This podcast is required listening for LGBTQ folks — and can inspire us to keep telling our stories
Justin Ling's CBC-produced Uncover: The Village is so much more than an investigation of the McArthur murders
Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.
Abdulbasir "Basir" Faizi. Majeed "Hamid" Kayhan. Skandaraj "Skanda" Navaratnam. Soroush Mahmudi. Andrew Kinsman. Selim Esen. Dean Lisowick. Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam. These are the eight known victims of Toronto serial killer Bruce McArthur, all of them gay men and six of them immigrant men of colour. The story surrounding their murders — which occurred between 2010-2017 — made international headlines when McArthur was arrested last January, many of them expectedly heavy on sensationalism. If those headlines remain your primary source of knowledge when it comes to the murders, the community they affected and the systematic homophobia and racism they represent, there's now a rather profound way to change that: Uncover: The Village, the CBC-produced podcast hosted by Justin Ling that just concluded this week (though there's a bonus episode still coming on May 14th).
"Sensationalism just isn't my bag," Ling tells CBC Arts. "I wouldn't want to be on a project that tailored itself for true crime buffs and true crime buffs exclusively. I had no interest in taking a tragedy and flipping it for ratings. The people who have been directly impacted by this story have, in some cases, lived with the fear and uncertainty for nine years. I have no interest in working on a project that compounds that trauma."
Instead, Ling has offered us project in which he truly listens to so many people — friends, family and the community of the victims — that felt so ignored during the near-decade it took for anything remotely resembling justice to take place. He also goes back much farther into the horrifyingly deep history of LGBTQ folks going missing from Toronto, many of them still unsolved (23 cold cases of missing queer folks were re-opened after McArthur's arrest).
"I had spent years covering the missing men from the Gay Village," Ling says. "It was a story that, in a lot of ways, was still evolving. But I really wanted to work on a project that widened the story in a real way. With podcasts, you get so much leeway to tell bigger, more expansive stories. So it gave us this blank canvas with which to create a story. Most importantly, we imagined a project that honed in on these relatively unknown stories but in such a way that was pointedly relevant to today."
Ling says one of the things that really sets Uncover: The Village apart from the extensive coverage the McArthur murders has received is that he himself is a member of the community the podcast represents.
"By and large, the reporting on this case has been good," he says. "It's been respectful, informed and sensitive. Obviously a lot of the foreign press waded into this story without any respect for the victims, their friends, and their family — but I think the local press mostly got it right. But, unfortunately, few of the journalists working on this story were actually members of the community. And most didn't opt to tell stories that explore the history and underpinnings of marginalization, community-police relations or even ones that speak to the structures of policing themselves. So I saw this window to try and do all of that in one project."
As the podcast comes to a close, Ling says that the thing that surprised him the most through the entire process was the degree to which we as an LGBTQ community have failed to document our own stories.
"That old adage — those who do not read history are doomed to repeat it — is a bit played out, but there's truth to it," he says. "I do think communities that fail to document their own histories will find themselves facing the same injustices over and over. So, if nothing else, I do hope the podcast shows people that histories you think you know, like the bathhouse raids, are actually so much more complex and fascinating than a Heritage Minute would have us believe."
Ling wants listeners to come away from Uncover: The Village not only with a better understanding of what really happened with the McArthur murders, but also to realize that there is an extraordinary wealth of stories too few of us are aware of.
"[They're] sitting in boxes and on old cassette tapes — probably sitting in the ArQuives — that are just begging to be told. And if we don't tell them, nobody is going to do it for us."