Between 2010 and 2017, a series of men disappeared in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. In the early part of the decade, the Toronto Police Service (TPS) had created Project Houston, a divisional task force which linked the disappearance of three men of South Asian or Middle Eastern origin to Church and Wellesley, Toronto's gay village. The investigation was unable to determine if the disappearances were related or if a crime had been committed. In mid-2017, amid public speculation of a serial killer in Church and Wellesley, evidence was gained from another missing-persons investigation which led TPS to create a second divisional task force, Project Prism. In January 2018, Project Prism investigators obtained evidence connecting two disappearances to Bruce McArthur, a 66-year-old self-employed landscaper, whom they arrested on January 18, 2018.
Police say that they found evidence in McArthur's apartment leading to homicide charges and that they found the dismembered remains of several men in planter boxes at a residence where McArthur stored landscaping equipment. McArthur and many of his alleged victims were active on online dating apps for men who have sex with men, where McArthur stated that he wanted to meet submissive men. By April 18, McArthur had been charged with eight counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of missing men, most of whom had been linked to Church and Wellesley. On January 29, 2019, McArthur pleaded guilty to all eight counts in Ontario Superior Court, and was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment with no parole eligibility for 25 years. McArthur is the most prolific known serial killer to have been active in Toronto, and the oldest known serial killer in Canada.
The criminal investigation of McArthur has been described as unprecedented, involving numerous possible crime scenes, identification of skeletal remains, judicial authorizations for data hosted on foreign servers and examination of cold cases dating back to the mid-1970s. It became the largest investigation conducted by the TPS and also called on the resources of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and other police and forensic services. Criticisms of the TPS's handling of the missing persons investigations have led to several internal reviews, an external review called by the civilian Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) and the formation of a dedicated missing persons unit.
Thomas Donald Bruce McArthur
October 8, 1951
|Education||Fenelon Falls Secondary School|
|Criminal penalty||Life imprisonment|
Span of crimes
|Location(s)||Church and Wellesley|
|January 18, 2018|
Thomas Donald Bruce McArthur was born on October 8, 1951, in Lindsay, Ontario, and was raised on a farm in Argyle, near Woodville in the Kawartha Lakes region, about 60 kilometres (37 mi) north of Oshawa. In addition to raising McArthur and his sister, his parents fostered troubled children from Toronto, often with six to ten in their care at any given time, and had a good reputation in the area according to a family friend.
A young McArthur attended a one-room schoolhouse outside Woodville. A classmate recalled him trying to be the teacher's pet and informing on mischief by the other boys, with whom he did not fit in. He was also known for winning singing contests. His mother was Irish Catholic and his father a Scottish Presbyterian; both were devout, causing arguments in which McArthur supported his mother. This led to derision from his strict father, who McArthur later felt may have sensed his lack of masculinity or his homosexuality. McArthur had trouble accepting his sexual orientation which would have been seen as abnormal in rural Ontario at that time.
McArthur was bused to nearby Fenelon Falls Secondary School for his secondary education where he met and began dating Janice Campbell, both graduating in 1970. McArthur later graduated from a program in general business and married Campbell when he was 23.
McArthur began working for Eaton's department stores around 1973, as a buyer's assistant in a downtown Toronto building later demolished for construction of the Eaton Centre. A few blocks north of where McArthur was working, a gay village was forming on Yonge Street between College and Wellesley streets, same-sex adult sexual behaviour having been decriminalized in 1969.
In the mid-1970s, McArthur's father was diagnosed with a brain tumour. He was sent to a nursing home and McArthur became disappointed when his mother took interest in another man. McArthur grew much closer to his father at this time. His mother died of cancer in 1978 and his father died in 1981.
In 1979, McArthur and his wife moved into a house on Ormond Drive in Oshawa; by 1981 they had a daughter, Melanie, and a son, Todd. In 1986, the McArthurs bought a home on Cartref Avenue in Oshawa. He became very active in his church, keeping himself busy to avoid examining his homosexual feelings.
