Serial killer Bruce McArthur will have a chance of parole in 25 years, when he's 91, judge rules

Serial killer Bruce McArthur will be eligible to apply for parole after spending at least 25 years in prison for the murders of eight men in Toronto, an Ontario Superior Court judge ordered on Friday during the 67-year-old former landscaper's sentencing hearing.

Ontario judge says crimes were 'pure evil,' but factored guilty plea and age into sentencing decision

Bruce McArthur will be 91 when he is able to apply for parole. Ontario Superior Court Justice John McMahon said Friday during a sentencing hearing it's very unlikely he will ever be released from prison. (Pam Davies/CBC)

Serial killer Bruce McArthur will be eligible to apply for parole after spending at least 25 years in prison for the murders of eight men in Toronto, a judge ordered on Friday.

McArthur, 67, will be 91 when his first chance at parole comes up.

In his sentencing decision, Ontario Superior Court Justice John McMahon noted the gruesomeness of McArthur's crimes, but said there is a "fine line between retribution and vengeance."

He also told the packed University Avenue courtroom that there is very little chance the former landscaper will ever be granted parole. 

Bruce McArthur is a sexual predator and killer who lured his victims and ended up killing them for his own warped and sick gratification.- Ontario Superior Court Justice John McMahon

Last week, McArthur pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of eight men between 2010 and 2017. Most of the victims, as well as McArthur himself, had deep ties to Toronto's Gay Village neighbourhood.

First-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence with no parole for 25 years, but until today, the question remained whether he would be sentenced to consecutive periods of parole ineligibility.

Crown lawyers had asked the judge to hand down a sentence that would ensure McArthur would have to serve at least 50 years in prison. 

While McMahon said the murders were "pure evil" and the harsher sentence would have been "symbolic," he cited McArthur's guilty plea — which saved victim's families and the community at large from "enduring a graphic public trial" — and his age as reasons for his decision. 

McMahon said that while McArthur took responsibility by pleading guilty, "there has been no evidence of remorse" from him during his interactions with police.

"Bruce McArthur is a sexual predator and killer who lured his victims and ended up killing them for his own warped and sick gratification," he said.

Furthermore, McMahon said, he believes McArthur "would have kept killing" had he not been apprehended by police in January 2018 after months of surveillance.

Bruce McArthur pleaded guilty to killing these eight men. Top row, from left to right: Skandaraj Navaratnam, Andrew Kinsman, Selim Esen and Abdulbasir Faizi. Bottom row, from left to right: Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, Dean Lisowick, Soroush Mahmudi and Majeed Kayhan. (John Fraser/CBC)

Family and friends of McArthur's victims addressed the court, giving impact statements, during the first two days of the sentencing hearing earlier this week. Some also spoke this afternoon to media outside the courthouse.

A 36-page agreed statement of facts read out in court on Monday disclosed that McArthur restrained and strangled at least some of his victims. He also kept images of his victims, both alive and dead, in eight digital files stored on a computer in his Thorncliffe Park apartment.

"These men, sadly, did not die a quick and painless death," McMahon said Friday. 

When he was arrested, court heard that officers found a man tied to McArthur's bed. Police later found another folder on McArthur's computer labelled with the man's name that contained images of him.

In a number of instances, victims had been posthumously staged before the photographs were taken, which McMahon said was "no doubt for [McArthur's] perverted form of sexual gratification."

Remains of seven of the men were found in five garden planters at a mid-Toronto home where McArthur had worked and stored his landscaping tools. Remains of another man were found buried in a ravine at back of the property.

McMahon said McArthur's ability to repeatedly decapitate and dismember his victims was an aggravating factor. He also noted McArthur specifically targeted people living on the margins of society. 

As part of his sentence, McArthur will be added to the sex offender's registry and is banned from contacting his victims' families. Throughout the week in court, McArthur appeared sullen, said little, and wore a plaid shirt and black sweater each day. When court adjourned, he was led out in handcuffs.

Santhanaladchumy Kanagaratnam, mother of Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, speaks to reporters following McArthur's sentencing. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

'It's not enough'

In a statement, Crown lawyers thanked police investigators for their work on the case and said they hope McArthur's sentence "will assist our community in beginning a new chapter of healing."

"This is a crime of stark horror. The murder of eight of our citizens has impacted many: family, chosen family, the LGBT community, and the city in which we live and work," the statement read.

There is no closure. There is no grace. This community is broken and it's going to be broken for a long, long time.- Nicole Borthwick, friend of Andrew Kinsman

McMahon similarly addressed the profound effect McArthur's arrest and subsequent sentencing has had on Toronto's LGBT community.

"His crimes have instilled fear and distrust," McMahon told the court. "It will never be the same."

Outside the courthouse, family and friends of some of the victims expressed anger and frustration that the judge did not hand McArthur the harshest possible sentence.

"It's not enough for the families, it's not enough for the lives lost and it's not enough for the community," said Nicole Borthwick, a friend of Andrew Kinsman. Kinsman was the last man to be killed by McArthur, in the summer of 2017. He was 49 years old.

"There is no closure. There is no grace. This community is broken and it's going to be broken for a long, long time," Borthwick continued. 

Watch a friend of the victims react to McArthur's sentence:

Nicole Borthwick, a friend of three of the serial killer's victims, said McArthur's sentence provides 'no closure' to families and the LGBT community. 0:51

​McArthur also pleaded guilty to the murders of Selim Esen, 44, Majeed Kayhan, 58, Dean Lisowick, 47, Soroush Mahmudi, 50, Skandaraj Navaratnam, 40, Abdulbasir Faizi, 44 and Kirushna Kanagaratnam, 37.

A memorial for the men will be held at Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto on Sunday evening. Reverend Deena Dudley said there is a "sense of relief" that the legal proceedings are over and hopes there may be some healing moving forward.

"It has traumatized a lot of people. I think the only redemptive thing that I can think of coming out of this, is that we use this as an experience to learn from," she said. 

Police chief stands behind investigation

James Dubro, a writer and longtime LGBT activist, said "people are outraged" by the thought McArthur could, in theory, eventually apply for parole.

Dubro is among a group of advocates calling for a public inquiry into Toronto police's handling of the investigation into McArthur, something that has drawn sharp criticism from some corners of the LGBT community.

People who frequent the Gay Village say they suspected for years that a serial killer was preying on gay men in the area. Some have alleged their concerns were downplayed or outright ignored by police.

Watch a top detective on the case pinpoint what helped to crack the McArthur investigation:

Homicide Det. David Dickinson says the key piece of evidence that led Toronto police to the serial killer was found in Andrew Kinsman's calendar. 0:25

At a news conference at Toronto police headquarters, Chief Mark Saunders and two detectives who led the probe into McArthur said they were satisfied with the sentence.

"I do not see Bruce McArthur seeing daylight again. I do not see him in a public setting again," said Saunders. "Life will mean life."

Saunders drew considerable ire for his public comments in December 2017, when he said investigators had no evidence of a serial killer. McArthur was arrested just over a month later. 

On Friday, Saunders defended the statement, saying once more that it was accurate given what was known by police at the time. Earlier this month, it was revealed an officer who arrested, questioned and released McArthur in connection with an assault in 2016 is now facing disciplinary charges

Saunders said the force will work with the Toronto Police Services Board to explore any possible deficiencies in the investigation. 

About the Author

Lucas Powers

Senior Writer

Lucas Powers is a Toronto-based reporter and writer. He's reported for CBC News from across Canada. Have a story to tell? Email lucas.powers@cbc.ca any time.

With files from The Canadian Press