Decision to exclude McArthur homicide probe from missing persons review raises questions

How the Toronto police handle cases involving missing people will be subject to an independent review, but a decision to exclude the Bruce McArthur serial murder investigation from that review is raising questions.

If the McArthur investigation is off limits, will review be the critical look it's supposed to be?

Protesters used Thursday's Toronto Police Services Board meeting to share their frustrations with the ongoing investigation into alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur. (CBC)

How the Toronto police handle cases involving missing people will be subject to an independent review, but a decision to exclude the Bruce McArthur serial murder investigation from that review is raising questions.

Advocates wonder whether the review will actually get the answers that the city and LGBT community want.

The Toronto Police Services Board voted to back Mayor John Tory's motion for an external review on Thursday, but the board does not want the review to interfere with the ongoing investigation into the six homicides that McArthur is accused of committing, nor any other charges that may be laid, or any eventual criminal trial. 
Brian De Matos is skeptical about the selection process for the panel, saying he doubts it will be diverse enough. (CBC News)

As Brian De Matos of the group Queers Crash The Beat sees it, that restriction defeats the whole purpose of the review. 

"This is a PR campaign that they are using so they can shield themselves from any actual, true criticism," Matos said.

The board will spend the next month recruiting an advisory panel made up of one board member and three LGBT leaders who have experience working with people in vulnerable communities, such as the homeless and sex workers.

Critic skeptical of selection process

But De Matos is skeptical of the selection process, saying he is worried the panel will not be diverse enough.

"White, cisgender, wealthy gays were never the target of Bruce McArthur," he said.  

Since January, questions have emerged about how police dealt with the disappearances of six men, most of whom vanished from the area known as Toronto's gay village and surrounding areas. McArthur is charged with first-degree murder in their deaths.

Two weeks ago, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders released a statement saying he will back an external review of missing persons cases. The statement came days after it was revealed that Toronto police officers interviewed McArthur, now 66, years before he was charged earlier this year with the six slayings.

Shakir Rahim of the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention (ASAAP) says the review will be useful, even if will not deal with the homicide investigation.

"The alleged victims of McArthur were subject to missing person investigations before their cases became criminal in nature and McArthur was a suspect," Rahim told CBC Toronto. 
This combination of photos shows the six men McArthur is charged with killing. Top row, from left to right: Skandaraj Navaratnam, 40, Andrew Kinsman, 49, Selim Esen, 44. Bottom row, from left to right: Dean Lisowick, Soroush Mahmudi, 50, and Majeed Kayhan, 58. (CBC/Toronto Police Service)

Rahim is referring to Skandaraj Navaratnam, Majeed Kayhan and Abdulbasir Faizi, whose disappearances were investigated as part in Project Houston. 

That task force dissolved after a year and a half, with police citing a lack of evidence of foul play. 

"Did they close the case too early?" asked Rahim, as he listed the other questions that his organization has been asking for a long time. 

Rahim wants to know whether the community was effectively consulted during the project, whether any conclusions were made by investigators about why the persons were missing and whether "those were based on appropriate conclusions that were culturally competent."

He said those are all questions that can still be answered in the external review. 

Community panel has a say in scope of review 

The scope of the review is not fully defined yet and the four-person panel will help to shape the review, as long as it doesn't include the handling of the Bruce McArthur case. 

 
Mayor John Tory's proposal for an independent external review included the creation of a community panel that will be made up of local voices. (Christopher Dunsieth/CBC News)

The review therefore could challenge how thorough an investigation Project Houston was.

The panel can explore ways to improve how police interact with vulnerable populations, as long they don't talk about the case involving Dean Lisowick, a man with no fixed address who is one of McArthur's alleged victims.

"Questions about the scope of the review are top of mind for everyone," Toronto Police Services Board chair Andy Pringle wrote in a statement to CBC Toronto. 

"We also recognize that it is imperative not to jeopardize the ongoing criminal investigation and prosecution for the sake of the board and the service, and in particular, the community, and the victims." 

Dissatisfied advocates call for provincial inquiry now

For some, a critical review is best led by the province. 

Douglas Elliott, an lawyer who served on previous public inquests, including the one that probed the 2012 Algo Centre Mall collapse in Elliot Lake, Ont., said it would be the best way forward. 

"We cannot wait until the criminal justice system has completed its work," said Elliott, rejecting the notion that an inquiry and its findings could cause a mistrial. 
Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi says he supports the structure of the review the mayor put forward. (CBC NEWS)

"An accused person has been identified and he is not going to be released from custody just because an inquiry has been launched. He's not going anywhere," he said at the Church-Wellesley community hub, known as the 519.

"We all want the police to identify all the victims and to lay all of the appropriate charges. However, let's face it, if convicted of any of the charges that have already been laid, the accused man will never leave prison alive." 

But Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi, has not changed his mind on the matter. 

"I think it's important that we let the Toronto Police Services Board do its work," he said to reporters on Thursday.