McArthur left his job in the Eaton's buying department in 1978 and began working as a travelling salesman for McGregor Socks. He worked by himself, travelling from town to town, soliciting department stores to carry his merchandise. He worked territories including Northern Ontario and the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), and as he gained more territories he employed "counters" to stock, prepare, and reorder merchandise. McArthur later worked as a merchandising representative for Stanfield's, an underwear and sportswear company, servicing GTA retailers like Hudson's Bay and Sears.
McArthur began having sexual affairs with men in the early 1990s. More than a year later he came out of the closet to his wife, but they continued living together. Sometime after 1993, McArthur's employment in the clothing trade came to an end and the couple faced financial difficulty, in part due to legal issues connected to their then-teenaged son, Todd, who was obsessively making obscene phone calls to women he did not know. The couple mortgaged their home in 1997 and declared bankruptcy in 1999.
McArthur separated from his wife in 1997 and moved to Toronto, as there was no gay community in Oshawa at that time. He frequented the bars of Church and Wellesley, Toronto's gay village, and moved into an apartment on Don Mills Road while pursuing a four-year relationship with another man. When they broke up and his divorce was being finalized, McArthur saw a psychiatrist and was prescribed Prozac for several months. At about this time he was attempting to gain work as a landscaper.
McArthur had met a male sex worker on a chat line and later had sex with him. Just after noon on October 31, 2001, a few weeks after his 50th birthday, McArthur was invited into the man's apartment to see his Halloween costume. McArthur struck the man several times from behind with an iron pipe that he often carried. The victim lost consciousness, then called 911 when he awoke and was taken to St. Michael's Hospital. He had suffered injuries to his head and body and needed several stitches on the back of his head and his fingers as well as six weeks of physiotherapy.
McArthur, who turned himself in after the attack, said he did not remember the attack or why he might have done it. He pleaded guilty to charges of assault with a weapon and assault causing bodily harm, and on April 11, 2003, received a conditional sentence of 729 days (two years less a day). A further charge of carrying a concealed weapon was withdrawn at the time. The Crown prosecutor had earlier believed jail time was warranted but agreed to a conditional sentence after psychiatric and presentencing reports suggested McArthur was a low risk to reoffend. The victim, said by the Crown attorney to have been traumatized by the incident, did not provide a victim-impact statement for the sentencing, and there were concerns that McArthur's unexplained behaviour may have been due to the combination of McArthur's anti-seizure medication with amyl nitrite[a] or "poppers", a muscle relaxant which is sometimes taken recreationally before sex.
McArthur avoided prison, spending the first year of his sentence under house arrest, followed by a six-month curfew and three years of probation. During the sentence, he was barred from Church and Wellesley except for work and medical appointments, had to stay at least 10 metres (33 ft) from the victim's home or workplace, and could not spend time with "male prostitutes". He was forbidden to possess firearms for 10 years. He was not to purchase, possess or consume drugs without a medical prescription, and specifically not to possess poppers. McArthur had to submit his DNA to a database and was compelled to undertake psychological and psychiatric counselling including anger management.
A criminal defence lawyer found the list of conditions uncommon and suggested that the judge was concerned that McArthur was a danger to all male prostitutes. A retired homicide detective noted that parole conditions were unenforceable, were not published or made public knowledge and that parole violators were caught only if they come to the attention of police.
In 2014, McArthur was granted a record suspension on the conviction which was expunged from his record, and would not have appeared in criminal background checks during subsequent investigations. Most records and exhibits were destroyed in 2010, in compliance with Toronto Police Service (TPS) retention policy. The only surviving documents were the transcripts of the guilty plea and sentencing hearing, the psychiatric report and pre-sentencing report ordered during the trial, and pictures of the victim's injuries and the weapon.
