2 years after Bruce McArthur's arrest, Toronto's LGBTQ community still healing

This Sunday, Metropolitan Community Church will mark the second anniversary of McArthur's arrest with a special memorial service.

Metropolitan Community Church holding special service in memorial Sunday

Toronto’s LGBTQ community came together at Barbara Hall Park on Feb. 13, 2018, to recognize the victims of serial killer Bruce McArthur. (Evan Mitsui/CBC News)

Just over two years ago, Jeff Rock started his new job by stepping into a baptism by fire.

He had just taken over the role of senior pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church, which is Toronto's largest LGBTQ congregation.

Then, in his first week on the job, serial killer Bruce McArthur was arrested.

"For a lot of folks, that arrest two years ago only confirmed what people had feared for a long time — and that was there was a serial killer in their midst," Rock said on CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Friday.

In the two years since, Rock has attempted to help the city's LGBTQ community navigate through its shock, grief and loss. This Sunday, he will mark the second anniversary of McArthur's arrest with a special service at the church in an effort to continue a process that is still ongoing.

"Communities just don't heal," he said.

Pastor Jeff Rock says the unfolding news of alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur has produced feelings of shock, fear, grief and horror across the GTA. (Kate McGillivray/CBC)

Last year, McArthur pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of eight men between 2010 and 2017. Most of the victims, as well as McArthur himself, had deep ties to Toronto's Gay Village neighbourhood.

Remains of seven of the men were found in five garden planters at a mid-Toronto home where McArthur had worked and stored his landscaping tools. The remains of another man were found buried in a ravine at back of the property.

McArthur will be eligible to apply for parole after spending at least 25 years in prison for the grisly murders. He will be 91 when his first chance at parole comes up.

Rock told CBC News that Toronto's LGBTQ community is resilient, having dealt with things like the HIV/AIDS crisis, exclusion, homophobia and transphobia — but still coming to terms with the McArthur case remains hard. The eight lives lost here were well-known within the community.

"We're still a community in grieving," he said.

Rock also said it's important to recognize that the bulk of the victims were from racialized communities.

When serial killer Bruce McArthur was sentenced to life in prison last week, Insp. Hank Idsinga had a front-row seat. As lead investigator, Idsinga spent months digging through evidence, a process that left him emotionally exhausted. Ioanna Roumeliotis sat down with Idsinga to reflect on the year and the questions that linger. 5:28

"We need to care for each other better across the lines of difference," he said.

"I have often said we have a race problem in the LGBTQ community. If you go to the Church/Wellesley Village a decade ago, it would almost exclusively be a white space. That's changing very quickly, as Toronto too is changing and becoming more diverse."

In the two years since the arrest, work is also being done to mend the relationship between the city's LGBTQ community and police, he said. Some have criticized police, saying they ignored pleas for help.

Since then, four new police offers have been specifically dedicated to the Church and Wellesley area, he said.

"There are rays of hope. There are some olive branches being extended. But I think we need to continue to hold police to account," Rock told Metro Morning.

"It's going to be a long road to rebuilding trust."


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