Police bias part of the problem in missing persons cases, advisory panel members say

Two of the four members named by Toronto Police Services Board to advise it on setting up an external review of how police handle missing persons cases, say police bias is part of the problem.

Toronto Police Services Board names 4 community leaders to advise it on missing persons probe

A First Nations lawyer, an activist for the safety of sex workers, a board member of the Alliance for South Asian AIDS prevention and a Toronto Police Services Board member will advise the board on setting up the external review. (CBC)

The Toronto Police Services Board has announced the committee that will advise it on setting up an external review of how police handle missing persons cases, in the wake of the investigation into accused serial killer Bruce McArthur. 

And two of the members on the panel are already on record as saying police bias is part of the problem.

"Missing people in marginalized communities don't get the attention they deserve," said First Nations lawyer Sara Mainville, one of the members named to the committee. 

"I just find when there's a missing Indigenous adult, it's assumed people think they're hiding or they want to be missing and I think that's the bias."

The committee is expected to conclude its work no later than June 7 and report to the board at its meeting on June 21.

Mainville will serve alongside three other community leaders: 

  • Ken Jeffers of the Toronto Police Services Board.
  • Monica Forrester, program co-ordinator of Maggie's, The Toronto Sex Worker Action Project.
  • Shakir Rahim, board member of the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention (ASAAP).

These are communities that are deeply affected by the serial murder investigation into McArthur. The 66-year-old Toronto landscaper is charged with eight-counts of first-degree murder.

Six of McArthur's alleged victims were subjects of missing persons investigations before their remains were discovered. The other two were never reported missing.  

Sara Mainville is a partner at Olthuis Kleer Townshend LLP and works as legal council for First Nations (OKT Law)

South Asian and Middle Eastern men also make up six of McArthur's alleged victims, most of whom went missing in or near the city's Gay Village area as early as 2010.

Rahim is keen to expose any police bias.

"What ASAAP hopes to bring to the table is the voices of LGBTQ South Asian and Middle Eastern community," he said.
McArthur is also accused of killing these eight men. Top row, from left to right, Skandaraj Navaratnam, 40, Andrew Kinsman, 49, Selim Esen, 44, and Abdulbasir Faizi, 44. Bottom row, from left to right: Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, 37, Dean Lisowick, 47, Soroush Mahmudi, 50, and Majeed Kayhan, 58. (Toronto Police Service/CBC)

But specifics of the McArthur investigation are off limits in the committee's talks for fear of influencing the criminal court proceedings. 

Rahim says that doesn't affect the committee's ability to still get answers that the city and LGBT community want.
Shakir Rahim is a board member of the Alliance for South Asian Aids Prevention (ASAAP). (Twitter)

"It's important to recognize that there was a lot of police activity that happened regarding the missing person status of his alleged victims before McArthur was a criminal suspect," he said. 

Some of the questions he has about police bias include whether police jumped to conclusions about why the missing men vanished. 

"The idea for example, that they went back to their home country or that they purposely disappeared on account of the fact that some may have been closeted about their sexuality," Rahim said.  

Committee members applaud panel's diversity

There was early skepticism about whether the police board would select the right people to represent the city's vulnerable populations.

Mainville says a lot of people in her network were pleasantly surprised by the diversity of the panel.

Ken Jeffers, who is the only black member of the police services board, worked on a committee targeting racism in the workplace. 

Monica Forrester is a well-known advocate for people in the sex trade and missing persons, such as Alloura Wells and Dean Lisowick, who is believed to be one of McArthur's eight victims. 
Ken Jeffers, a Toronto Police Services Board member, sat on a committee that targeted racism in the workplace. (Toronto Police Services Board Website)

Rahim is especially pleased Forrester is involved because of her work with such a vulnerable population. 

Mainville, for her part, says she can't wait to start.

"I think there was a careful consideration that needed to happen and I hope people are open to what we're about to do."