In 2002, while the assault case was still before the courts, McArthur registered with Recon, a gay fetish dating website for men into BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism) where his profile noted his interest in submissive men. He was active on numerous gay dating websites including Silverdaddies, Manjam, Grindr, Bear411, BearForest, Scruff, DaddyHunt, Squirt and Growlr. McArthur joined Facebook in 2011 and catalogued his nightlife with pictures of parties, vacations, birthday dinners and concerts. Younger men of South Asian or Middle Eastern descent were in several pictures. By this time he had become a part of the gay village community and was a regular at its bars. Since 2007 or 2008, he was living in a 19th-floor apartment at Leaside Towers in Thorncliffe Park, a neighbourhood populated mainly by immigrants about 5 kilometres (3 mi) northeast of Church and Wellesley.
McArthur's 2003 banishment from Church and Wellesley remained well-known and he had developed a reputation for BDSM and rough sex. In 2011, Robert James had been spending time with McArthur, who told him about an incident in a coffeehouse: when he had been asked to leave, McArthur's temper burst and he knocked all the glass jars off the counter. James decided to heed advice to stay away from McArthur, explaining that he had heard disturbing stories about him. According to James, McArthur turned red and screamed about "f---ing f---ots [sic] telling stories about me!" and "You're just like the rest of them, you think I'm crazy."
A. J. Khan remembered McArthur as a friendly regular at his restaurant, Church Bistro 555. Towards the end of 2013, Khan inquired when McArthur came in alone instead of with his usual companion. McArthur said his boyfriend was on vacation, and when Khan noted he had seen the man the previous day, McArthur angrily left and never returned.
McArthur had become a self-employed landscaper operating under the name Artistic Designs. A colleague who installed water features on three of his projects in 2011 described McArthur as more of a gardener, operating out of a little van with old tools. He said that McArthur was always accompanied by an older white man, who appeared to be romantically involved with him, and a day labourer, usually of Southeast Asian or Middle Eastern descent. Most of McArthur's clients were wealthy elderly women who found him charming, and he had built a client base through personal recommendations. During the off-season, McArthur portrayed Santa Claus at Agincourt Mall and made floral gifts for charities.
McArthur's separation from his wife was initially heated, though they later reconciled. His son Todd was reported to have difficulty accepting his father as homosexual. In 2014, Todd McArthur was sentenced to 14 months in jail for making multiple obscene phone calls. He was released on bail, ordered to stay with his father at his Toronto apartment and assist with McArthur's landscaping business. A former friend of Todd's visited one night and discovered the wall of McArthur's bathroom was decorated with photos of naked men with erections. He said that most of the men appeared to be "East Indian" and that Todd said that they were men whom his father knew. McArthur did not hide the fact, laughing over it at breakfast.
Project Houston was an 18-month Toronto Police Service (TPS) investigation which began in November 2012, initially looking at the September 6, 2010, disappearance of Skandaraj "Skanda" Navaratnam. Police had searched Riverdale Park, a popular LGBT cruising spot, in 2010 with Navaratnam's friends and later with cadaver dogs and mounted patrols. Two years later, police believed that Navaratnam had been murdered but had no leads. According to a 2018 W5 investigation, a man posted on the cannibal website Zambian Meat in 2012 that he had killed and eaten a man in Toronto, which had led to the formation of Project Houston.
Detectives at 51 Division, which included Church and Wellesley, brought their evidence to the homicide squad, and Hank Idsinga was seconded to Project Houston for six months until the cannibalism tip was ultimately dismissed. The focus of the investigation, codenamed "Suspect Zero", was James Alex Brunton, a retired hospital technician living in Peterborough, Ontario. Police surveilled him and performed online and plainclothes operations. He was cleared as a murder suspect in 2013 but pleaded guilty to possessing, making and distributing child pornography. Brunton, 69, who has much in common with McArthur, had entered into a cannibalistic sexual contract with a teenager from Colorado.
