The Current

Bruce McArthur's guilty plea shouldn't end scrutiny of investigation, journalist says

Serial killer Bruce McArthur's guilty plea means the families of his eight victims won't have to sit through a trial, but it also means they might not get the answers they seek. We talk to people close to the case about their relief, and the questions they want answered.

Investigation won't be fully understood without public inquiry, says Justin Ling

Just over a year after he was arrested, Bruce McArthur pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder. He will be sentenced next week. (Pam Davies/CBC)

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Bruce McArthur's guilty plea means that his victims' loved ones won't have to sit through a lengthy trial, but it also means many questions about his crimes could go unanswered, according to a journalist who has covered the disappearances of men in Toronto's gay village for years.

"There won't be a chance to really dig into some of the evidence and maybe that's for the best. Sometimes the evidence doesn't necessarily need a public airing," said Justin Ling, who was in court Tuesday to hear McArthur's plea.

Ling is creating a CBC original podcast Uncover: The Village — set to be released in April — about unsolved murders in Toronto's gay village dating back to the 1970s, which will also look at the McArthur case. 

McArthur pleaded guilty Tuesday to eight counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of eight men who disappeared in and around Toronto's gay village between 2010 and 2017.

McArthur pleaded guilty to 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)

In the wake of Tuesday's guilty plea, "what I think is needed is an understanding of how this investigation worked," Ling told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"And without a full trial we won't get that, unless there is a decision to hold a public inquiry."

The final call on a public inquiry falls to Ontario Attorney-General Caroline Mulroney and the Ontario government.

It's imperative that we don't move on just because there's a guilty plea here.- Justin Ling

"We know after Pickton there was a very thorough inquiry,"  Ling said, "that led to a series [of], I think, more than a hundred very serious suggestions on how to handle missing persons cases, and how to stop a serial killer."

"Toronto police unfortunately ignored many of those recommendations, and you can draw a direct line between that failure and Bruce McArthur."

Toronto police drew heavy criticism for their investigation of the missing men. Following that criticism, the service's first-ever missing persons unit was created.

There will also be an independent review of how missing persons cases are handled, set up by the Toronto Police Services Board, but the review will exclude the McArthur case.

Before McArthur admitted to the killings, his victims' families faced waiting until January 2020 for his trial, which could have lasted three to four months. Now, he will be sentenced next week, and faces the prospect of never leaving prison.

However, Ling says "it's imperative that we don't move on just because there's a guilty plea here."

Ling's CBC original podcast will look at other unsolved murders dating back to 1975. Some cases may involve McArthur or another as-yet-unidentified serial killer, he said.

"Cases, I think, that need a second look. Cases that were ignored back then, much like McArthur's victims were ignored for so long," he told Tremonti.

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.

Written by Padraig Moran, with files from CBC News. Produced by Alison Masemann, Danielle Carr and Sarah-Joyce Battersby.