Arrest in Toronto Gay Village missing men case sparks questions about police role

The arrest and first-degree murder charges against a suspect in the case of two men who disappeared from downtown Toronto have provided some sense of relief to the city's Gay Village but raised questions and criticisms about police handling of the investigation.

Bruce McArthur, 66, of Toronto, has been charged with first-degree murder

Andrew Kinsman, left, and Selim Esen, right, have both gone missing in recent months, prompting community concern and the allocation of dedicated police resources. (Toronto Police Service)

The arrest and first-degree murder charges against a suspect in the case of two men who disappeared from downtown Toronto have provided some sense of relief in the city's Gay Village but raised questions and criticisms about how police handled the investigation.

"I sort of feel like the police department has egg on their face because we told them a while ago that we felt that it was a serial killer and we also felt as though there was a connection between the people who were missing," Alphonso King, a community resident and friend of victim Andrew Kinsman, told CBC News.

"I think it's important that they understand that when a community speaks up and says 'We think that something is going on here' — listen."

Police established Project Prism to investigate the disappearances of Kinsman and Selim Esen. Kinsman, 49, went missing from Toronto's Cabbagetown neighbourhood in June, while Esen, 44, was last seen in the Yonge and Bloor area last April. Both areas are close to the predominantly gay neighbourhood of Church and Wellesley.

Project Prism was also created to share information with Project Houston, another task force looking into the 2012 disappearances of three other men in the Church and Wellesley area. 

'Never saw any police'

But King suggested the community felt abandoned by police, that they were more concerned about photo ops than actually "looking after our community and making sure that we're safe."

"I didn't notice any more presence in the village after we expressed concerns. You would have thought that there would have been more people on patrol and more people walking about. But I never saw any police," he said.

On Thursday, Toronto police announced they had a suspect in custody, Bruce McArthur, 66, of Toronto, who has been charged in connection with the deaths of Kinsman and Esen.

However, police also indicated that McArthur was tied to other victims who have yet to be identified.

Jesse Calleya said he believes police were taking the investigation seriously, but that they weren't keeping the community updated on its progress. (Mark Gollom/CBC)

It seemed like an about-face for the police, who last December held a news conference in which they attempted to assuage any fears that a serial killer may be loose in the community.

On Thursday, when asked about the previous comments denying the presence of a serial killer, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said: "In policing, what we do is we follow the evidence, and what I said at the time ... was accurate at that time." 

Those comments provided little comfort to community activists like Nicki Ward, who said they had pushed police to acknowledge the missing person status of those who had disappeared.

"We are validated in our concerns, but there's no joy to be had in that," said Ward, director of the Church-Wellesley Neighbourhood Association. "Why weren't we listened to earlier? Perhaps some lives could have been saved if that was the case."

The disappearances had rattled many members of the Gay Village, who were told by community leaders to be cautious when going out. Posters about the missing men have been plastered all over the neighbourhood, while community members launched social media sites to keep a focus on the issue.

'A lot of tension'

"There was a lot of tension, a lot of people looking over their shoulder," said Jesse Calleya, a barber at The Men's Room. "Everybody would walk home together or take an Uber together just because you never knew. A lot of people were just buddying up.

"And now they have somebody in custody. I feel there's been a lot of weight lifted off the shoulders of people in the community."

Community resident Raj Kalang praised police for their efforts in the case. (Mark Gollom/CBC)

Calleya said he believes police were taking the investigation seriously, but that they weren't keeping the community updated on its progress.

"The people in the community felt like they were being abandoned and felt like nothing was happening."

However, community resident Raj Kalang had nothing but praise for the police.

"It's not easy to track down all these things. I think they did the best."

'A great job'

Michael Sunley, who also lives in the neighbourhood, said police "have done a great job.

Paul Hyde, left and Mike Sunley, right, said they were confident in the police's abilities to arrest a suspect. (Mark Gollom/CBC)

"I acknowledge and recognize when police are doing their job, they can't tell you everything," he said. "Because if you compromise the investigation, that's a bigger problem than sharing everything with the public."

Sunley's partner, Paul Hyde, agreed.

"Ultimately we always felt confident someone would get caught."


Mark Gollom

Senior Reporter

Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.