By June 2013, the task force had identified two other missing-persons cases linked by geography and lifestyle: those of Abdulbasir "Basir" Faizi and Majeed "Hamid" Kayhan. All three were middle-aged immigrants of South Asian origin and had disappeared between 2010 and 2012. Faizi and Kayhan were each married and leading double lives; police linked them to Church and Wellesley where they had all disappeared.
A source with knowledge of the investigation later told The Globe and Mail that McArthur had been linked to two of the missing men through his dating apps. An anonymous tip led police to interview McArthur on November 11, 2013. Police had been told that McArthur had a romantic relationship with Navaratnam and had visited Kayhan. Because he was a long-time friend of Navaratnam, police then considered him a possible witness. McArthur told police that he knew both men and regularly interacted with Navaratnam at The Black Eagle, but denied being in a relationship with him. McArthur also admitted to employing Kayhan, with whom he'd broken off a sexual relationship. Two weeks after this interview, McArthur purchased a 2004 special ion Dodge Caravan.
Project Houston concluded with no evidence to link the disappearances, that a crime had been committed or to identify a suspect. According to a 2016 case summary, there was still nothing to explain what had happened to these men.
Andrew Kinsman disappeared from Cabbagetown on June 26, 2017, the day after Pride Toronto, the city's gay pride festival, and was last seen in the area of his residence on Winchester Street. On the evening of June 28, learning that no one had seen Kinsman in a couple of days, Ted Healey and other friends gained access to his apartment. They found no sign of disturbance, though his 17-year-old cat was out of food and water. They reported Kinsman's disappearance to police the following day.
Unlike the other missing men, Kinsman was openly gay and had deep roots in the community. He had worked as a bartender, was a long-time volunteer with the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation and a superintendent of his building. He was known as a stable and responsible man, and friends felt he would not suddenly leave, and certainly not leave his cat and his prescription medicine behind. Kinsman was active on social media but investigators found his cell phone was turned off the day he disappeared. The 49-year-old was 1.93 metres (6 ft 4 in) tall, 100 kilograms (220 lb) and street-savvy, facts which made him seem an unlikely victim of violence.
Greg Downer, a friend and colleague of Kinsman, was at the centre of community-driven efforts to find Kinsman and other missing men. He founded and moderated the Facebook groups Find Andrew Kinsman and Toronto's Missing Rainbow Community, which had about 600 members each. These groups shared information about the missing men and organized volunteers for search parties. They also raised public awareness with missing-persons posters for Kinsman.
Another picture with twelve missing persons presumed to be gay, later reduced to eleven, spread on social media. The information was outdated: five of the men had already been found alive and well, and a sixth had been discovered dead and ruled a suicide. The other pictures included the three missing men from Project Houston, Kinsman, and Selim Esen who disappeared April 14, 2017. The Internet meme suggested that the disappearances were all connected and fed fears in the community, with some suspecting a serial killer.
At the end of July 2017, police created a new task force, Project Prism, to investigate the disappearances of Kinsman and Esen, and to look for any links with the unsolved disappearances investigated under Project Houston. Downer organized an August 1 community safety meeting in which police gave an overview of the task force and thanked the community for "the abundance of information" that they had received. Queer refugees, transgender and two-spirit people spoke of their vulnerabilities, experiencing disproportionate violence within the LGBTQ community. The Missing Rainbow Community provided strategies for staying safe when meeting people from dating apps.
Realizing the difficulty police faced with judicial authorizations for data from servers located outside Canada, which caused delays in the crucial early days of the missing-persons investigations, Downer appealed to dating apps to provide an option for users to consent to have their data released to police if they went missing. Safety hotlines were also set up for those reluctant to speak to police.
Fears of a predator stalking Church and Wellesley grew on November 29 when the body of Tess Richey was found by her mother in an alleyway four days after she was reported missing. The following day police announced that the body of Alloura Wells, a homeless transgender woman, had been identified, her body having been discovered in a Rosedale ravine in August. Because of fears in the community, TPS Chief Mark Saunders held an unprecedented December 8 news conference on the three separate investigations into the homicide of Richey, the death of Wells, and the disappearances of Kinsman and Esen. Although the cases occurred in close proximity, police did not believe they were related and Saunders said they had no evidence of a serial killer.
