As It Happens

'We were all betrayed' by Bruce McArthur, says victim's friend

Skandaraj Navaratnam once told his friend Kevin Nash that he was afraid of McArthur's "violent behaviour."

After Tuesday's guilty plea, Kevin Nash remembers Skandaraj Navaratnam as charming, kind and charismatic

Skandaraj Navaratnam, known to friends as Skanda, went missing in 2010. He was later identified as one of serial killer Bruce McArthur's victims. (CBC)

Story transcript

One of the last times Kevin Nash spoke to Skandaraj Navaratnam, he says he knew something wasn't right.

He'd run into his old friend at a gay bathhouse in Toronto in 2009, a year before Navaratnam went missing and 10 years after he'd started spending time with Bruce McArthur.

"I was shocked to see him in there because he wouldn't have went there unless he was, you know, hiding or running. But I grabbed him and took him into a room and I asked him what was going on, and he couldn't look me in the eyes," Nash told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"He looked scared, and I had to ask him if Bruce had hurt him, and he said no, but he was afraid of Bruce's violent behaviour."

McArthur pleaded guilty Tuesday to eight counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Navaratnam, Selim Esen, Andrew Kinsman, Majeed Kayhan, Dean Lisowick, Soroush Mahmudi, Abdulbasir Faizi and Kirushna Kanagaratnam.

The serial killer targeted men in Toronto's Gay Village. Navaratnam was his first known victim. 

'I could have stopped it'

Nash says he gave Navaratnam his phone number that night at the bathhouse and told him to call if he ever needed help.

He knew his friend would never go to the police, he said. As a gay immigrant from Sri Lanka, he distrusted the authorities and wanted to stay out of trouble. 

But Navaratnam never called.

From left to right, 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)

"I saw him one more time in the Village on Church street coming out of one of the bars with Bruce and some other guys — and that's the last I saw him," Nash said.

"I struggle with this myself. If I had of been more involved ... I could have stopped it. I mean, I should have just insisted. It's a guilt I'm always going to struggle with, that I didn't jump in."​

'If you knew Skanda, you would love him'

Nash said he first met Navaratnam — known to friends "Skanda" — in 1994 when he was in a relationship with Nash's friend Robert (Bobby) Frayer.

The couple shared an apartment across from him and his son in the Village, he said.

"If you knew Skanda, you would love him. He was a very attractive, handsome young man with a charismatic attitude [who] loved to laugh," Nash said.

"It's hard to explain, but we were like a little family of misfits. And we were all so supportive of Skanda because he was going to school at the time and still waiting to be confirmed as a landed immigrant."

Kevin Nash was friends with Navaratnam in the '90s when they were neighbours in Toronto's Gay Village. (Submitted by Kevin Nash )

Navaratnam was especially close to Nash's then-teenage son Taylor, he said. 

The pair bonded over a shared love of video games and would spend hours playing in Navaratnam's old bachelor apartment, which he kept to house his collection of games and elaborate aquariums, all teeming with aquatic life.

One summer, Nash said Taylor briefly went missing.

While Nash was stuck at home giving a statement to police, Navaratnam hopped on his bicycle and scoured the nearby parks in search of him.

"He was a great-hearted person" Nash said. 

Enter Bruce McArthur 

Navaratnam and Frayer went through some rough patches, Nash said, and they eventually broke up. Frayer died of cancer in 2000, he said. 

Navaratnam met McArthur in 1999, Nash said, and he believes they started dating in the early 2000s, 

He described McArthur as "confident and arrogant, but nice."

"It's like a combination. His handshake was firm and he seemed level-headed, but there was just something I didn't like," Nash said.

McArthur pleaded guilty Tuesday to eight counts of first-degree murder. He will be sentenced next week. (Pam Davies/CBC)

But he didn't voice his apprehensions because Navaratnam seemed happy, he said. He was moving forward with life. He'd started apprenticing under McArthur, who was a landscaper.

Nash remembers Navaratnam proudly showing off a koi pond he'd built with McArthur. He'd always had a fondness for fish.

"He thought that he had found a new life, and he came from so much heartache in Sri Lanka, you know, to Canada to start over," Nash said.

"I feel like he was betrayed. You know, we were all betrayed by this guy."

'I'm just devastated that it ended this way'

Navaratnam was last seen on Sept. 6, 2010, leaving a nightclub in the Village. He was reported missing 10 days later.

On Feb. 23, 2018, McArthur was charged with his murder. Police said they'd identified his remains from one of the large planters seized from a house where McArthur stored landscaping equipment.

The grisly case has left an indelible mark on Nash and the city's LGBTQ community, he said.

"I'm not comfortable dating now, going out there. It takes away that trust," he said.

"Gay people are very friendly and open-minded because of what we've all been through and I think it's really put a hole in everybody's heart."

Now Nash is struggling with whether he should provide a victim-impact statement about his friend in court next week. 

"It just brings back again, you know, and I haven't been paying attention," he said. "I know it sounds selfish or whatever but it hurts me because Skanda was really dear to me and my son."

He prefers to remember Navaratnam as his charming friend who would take him out for spicy food just to tease him. He remembers a particular night in Mississauga. 

"There had to be about 20, 30 bottles of hot sauce and he was getting me to try them all, and I was completely dying from it. And he was laughing, you know, and he said, 'Well, we can do this again next week,' and I said, 'Not a chance,'" Nash said with a chuckle. 

"I can't say enough about him. I'm just devastated that it ended this way."

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC News. Interview with Kevin Nash produced by Chris Harbord.