LGBTQ community members question concert linked to Bruce McArthur case

Concerns are being raised about a star-studded concert billed as "part vigil, part celebration" in the wake of the arrest of alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur.

The star-studded concert, set for the end of March, is billed as "part vigil, part celebration"

A concert billed as 'part-vigil, part-celebration' has been postponed. It did not mention alleged killer Bruce McArthur by name, but reference the 'series of killings that have rocked Toronto's LGBTQ community.' (Bruce McArthur/Facebook)

Members of Toronto's LGBTQ community are raising concerns over a star-studded concert billed as "part vigil, part celebration" in the wake of the arrest of alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur.

#LoveWins is a free music event planned for March 29 at Nathan Phillips Square with a lineup that features performances by Carole Pope and members of the Barenaked Ladies, the Forte Toronto Gay Men's Chorus and winners of CTV's "The Launch" music competition series.

But some say the plans are tone deaf with what's actually happening in Toronto's LGBTQ community, as police continue to seek answers about a serial killer who targeted gay men in the community for years.

McArthur, a 66-year-old self-employed landscaper, has been charged with six counts of first-degree murder. All of the alleged victims had ties to the city's gay village.

The #LoveWins poster doesn't mention McArthur by name but references "the series of killings that have rocked Toronto's LGBTQ community." The performers in the lineup include American R&B singer Thelma Houston, former Nylons member Billy Newton Davis and "Canadian Idol" winner Theo Tams.

Bringing together a roster of known faces misses the mark for Toronto resident Jordan Pedde.

"It just feels like a giant corporate, political cachet on a grieving community," he said.

"There's definitely room for there to be something uplifting for the community, and some sort of gathering, but people are still in the grieving stages."

Critics say community wasn't consulted

In a number of posts that have all been deleted from the event's page, other Facebook users questioned several aspects of the concert, including why it appears few members of the local community were consulted or asked to perform.

They also suggested the organizers' description of the event, which describes the evening as when "the work of healing now begins," ignores that many questions about the murders remain unanswered.

Salah Bachir, co-organizer of #LoveWins, said "a lot of people in the community" were looking for an event that emphasized the community's "strength and compassion." He said he didn't expect a negative reaction from some groups.

"There was so much that was going on, people were in shock and grieving, and we needed something that was uplifting as a community kind of thing, in light of all the murders," he said in a phone interview.

"There have been a couple different vigils and people have left them more depressed than ever."

The 62-year-old, who heads movie exhibitor Cineplex's media division, said he knew several of the murdered men. He downplayed social media criticism of the event.

"There's a lot of young people that are angry — angry at the police, angry at the city, angry at the mishandling of stuff — and I think venting their anger. Yeah, I enjoyed reading them," he said of the deleted Facebook posts.

Councillor says event will be 'transformative'

Toronto city Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, whose ward includes the gay village, said she disagrees with suggestions the concert is ill-timed.

"The criminal proceedings and the legal case will take years to unpack," she said.

"I can hear that people might say that it's too soon, but for some members of the community it's not soon enough. They're sitting by themselves and wondering where do they place their grief and who's going to bring them together?...In many ways, this concert is an effort to try and respond to community members who were saying they're feeling very much alone."

Mayor John Tory weighed in Thursday evening on Twitter, saying the concert would be an opportunity to "come together in healing and in strength."

Wong-Tam said she hopes the criticism doesn't discourage organizers.

"It was never meant to be (anything) ... other than a space of healing," she said.

"I think it's going to be a beautiful and transformative concert. It'll give us a chance to come together to grieve and sing."

Anti-concert Facebook page created

Sara Malabar, who founded a "Stop #LoveWins Concert" page on Facebook, said she's willing to reconsider her protest if family or friends of the victims were to support the concert.

She hasn't seen any evidence of that opinion so far.

"Our dead are still in forensic labs, some of them don't have names, some of them may not even be found yet. It's just way too soon for people to come together to 'celebrate' anything," she said, noting that a number of her gay male friends are still deeply traumatized by the case.

"Instead of trying to throw some sort of 'Let's feel better' concert, maybe we need to be coming together in our grief in respectful ways and working through the trauma.

"As long as it's just trying to make people feel better about a horrifying situation, that's not good enough for me."