Project Prism was a TPS task force created at the end of July 2017 to investigate the disappearances of Kinsman and Esen, and to look for any links with the unsolved disappearances investigated under Project Houston. The task force was overseen by Detective Sergeant Michael Richmond and led by Detective Sergeant Hank Idsinga who had served on the homicide squad for over thirteen years and had been assigned to Project Houston for six months. The task force also included an officer from the sex crimes unit and six officers from Police 51 Division, three of whom had been members of Project Houston. The investigation was difficult because of the lifestyle of the subjects, who used dating apps and frequently met people that they had never met before. It was noted to be unlike Kinsman or Esen to go anywhere without notifying friends or family.
Kinsman's disappearance was central to the creation of Project Prism because of a lead obtained at the end of July. Idsinga later said that "a crucial piece of evidence" was recovered because Kinsman's disappearance had been reported within 72 hours, evidence which could have been lost. According to an agreed statement of facts read in court, police found "Bruce" on Kinsman's calendar for June 26 — the same day Kinsman was last seen. That day, surveillance video outside Kinsman's residence showed a person matching Kinsman's appearance approach a red vehicle. Victoria Gibson of The Globe and Mail described the surveillance image as "tiny" and "fleeting". It did not include a license plate or a clear picture of the driver. Chrome siding identified it as a 2004 Dodge Caravan. There were more than 6,000 similar models in Toronto, but only five were registered to someone named Bruce; of those the only 2004 model belonged to McArthur. (The other Bruces were eliminated as suspects.) By late August or September they matched it from surveillance video of McArthur's apartment, but it was no longer at his residence.
Redacted warrants and police documents, partially released by a judge in mid-2018, revealed that in August and September 2017, police investigators had obtained production orders compelling the release of data from Google, Rogers, Bell, Telus, Royal Bank and Manulife Bank. Around September, tracking warrants had been obtained for vehicles and phones. In October, further orders were granted for information from Yahoo!, Air Canada, additional banks and Pink Triangle Press, an LGBT publisher. McArthur was named in a September 8 request to place a judicial seal on the warrants, and a later request to seal warrants issued from September to November noted "the investigation into Bruce McArthur." An October request noted "circumstantial evidence" that suggested McArthur's involvement in the disappearance of five men, including Kinsman.
On October 3, plainclothes police officers arrived at Dom's Auto Parts in Courtice, Ontario, 70 kilometres (43 mi) northeast of Toronto. They were canvassing businesses for McArthur's 2004 Dodge Caravan, which owner Dominic Vetere confirmed he had purchased on September 16. The police found it intact and had it towed away, also copying surveillance video of McArthur visiting the shop. Vetere said that officers later told him that they had found trace amounts of blood in the vehicle. This blood was identified as Kinsman's.
Court documents show that in November cadaver dogs were brought to a Mallory Crescent residence in the Leaside neighbourhood of Toronto. McArthur had an arrangement to tend to the owners' yard in exchange for storage space in their garage for his landscaping equipment. The dogs did not indicate any human remains. A camera was installed to monitor the garage. Police also obtained a log of McArthur's key fob for his apartment. With this and a tracking warrant for his cellphone, they built a timeline of the day Kinsman went missing.
DNA evidence from McArthur's van which matched Kinsman and Esen allowed investigators to obtain a general warrant for McArthur's apartment on December 4. Police then covertly entered McArthur's residence and cloned his computer's hard drive. On December 5, after consultation with the community, Project Prism issued a warning about dating apps, urging users to exercise caution when meeting someone.
In a December 8 news conference, Project Prism investigators said they had completed 62 witness interviews, 28 judicial authorizations and assigned 308 actions of which 225 had been completed. Police had also conducted searches, utilizing resources from the mounted and canine units; on one occasion a drone was used. They said that they had no evidence to link the disappearances.
