Toronto

'Big questions' hang over funeral of alleged Bruce McArthur victim

Family and friends from around the world gathered Sunday to lay to rest Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, a man who sought refuge in Canada only to meet a violent end.

Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, 37, was laid to rest in Markham

The family of Kirushna Kumar Kanagarat travelled from Sri Lanka, the U.K and France for his funeral service in Markham on Sunday. (Adrian Cheung/CBC)

Family and friends from around the world gathered in Toronto to lay to rest Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, a man who sought refuge in Canada only to meet a violent end. 

Kanagaratnam's loved ones travelled from their homes in Sri Lanka, England and France for his funeral service, held Sunday afternoon in Markham. 

He was remembered as a man who hoped for a "bright future" in a new home after fleeing his native Sri Lanka when that country's civil war came to a bloody crescendo in 2009. 

Kanagaratnam, 37, felt he faced a certain death from government forces had he remained, said his friend Piranavan Thangavel. They both lost brothers to the decades-long conflict. 

The pair met in 2010 aboard the MV Sun Sea. They were two of 492 Sri Lankan asylum seekers brought to shore off the B.C. coast in August of that year after a three-month journey from Thailand in the ship's hull. 

The passengers claimed refugee status, but were detained on suspicion that some of them had links to a Tamil insurgency. 

"When we entered Canada, we didn't get that much welcome," Thangavel said. "They just called us terrorists. Then they arrest us and put us in jail."

Police believe Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, 37, was a victim of alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur. (Suthakaran Thanigasalam)

Into hiding

Their paths diverged in 2013, when Thangavel​ ran into his friend on a bus near Morningside and Sheppard avenues. Kanagaratnam​ told him that both his application for refugee status and his subsequent appeal had been rejected. 

"He didn't have any way to live in Canada. That is the reason he hid himself," Thangavel recalled.

The encounter on the bus proved to be the last time he saw Kanagaratnam alive. 

The next time Thangavel saw his friend's face was in March 2018, in a grisly photo circulated by Toronto police. The image was released publicly as a "last resort" to identify an unknown man who they believed to be a victim of McArthur. 

Piranavan Thangavel said that Kanagarat went into hiding after both his application and appeal for refugee status was rejected. (John Grierson/CBC)

A police source said at the time that the photo had come from a cache of images discovered on the former landscaper's personal computer. McArthur, 67, now faces eight charges of first-degree murder for the deaths of eight different men between 2010 and 2017. 

Little more than a month later after it was released, investigators confirmed that the man in the photo was Kanagaratnam.

'A lot of questions'

Police believe that Kanagaratnam was killed by McArthur in 2015, some time between early September and mid-December. He was never reported missing to police. 

His status as a rejected refugee claimant running out of legal options helps explain why Kanagaratnam seemed to vanish from public view, according to Haran Vijayanathan. 

"This whole notion of having to go into hiding, and not reporting where you are and what you're doing. They have this perception that they have to disconnect completely from everyone that they know if their refugee claim has failed," he said.

Haran Vijayanathan, executive director of ASAAP, said that Kanagarat's family hopes to speak with Toronto police about how their investigation has unfolded. (John Grierson/CBC)

Vijayanathan is the executive director of the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention in Toronto. He has served as a conduit in Canada for the families of a number of McArthur's alleged victims, helping to arrange funeral services and supports. 

He said Kanagaratnam's loved ones are struggling to understand how his life could have ended violently.

"They've had a lot of questions that I didn't have answers to," he explains. "We may not ever know all the answers to the questions that they have."

One question of particular weight is how Kanagaratnam may have met the man accused of killing him. Most of McArthur's other alleged victims had ties to Toronto's LGBT community.

'Why did Canada kill you?'

Thangavel said that in the 100 days they spent at sea together, Kanagaratnam never gave any indication that he was ​gay. He recalled that Kanagaratnam spoke of finding a wife and starting a family in Canada. 

"We have big questions about how he met that guy," Thangavel said.

Those who knew him speculate that perhaps Kanagaratnam was seeking out cash jobs, which are not uncommon in the landscaping business. He would have needed to generate an income of some kind, given that he could not work in Canada legally.

At Sunday's funeral service, Kanagaratnam's brother called out several times, "Why did Canada kill you?"

Thangavel said his death has been extremely difficult for the community of Sri Lankan refugees in Toronto.

"It was really disappointing for everyone who came as a refugee here. We don't want anything from Canada, we just came here to protect ourselves," he said. 

Bruce McArthur is accused of killing these eight men. Top row, from left to right, Navaratnam, Andrew Kinsman, Selim Esen, and Faizi. Bottom row, from left to right: Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, Dean Lisowick, Soroush Mahmudi, and Kayhan. (Toronto Police Service/CBC)

With files from Adrian Cheung and Lucas Powers

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