As It Happens

Dean Lisowick, victim of alleged Toronto serial killer, remembered as 'a gentle soul'

LGBT advocate Nicki Ward penned a touching tribute to Lisowick, one of five men police believe were killed by alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur.
An undated photo of Dean Lisowick (Provided by Nicki Ward )
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Nicki Ward is remembering Dean Lisowick as a "good soul" with "a sweetness" beneath his "necessary shell of bravado."

He is one of at least five victims police believe were killed by an alleged serial killer targeting men in Toronto's Gay Village.

Bruce McArthur, 66, has been charged with five counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Selim Esen, Andrew Kinsman, Majeed Kayhan, Soroush Mahmudi and Lisowick.

Ward, director of the Church-Wellesley Neighbourhood Association, met Lisowick through her work with neighbourhood drop-in centres. She penned a tribute to him on Facebook.  

Here is part of her conversation with As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.

Can you tell us a bit about him and how you are remembering Dean Lisowick?

He was a very gentle soul. That's what most people are saying in the comments and that's certainly my experience as well. He was street-involved and so had a bit of a street persona, but what really shone through was his quietness, his politeness and a very vulnerable quality.

You speak of him being street-involved and maybe unable to express that gentle nature. Do you think the public would have understood — the people who necessarily saw him in the neighbourhood — who he was?

You know, I was seeing the comments — and they're so incredibly touching — of people who lived in the neighbourhood and had their own interactions with Mr. Lisowick. And everybody says much the same thing — that he may have been street-involved, but he was definitely a part of our neighbourhood and an extension of our community. The only thing I'm seeing are messages of compassion.

The only photograph of Dean Lisowick available now appears to be that mugshot. It's unfortunate. I'm just wondering what it's like for you to know that that is how people are seeing him?

I don't see a mugshot. I see just a sad, wounded individual. 

Bruce McArthur has been charged with the first-degree murder of Majeed Kayhan, top left, Soroush Mahmudi, top centre, Lisowick, top right, Andrew Kinsman, bottom left, and Selim Esen. (Toronto Police Service)

Can you give us a sense of the kind of life he was leading on the streets, perhaps?

He did odd jobs around, helped out where he could, panhandled here and there. Folks maybe helped out a little with a meal. He was a good soul and welcomed as part of our community.

We have heard that he was a user of the shelter system in Toronto and .... that his disappearance was not logged by police. What do you think of the kind of vulnerability someone in his position might have in terms of violence, given that marginalized position?

It's deeply troubling. The folks that we're talking about are on the margins of society — whether because they're under-housed, whether because they're poor, because they're members of the LGBT community or perhaps people of colour. That's the common thread. They're on the outskirts of society.

Your first line in the remembrance was, "There but for the grace of God, go I." What do you mean by that?

Well, there but for the grace of God go any one of us.

The missing and murdered people — some identified as gay men, some of them are poor, some of them are transgender women and some of them were other members of the LGBT community.

And any one of us could have been unrecorded or not deemed important enough to report as missing. This has really touched all of us very, very deeply. It's a relatively small and close-knit community. There are no degrees of separation between us and these folks. Everybody knows at least one. Many of us knew more than one.

Nicki Ward, director of Church-Wellesley Neighbourhood Association, says the murders in Toronto's Gay Village have affected the community very deeply. (CBC)

Do you think that the Church-Wellesley neighbourhood will find perhaps a more formal way to honour Mr. Lisowick's memory and that of the others whose names are emerging?

Absolutely. We're a very resolute community. The trouble is, of course, that so many more bodies are turning up and so many more, we suspect, will. And so we cannot even begin to approach closure as the list of people continues to rise.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more, listen to our full interview with Nicki Ward in the player above.

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