The investigation picked up in January 2018, when Idsinga noted they had many 15-hour days and a 72-hour stretch of intensive investigation in mid-January. On January 17, two pieces of evidence came to light directly connecting McArthur to the disappearances of Esen and of Kinsman. A partial download from McArthur's computer, which was going through forensic analysis of deleted files, yielded post-mortem photos of the victims that day. Round-the-clock surveillance was put on McArthur, with instructions that McArthur should be immediately arrested if observed "alone with anyone".
Police officers surveilling McArthur decided to apprehend him shortly after they saw a young man enter his Thorncliffe Park apartment on January 18, 2018, believing the man's life was at risk. A source told CTV News that the police officers found the young man restrained to a bed when they entered McArthur's apartment. The man was shaken but not injured. Referred to in court as "John", the man had arrived in Canada from the Middle East five years earlier, was married and had not told his family that he was gay. He had met McArthur through dating app Growlr, and said that they had met for sex several times. He had agreed to keep his relationship with McArthur secret, and let himself be handcuffed to McArthur's steel bedframe. McArthur put a black bag over his head and tried to tape his mouth shut before police officers interrupted him.
According to CP24, the officers had a search warrant for the apartment, obtained after gaining blood evidence from McArthur's van. Police seized electronic devices from the apartment, including five cellphones, five computers, three digital cameras, and about a dozen USB flash drives. Evidence found in McArthur's apartment shortly after the arrest prompted investigators to charge McArthur with two counts of first-degree murder in the presumed deaths of Andrew Kinsman and Selim Esen. Their bodies had not been found, but police said that they had a "pretty good idea" of how they died. Idsinga was satisfied that there was enough evidence for murder convictions even without the bodies.
A source told CTV News that photographs of the alleged victims found at McArthur's residence led to the charges. The Toronto Sun reported that McArthur's computer had grisly photos of his suspected victims kept as trophies.
At the time of McArthur's arrest, Idsinga said that police believed he was responsible for the deaths of other men and were most concerned with identifying these victims. Doing so included coordinating with other police services, tracing McArthur's whereabouts and his online activity.
By the end of January, Idsinga said they were investigating an alleged serial killer who had concealed evidence by burying it across the city. He described the ongoing case as unprecedented, with hundreds of officers involved. Additional charges were laid and at the end of February, the investigation was expanded to outstanding murder cases, hundreds of missing-persons cases and sudden death occurrences, coordinating with other Canadian and international forces.
Police executed search warrants on January 18 at five properties associated with McArthur and his landscaping business: four in Toronto and a 9-acre (3.6 ha) property about 200 kilometres (120 mi) northeast in Madoc, Ontario. The Madoc property and a home on Conlins Road were residences of Roger Horan, a landscaper and long-time friend of McArthur. Another property searched was the condominium of McArthur's former boyfriend on Concorde Place. These three properties were released back to their owners by January 23. Of greater concern to investigators were McArthur's high-rise apartment in Thorncliffe Park and the Mallory Crescent residence in Leaside.
The owners of the Leaside residence were barred from their home January 18 so that forensic investigators could search it. The search of the property was extended to an adjacent ravine, aided by cadaver dogs and members of the heavy urban search and rescue team. Cadaver dogs took a "strong interest" in large planter boxes on January 19. The planters had frozen to the ground, requiring heaters to thaw them. A large planter was wrapped on January 22 and brought to the coroner's office.
On January 29, police announced that they had found the dismembered skeletal remains of at least three people in two of twelve large planter boxes seized from the Leaside residence. Although the remains had not been identified, police had gathered enough evidence to charge McArthur with three additional counts of first-degree murder in the presumed deaths of Majeed Kayhan, a Project Houston subject, Soroush Mahmudi, who disappeared in 2015, and Dean Lisowick, a homeless man who was never reported missing.
