murdered by serial killer Bruce McArthur.
In July, the Toronto Police Services Board brought in retired Justice Gloria Epstein to conduct a review of the force’s handling of missing persons cases in the Church-Wellesley Village area but because the prosecution against McArthur was still ongoing she was initially forbidden from examining any police “contact with or consideration of Bruce McArthur.”
The terms of the reference for the review also stipulated that Epstein couldn’t examine any facts after Sept. 1, 2017 when McArthur was first identified as a suspect in the murder of Andrew Kinsman.
In the wake of McArthur being sentenced to life in prison in February, though, Epstein wrote TPS board chair Andy Pringle to request that her probe be widened.
At a meeting on Tuesday members of the board voted in favour of that request. At the same time, they also agreed to extend the timeline for the completion of Epstein’s review from April, 2020 to January, 2021.
“It’s a good thing. The public has some concerns and some issues and as an organization we always want to establish best practices,” Police Chief Mark Saunders told reporters following the meeting. “It is not a regular occurrence to have a serial killer in a community and there are lot of questions and concerns on what we did, when we did it and hopefully in the right forum with the right questions being asked we will have an opportunity to strike the balance on how we can all improve. How communities can work with us, how we can message to communities and what we need to do and if we need to change any policies or procedures.”
Province has dismissed talk of public inquiry
The Toronto Police Services Board did ask Attorney General Caroline Mulroney whether her government would consider a public inquiry in the McArthur case before making their decision but ultimately supported an expanded review by Epstein after Mulroney indicated that there were “no plans” to do so.
Speaking with reporters at police headquarters on College Street, Saunders said that the service will assist with the review “in any way” that they can while also respecting the independence of Epstein’s review.
The motion that was approved by the Toronto Police Services board on Tuesday states that an “independent and systemic review of the kind that Justice Epstein is conducting” is the most appropriate way to ensure that “important concerns” raised by the community are addressed.
In a statement issued on Tuesday afternoon, Epstein said that she welcomes the altering of the terms of reference governing her review, which she said can now take a “wider perspective.”
“This change will permit me to ask even more questions and look directly into the facts surrounding the investigations relating to Mr. McArthur’s victims,” she said. “Such a change will also assist in my efforts to address the fundamental issue of whether systemic bias or discrimination played a role in the investigation of missing persons and whether the current policies and procedures adequately protect against such bias or discrimination.”
In her statement, Epstein said that she has “already come to appreciate the deep sense of concern and anxiety shared by members of our LGBTQ2S+ communities as well as members of marginalized and vulnerable communities generally.”
She said that she views her task as “not only to provide direct answers to complex questions but also to help foster a climate that leads to an enhanced relationship between Toronto police and our diverse communities.”
“This decision also allows me to begin in earnest the external portion of our work,” she wrote.
McArthur is currently serving life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years after pleading guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder.