Vigil held in Gay Village before alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur appears by video in court

Dozens gathered in the heart of Toronto's Gay Village on Tuesday night to honour Selim Essen, Sorush Mahmudi, Dean Lisowick, Andrew Kinsman and Majeed Kayhan, hours before their alleged killer was set to make a video appearance in a Toronto courtroom.

Participants at vigil lit candles, sang and chanted to honour alleged victims, other late community members

Toronto’s LGBTQ community came together at Barbara Hall Park to recognize the lives of several men suspected to have been the victims of alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

About 100 people gathered in the heart of Toronto's Gay Village on Tuesday night to honour Selim Esen, Soroush Mahmudi, Dean Lisowick, Andrew Kinsman and Majeed Kayhan, hours before their alleged killer was set to make a video appearance in a Toronto courtroom.

McArthur is charged with five counts of first-degree murder, and investigators have said they expect to lay more charges against the 66-year-old in the coming days.

Several organizations organized Tuesday's vigil, recognizing the community's need to be with one another.

"For us, collectively, it was about giving voice to both the grief and the healing that were happening, but also recognition that as a community we must come together," said Maura Lawless, executive director of The 519, an LGBTQ community centre.

Charles Cuschieri joined the ceremony to light a candle for Kinsman. Cuschieri said he saw Kinsman daily when he worked at a sandwich shop on Church Street.

Charles Cuschieri attended Tuesday evening's event with family and friends. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

"Then we saw his face on the missing posters over the summer and we thought what's going on here, and then we saw other people whose faces appeared on missing posters."

When police linked McArthur to the disappearances, Cuschieri was stunned. 

He often saw McArthur in the village, nodding hello to him each time.

"When you sort of put it all together, I remember feeling nauseous," he said. "You really never know what's lurking behind what you see on the surface." 

As more details emerge, Cuschieri said he has started to feel some closure, but he knows this case is far from over.

"I'm sure we're going to learn more. I sort of feel bad, I feel sorry that we're all having to join today for this purpose."

The well-attended event was organized by The 519 community centre. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

'Our community is at risk'

As much as the vigil provided comfort, it also gave speakers the opportunity to voice what they believe needs to change.

Haran Vijayanathan, the executive director at the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention (ASAAP), spoke about his organization's push for internal and external investigations into how police have dealt with missing person cases involving gay and racialized men.

Haran Vijayanathan said the organizations present at Tuesday's event are pushing to create both safer communities and systemic change. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

"Our community is at risk, and our community is threatened by the system that's meant to protect us," he said. "We just want the system to acknowledge that they truly made a mistake."

Vijayanathan also acknowledged the role of the organizations present to create safer communities.

"Dean Lisowick, no one reported him missing because he was homeless, but no one also spent the time to look for him when he wasn't appearing at places. So there's assumptions that we make as communities."

The events included presentations from a variety of community members, including spoken poets, musicians and dancers.

Forte - Toronto Gay Men's Chorus sang Winter Song by Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

"I was grateful for the many different voices that were up there," said Berkha Gupta, the executive director of the LGBT Youth Line who uses the pronoun they.

"Even though we're grieving for something today and we know that something's happening in the village ... it's not disconnected from missing and murdered Indigenous women, and it's not disconnected from a lot of the issues that we see everyday."

Gupta has noticed the resilience of young people in the LGBT community who are processing what's happened, but is concerned at their lack of surprise.

"I think this is a harsh reminder that youth know too well that our communities are still hated and that there's still discrimination at the systemic level and institutional level."

"There's shock around what's happening, but there's not shock around the way that the system has failed our communities."​

Participants at the event wore armbands with words such as grieve, resist, heal, rise and love. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Investigation moves forward

Toronto police have nearly completed their investigation at a home on Mallory Crescent, where McArthur worked as a landscaper and stored his equipment. Remains of at least six people were found in planters on the property. 

On Tuesday, police dug up a drainpipe in front of the home. For several days they've worked to excavate portions of the backyard. No additional human remains were found on the property, investigators said. 

The focus of forensic teams will return to the 15 planters that have been seized from various locations, according to investigators.