Toronto

Hackathon to find missing people Pride Month's 'most important event'

Dozens of people came armed with laptops hoping to gather clues about missing people during what organizers call a "full day Hackathon" on Saturday put on by Pride Toronto.

Event includes members of Toronto Police Cyber Crime Unit

Volunteers spend the day working to find missing people during a Pride Toronto Hackathon on Saturday. (James Morrison-Collalto/CBC)

Dozens of people came armed with laptops hoping to gather clues about missing people during what organizers call a "full day Hackathon" on Saturday put on by Pride Toronto.

The event was held at the Daniels Spectrum cultural hub, in conjunction with Pride Month, as a response to the missing men from the city's Gay Village who were connected to serial killer Bruce McArthur

The organizers of today's event noted that the people missing aren't necessarily part of the LGBTQ community.

The participants use OSINT, or Open Source Intelligence, which includes mining public profiles on social media and using the dark web, which is made up of secretive sites that aren't indexed by common search engines.

'We're not vigilantes here'

"We're not vigilantes here, everything we're doing is within the bounds of the law," said Adrian Korn, the director of operations and strategic initiatives at Trace Labs, a non-profit group that partnered with Pride Toronto for the event.

"It's all out there, you just need to know where to look," Korn said.

(From left) Olivia Nuamah, the executive director of Pride Toronto, speaks with James Liolios and Adrian Korn of Trace Labs, a non-profit group that helps find missing people. (James Morrison-Collalto/CBC )

The volunteers range from security experts to amateur hackers who will be given a case and will start looking at where that person was last seen, who they have been virtually interacting with and what led up to the day they went missing.

The event is run like a game — teams get points for each new detail they uncover.

Two Seneca College students spent the day digging into the case of a 50-year-old man from Hamilton, who disappeared more than a year ago in Niagara Falls.

"We were wondering why he would go gamble by himself, because he seemed like a pretty social guy from the photos we found on Facebook, so we were just wondering if anyone was with him," said Kaitee Stuart.  

Toronto Police Cyber Crime Unit participating

The hacking is not only within the bounds of the law, the law is helping — with several police officers at the event helping to verify any information found and jumping on any "time sensitive leads," Korn explained.

Det. Lisa Belanger of Toronto police's Cyber Crime Unit described the event as "excellent."

"You can never have too many people assisting in these types of investigations," Belanger said.

The January 2018 arrest of McArthur sparked anger from the LGBTQ community who felt that police initially may not have put enough resources into the case.

Because of that, Olivia Nuamah, the executive director of Pride Toronto, called the Hackathon Pride's "most important event."

"It's meant to address what we heard from the community about the flawed nature of police investigations.  It's also the event where we hope to get feedback about how we can better connect with police," Nuamah explained.

Missing Persons Unit established in wake of McArthur

In the wake of the arrest, Toronto police launched its first missing persons unit in July 2018.

In just the first few months the team gathered information on every missing persons' case since 1990. Annually, Toronto police say they receive an average of 4,200 missing persons' reports. This means the unit is likely examining more than 100,000 cases.

The plan is to review each one of them — both solved and unsolved — to make sure they were investigated to today's standard.

Det. Belanger said the event helps them crowdsource information that will ultimately help the unit.

"Crowdsourcing is really where it's at … it happens a lot online, but not necessarily with police involvement," she said.

With files from Lorenda Reddekopp, Nicole Brockbank, Ian Munroe

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