Toronto

Friends, family of McArthur's victims share 'collective nightmare'

For friends and family of the eight men murdered by Bruce McArthur, the sentencing on Friday was the culmination of an arduous week in court — spent listening to the horrifying details of how he killed his victims, and delivering victim impact statements.

Loved ones will 'live with this nightmare the rest of their lives,' judge says

Santhanaladchumy Kanagaratnam, mother of Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, appears outside a Toronto courthouse after serial killer Bruce McArthur was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole eligibility for 25 years. (Chris Helgren/Reuters)

For several days, they sat together in a Toronto courtroom, connected to one another, as Superior Court Justice John McMahon put it, through "a collective nightmare."

But on Friday, when McMahon sentenced 67-year-old serial killer Bruce McArthur to life in prison without parole eligibility for 25 years, one chapter of the ordeal suffered by the friends, family and other loved ones of his victims had been closed.

"Unfortunately they will live with this nightmare the rest of their lives," said McMahon, reading from his 17-page sentencing report.

For friends and family of the eight men murdered by McArthur, the sentencing was the culmination of his guilty plea last week, and the arduous days in court that followed — listening to the horrifying details of how he killed his victims, and delivering victim impact statements.

Those statements provided an insight into the emotional wreckage wrought by the former landscaper and the physical, mental and financial damage inflicted on the loves ones of all eight victims: Andrew Kinsman, 49, Selim Esen, 44, Skandaraj Navaratnam, 40, Abdulbasir Faizi, 44, Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, 37, Dean Lisowick, 47, Soroush Mahmudi, 50, and Majeed Kayhan, 58.

For some, McMahon's sentence provided little solace. He could have followed the Crown's recommendation and sentenced McArthur to life without parole eligibility for 50 years. Instead, he settled on the mandatory minimum, meaning that McArthur could face a parole board when he's 91, although it's highly unlikely he will ever see any kind of freedom from prison.

Outside the courthouse on Friday, Nicole Borthwick — a friend of Kinsman, Lisowick and Esen — expressed her disappointment with the sentence.

"Losing three friends and killing eight victims and having a life sentence for that is not enough. It's not enough for the families, it's not enough for the lives lost and it's so not enough for the community," she said.

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

Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam​'s mother, brother and cousin, who came to Toronto from Sri Lanka, appeared outside the courthouse following the sentence; his mother wiping away tears.

Piranavan Thangavel, speaking on behalf of the family, said he didn't know the words to explain how they were feeling. ​But earlier this week, Kanagaratnam's brother Krusnathasan spoke a few words of English, saying there's "no sleeping everyday" that it's a "very very bad situation for my family" and that his mother "keeps on crying."

The Kanagaratnams were among the dozens of friends and family who sat silently in court Friday as McMahon read from his sentencing report. Two of Kinsman's sisters would occasionally nod in agreement when McMahon would describe the depraved nature of McArthur's actions, and shake their heads at some of the graphic details of his crimes, particularly those about their brother.

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)

Victimized twice

McMahon noted how all the friends and families had been victimized twice — searching fruitlessly for their loved ones when they went missing, only to learn they'd been murdered.

In his victim impact statement read earlier this week, Jalill Kayhan, brother of Majeed, said the family had agonized over his disappearance since 2012, not knowing where he went, what happened to him, and then, finally being notified of his "horrific and brutal murder."

"I don't know that I can properly describe the pain and suffering that I and my family have gone through over the years and I believe this suffering will continue to affect us forever."

Other victim impact statements revealed not just the emotional toll on the family members, but the physical and mental anguish they now suffer.

'Lost any motivation for life'

Kirushnaveny Yasotharan, the sister of Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, said in her statement that she was ​suffering from severe depression, was taking antidepressant medication and had lost considerable weight. She said she had "lost any motivation for life" and that she didn't want to live in a world "which became so terribly cruel."

"When I sleep, I sleep with a sadness which fills my heart and always tears come to my eyes."

Umme Fareena Marzook the wife of Mahmudi, sobbed in court while her victim impact statement was read aloud. It described how she had become overwhelmed with grief, has had to leave her job and has serious difficulty "maintaining self-care and basic life functions."

"I have been having terrible nightmares every night and I frequently wake up sweating and crying."

McMahon said he couldn't do a better job capturing the impact of McArthur's actions than Greg Dunn, a friend of Kinsman.

Kanagaratnam's brother Krusnathasan said that his mother 'keeps on crying.' (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

Dunn, in his statement, wrote that the day he found out about Kinsman's death, his "heart fractured."

"My life has been truly fractured. My heart, soul and spirit have been fractured."

McMahon acknowledged other indirect victims as well, like Karen Fraser, the homeowner of the property where McArthur had buried the remains of the eight men. While not on the same scale of loved ones, Fraser too had suffered from McArthur's depravity, McMahon said, and "must live the nightmare of the murdered victims being concealed on their property for up to eight years."

Karen Fraser hired McArthur as a landscaper and he used her property to bury his victims. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Many communities had also suffered from McArthur's crimes, he said, including the immigrant and refugee communities, which McArthur disproportionately targeted. Meanwhile, the LGBT community has been "devastated" and "will never be the same," he said. 

He referenced the victim impact statement of Rev. Deana Dudley, of the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, who had written that it's impossible to overstate the impact of the murders on the LGBT community.

"It's been horrific," she told CBC's Meagan Fitzpatrick after the sentencing Friday. "It's been a substantial trauma to so many people."

And Dudley talks about why the recovery might be slow. 

Rev. Deana Dudley, of Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, says work must be done in order to restore a sense of security. 0:55