AG reviews call for inquiry into Toronto police handling of missing persons cases linked to Gay Village

Ontario’s attorney general is reviewing a request from Toronto Mayor John Tory for a public inquiry into how police handle missing persons files, including the cases of men who have disappeared from the city's Gay Village.

Mayor John Tory says inquiry should follow end of criminal proceedings against Bruce McArthur

Accused serial killer Bruce McArthur is seen in a court sketch during his first court appearance in January. (Pam Davies/CBC)

Ontario's attorney general is reviewing a request from Toronto Mayor John Tory for a public inquiry into how police handle missing persons files, including the cases of men who have disappeared from the city's Gay Village.

Attorney General Yasir Naqvi responded to Tory's call in a brief email statement Thursday morning.

In it, he expressed his condolences to the friends and families of alleged victims of accused serial killer Bruce McArthur, who is charged in the deaths of six men, most of whom disappeared from the Gay Village or nearby areas.

Naqvi also expressed condolences to the city's residents and Toronto's LGBT community, calling the six deaths "deeply troubling.

"We recognize that there are many unanswered questions," Naqvi went on. "We are reviewing the request to call a public inquiry and will be maintaining an open dialogue with the city of Toronto on next steps following the conclusion of any criminal proceedings."

Tory made the call for a public inquiry Wednesday. In a statement, he said he would urge the province to hold an inquiry at the close of any criminal proceedings.

Yasir Naqvi, Ontario's attorney general, says he is reviewing a request by Toronto's mayor for a public inquiry into missing persons cases in the Gay Village. (CBC)

In his lengthy statement, Tory noted that he is "deeply disturbed" by the ongoing developments in the missing men case.

"The safety of all Toronto residents is my primary responsibility, and I believe strongly that maintaining the trust of all our communities is paramount to the ongoing success of the Toronto Police Service and its frontline officers," the mayor said.

"I know that the public has many questions related to this case, and I have questions, too. That is why I support open and transparent reviews of how our police service handles missing person cases generally and how these specific investigations were conducted."

In addition to the call for the public inquiry, Tory said he would move a motion through the Toronto Police Services board in support of an independent external review of the force's practices with respect to missing persons investigations.

Police actions under internal review

Tory's call and Naqvi's response followed news reports Wednesday that Toronto police had interviewed McArthur years before he was arrested.

A police source close to the investigation told CBC Toronto that officers talked to McArthur as part of a divisional investigation that was not connected to either Project Houston or Project Prism.

Those two investigations were launched in 2012 and 2017, respectively, in response to the mysterious disappearances of several men from the Gay Village.

No police officers connected to Project Houston, Project Prism or the current investigation were involved, according to the source. The meeting took place sometime between 2014 and 2017.

The Toronto Star reported that McArthur was brought in for questioning in 2014, while the Globe and Mail said an interview happened in 2013.

The Toronto police professional standards unit has launched an internal investigation into the matter, though the force has not confirmed if an interview with McArthur did, in fact, take place.

"After McArthur's arrest, officers became aware of information that was related to a separate incident that occurred after Project Houston and before Project Prism," said spokesperson Meaghan Grey in an email.

"Information was brought forward by our investigators that was concerning. That information was referred to professional standards and, as early as [Monday], an investigation was started," she said.

While Toronto police began investigating disappearances of men connected to the Gay Village in 2012, the force has been criticized for dismissing the community's concerns about a possible serial killer. McArthur's alleged victims went missing between 2010 and 2017.

McArthur, who was first arrested in January, is now charged with six counts of first-degree murder.