Chief Saunders releases interview tape to combat claims of victim blaming in Bruce McArthur case

Police Chief Mark Saunders released audio of an interview he did with the Globe and Mail after comments he made in reference to the Bruce McArthur case were viewed as victim blaming.

After facing stiff criticism, Saunders says people should 'hear for yourself' what was said

Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders told the Globe and Mail that information about alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur "did not come out" from the community as police investigated missing persons cases from the city's Gay Village. (CBC)

Toronto's police chief is responding to stiff criticism following comments published in the Globe and Mail in which he suggests alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur may have been caught sooner if people who knew him had been more forthcoming with police.  

Presented under the headline "Toronto police chief says civilians failed to help investigation into alleged serial killer," Chief Mark Saunders's comments were widely seen by LGBT leaders and community members as victim blaming.

"You can't turn around and say the community did not do anything," Haran Vijayanathan, executive director at the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention, told CBC Toronto on Tuesday.   

A few hours later, Saunders moved to quell the storm, releasing a statement — that contained the complete audio from his interview with the Globe — in which he implored people to "hear for yourself" what was said. 

Bruce McArthur, 66, is accused of killing six men and police believe there may be more victims. (Bruce McArthur/Facebook)

In the hour-long interview, Saunders said police "knew something was up" in the city's Gay Village while Project Houston, a two-year investigation into three missing men, was underway — but that "we did not have the evidence." 

"If anyone would know before us, it's people that knew him very very well. So that did not come out," Saunders said at another point, referring to McArthur.

'I hope it's just a distorted headline'

Politicians also weighed in Tuesday, with Toronto Mayor John Tory defending the chief, saying that "no one" is blaming victims for failing to come forward with information about McArthur.

"I just want to make it very clear as mayor that there is no one who is suggesting any blame belongs on victims of horrific crimes; that we are all grieving as a city with the LGBTQ and Church-Wellesley community and there are reviews underway now to determine exactly what happened here and why and how we can do better," Tory told reporters during a transit news conference when he was asked about the chief's remarks.

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam says a rumour that a serial killer was at work in the Gay Village had been "percolating for years." (CBC)

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, whose ward includes the Gay Village, expressed her hope during an appearance on CBC Radio's Metro Morning that the Chief's comments were "taken out of context," given the fraught relationship between the LGBT community and the police. 

Wong-Tam pointed out that community members had been raising concerns that "something was not quite right" in the Church and Wellesley area for years, and that she herself had brought up those concerns with officers at 51 Division. 

"I find it rather difficult to understand why he may be blaming the community and I hope it's just a distorted headline," she said. 

McArthur investigation 'will be thoroughly examined' 

The Globe interview is just the latest chapter in ongoing fallout around how Toronto police handled the investigation into missing men in the village, with particular attention paid to a December appearance by Saunders in which he said there was "no evidence" that a serial killer was at work.

McArthur was arrested the following month. 

Much focus has also been on what was known by police during Project Houston, a two-year investigation into the disappearances of three men: Skandaraj Navaratnam, 40, Abdulbasir Faizi, 42, and Majeed Kayhan, 58, who disappeared between 2010 and 2012.

McArthur is now charged with first-degree murder of Navaratnam and Kayhan, as well as four other men: Andrew Kinsman, 49, Selim Esen, 44, Dean Lisowick, 47 and Soroush Mahmudi, 50.

The force is conducting an internal review of how police handled Project Houston and the cases of missing men from the village. In the interview, Saunders defended his officers' work.

Community members and dignitaries lit candles during a vigil hosted by the Metropolitan Community Church in Toronto to mourn victims of alleged killer Bruce McArthur. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

"I've heard a lot of sources say certain things, and had those sources said those things when we had Project Houston, I think there is a very strong potential that the outcome could have been different," Saunders told the Globe.

He later added: "We knew that people were missing and we knew we didn't have the right answers. But nobody was coming to us with anything."

At other moments in the interview, Saunders said police were looking to learn and improve from the McArthur case.

"Is there something within our policing environment that's causing people not to want to come and talk to us and not give us those tidbits," he asked. 

Saunders also told the Globe he was "willing to hear" ideas about how to improve the relationship between police and the LGBT community.