'A different standard': Disappearances of men of colour not taken seriously enough, LGBT leader says

The Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention (ASAAP) issued an open letter calling for the Toronto Police Service to review whether the racial or sexual backgrounds of the men who disappeared in the Gay Village affected the amount of resources or effort put into investigations.

South Asian group calls for review into police investigations of missing men in Toronto's Gay Village

Haran Vijayanathan is the executive director at the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention (ASAAP). His organization issued an open letter calling for the Toronto Police Service to review the disappearances of men in the Gay Village. (CBC)

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  • McArthur is now charged with the first-degree murders of Abdulbasir Faizi and Skandaraj Navaratnam.

Years before he disappeared from Toronto's Church and Wellesley neighbourhood, Abdulbasir Faizi brought up the possibility with a childhood friend while living in Iran that he might be gay.

It was a conversation his family wouldn't learn about until after the 44-year-old went missing in 2010, according to his nephew, Bobac Faizi.

"You're in the wrong place to be a homosexual," the friend recounted to Faizi's family after his disappearance. "You should try to find God or leave."
It seems that conflict would remain with Faizi, whose "nightlife" his nephew says remained hidden from his family, including his wife and children, until it was discovered he may have been corresponding with various men.
The disappearance of Abdulbasir Faizi in 2010 along with those of Majeed Kayhan and Skandaraj Navaratnam led to the creation of Project Houston. (Toronto Police Service)

Seven years later, much remains unanswered — not only about the life Faizi may have felt he had to keep secret, but about why it is that he seemed to vanish without a trace. 

Now, amid the news that Toronto police are open to any possible links between a string of disappearances including Faizi's and accused killer Bruce McArthur, some in the LGBTQ community are questioning whether concerns about a possible serial killer were taken seriously enough in the years following the disappearances. And to what extent the ethnicities of many of the missing men may have factored in to a lack of answers around their cases.

Toronto police are now looking into possible connections between Bruce McArther and men who have vanished from the Gay Village. (Bruce McArthur/Facebook)

'Saddening and unacceptable'

Haran Vijayanathan, a gay, Sri Lankan, Tamil man, is one of them. Vijayanathan also is executive director at the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention (ASAAP).

This week his group issued an open letter calling for the Toronto Police Service to review whether the racial or sexual backgrounds of the men affected the amount of resources or effort put into investigating their disappearances and demanding that the findings be made public. The group is also demanding an external review commissioned by the Toronto Police Services Board.

"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," the bulletin says, suggesting it wasn't until the disappearance of Kinsman, 49, in June of 2017 that a years-long spate of disappearances from the area were finally taken seriously. 

"A different standard of justice for racialized and LGBTQ+ people is the reality in our city and province."

Several disappearances since 2010

One of those men was Skandaraj Navaratnam, 40, known to many as "Skanda," who was last seen leaving a nightclub in September 2010. Last week, CBC News reported that Navaratnam was romantically involved with McArthur, and that the pair met as early as 1999.

Three months after Navaratnam vanished, another man, Faizi, 44, disappeared from a location just blocks away. Then, in October 2012, Majeed Kayhan, 58, was reported missing as well, last seen in the Gay Village.

Skandaraj Navaratnam, known to friends as Skanda, went missing in 2010. Two of his friends have confirmed that he knew Bruce McArther. (CBC)

"Are brown men disposable or any racialized communities disposable when it comes to when they go missing?" the bulletin asks. 

In a statement, Toronto police spokesperson Meaghan Gray said investigators worked "diligently" throughout the Project Houston probe to find the missing men and remain open to any links their cases may have to the suspected murders by McArthur of Kinsmen and Selim Esen, 44, who disappeared in 2017.

"It's always concerning to us when a specific community does not feel like they have received appropriate or respectful policing," said Gray. "We will continue to do what we can to support the community during this investigation as well as look for opportunities within the service and with community groups such as this one to improve our relationship with the public."

McArther has been arrested and charged with the first-degree murders of Andrew Kinsman, left, and Selim Esen. (Canadian Press)

A spokesperson for John Tory told CBC News the mayor looks forward discussing the request for a review with the police board, adding that there are "quite proper" questions being asked about the investigation that will be answered in time. 

The statement also pointed to the review announced by police chief Mark Saunders last month of the force's processes around missing persons cases. The move came after it emerged 22-year-old Tess Richey's body had been found by her mother steps from where she disappeared in the Village. 

​Jooyoung Lee is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Toronto and says it's not uncommon for victims from middle-class or upper-middle class neighbourhoods to get more public attention than those from marginalized communities — a phenomenon popularly known as "missing white woman syndrome," he says.

And whether the lack of rapport with marginalized groups is real or perceived, it will be important for police to "go out of their way to repair any kind of tensions or strained relations" from communities who feel their concerns aren't being taken seriously.

Jooyoung Lee, an associate professor of sociology at University of Toronto, says it's not uncommon for victims from middle-class or upper-middle class neighbourhoods to get more public attention. (CBC)

Vijayanathan says that will be key to getting answers about just what happened to the missing men, because of the compounded homophobia they may face from within their own communities and from society at large, that may lead to them leading double lives. 

Meanwhile, Faizi's nephew and the families of the missing try to fill in the blanks as their wait for answers continues.

"I just always wanted to know what happened to him."

About the Author

Shanifa Nasser

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Shanifa Nasser is a journalist at CBC News interested in national security, immigration and stories with a heartbeat. Before coming to CBC News, she completed the Munk Fellowship in Global Journalism at the University of Toronto. She also holds a Master's degree in Islamic Studies. Reach her at: shanifa.nasser@cbc.ca

With files from Adrian Cheung, Natasha Macdonald-Dupuis