Idsinga said that they were investigating what they thought was a serial killer who had concealed evidence by burying it across the city. He described the ongoing case as unprecedented, with hundreds of officers involved and 30 properties to be searched. The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), the province's forensic pathology services and the Centre of Forensic Sciences (CFS) were aiding with the searches of McArthur's apartment and the Leaside property.
Former homicide detective Mark Mendelson said the investigation would become "the largest Toronto has undertaken". Criminologist and Western University professor Michael Arntfield said that the alleged method of disposal suggested a sophisticated killer who had developed his craft and, as most serial killers begin in their 20s, the crimes could go back several decades and represent the longest run of a serial killer on record. McArthur's past as a travelling salesman suggested to John Bradford, a forensic psychiatrist and expert on serial murders, that police might have a province-wide investigation ahead of them. Toronto crime journalist James Dubro said the allegations suggest McArthur was the deadliest known serial killer in Toronto and the "most prolific" gay serial killer in Canada.
On February 8, police announced that they had found the remains of three more people in planters from the Leaside home, and that one of the six sets of remains belonged to Andrew Kinsman, identified through fingerprints. Investigators said that it could be months before all the remains were identified.
Additional planters were seized from across the city including one from the Danforth neighbourhood and two properties in North Rosedale were searched. Cadaver dogs were having trouble detecting scents due to the cold weather and frozen ground.
Beginning on January 19, heaters in a large tent were used to gradually thaw the frozen ground in the backyard of the Leaside home at a location indicated by both cadaver dogs and ground-penetrating radar. A forensic pathologist was expected to take at least 10 days to excavate for remains by hand. Forensic anthropologist Dr. Kathy Gruspier, who arrived to oversee the excavation, did not find any sign of soil disturbance by previous digging. Excavation of two sewage lines at the home was conducted on February 13, and a section of one line was removed for testing.
The police investigation had a continuous presence at the Leaside home, often described as "ground zero", and police established a command post on the property. On February 10–11 the search of the house was completed and it was released to its owners after more than three weeks. The owners requested that police keep crime-scene tape up around the yard to deter reporters by whom they were feeling increasingly harassed.
Forensic investigators spent hundreds of hours searching every inch of McArthur's apartment, where Idsinga suspected some of the murders occurred. It took them several weeks before searching McArthur's bedroom, where they expected to find the bulk of their evidence. The search concluded on May 11, having occupied ten forensic officers for nearly four months. They took more than 18,000 photographs and collected over 1,800 items. Idsinga noted the thoroughness required as the first murder was believed to have occurred eight years previously. The searches of the Leaside home and McArthur's apartment made up the largest forensic investigation conducted by the TPS.
On February 23, McArthur was charged with a sixth count of first-degree murder in the death of Skandaraj Navaratnam, a subject of Project Houston. Navaratnam's remains and those of Mahmudi were identified through dental records, and had been recovered from planters at the Leaside home.
On March 5, police held a press conference and released a photo of an unidentified deceased man alleged to be another of McArthur's victims. They had exhausted their options in identifying the man and hoped the public could help. Police later received over 500 tips regarding the photo and were checking on 22 potential identities. They also announced that a seventh set of remains had been recovered from the Leaside planters. Dr. Michael Pollanen, Ontario's chief forensic pathologist, said his organization had never before been involved in an investigation with such scope, drawing on the skills of each member for many unique challenges, such as scientific issues related to decomposition and post-mortem dismemberment.
On April 11, McArthur was charged with a seventh count of first-degree murder in the death of Abdulbasir Faizi. He was, at this point, charged with the deaths of all five men from the Project Houston and Project Prism investigations. The charge came as Faizi's remains were identified from the Leaside planters, along with those of Esen and Lisowick. Investigators had finished searching the Leaside planters, from which the remains of all but Kayhan had been identified; they had one set of unidentified remains. They had also searched eight additional planters from elsewhere in the city, which had contained no human remains.
On April 16, McArthur was charged with an eighth count of first-degree murder in the death of Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, whose remains were the seventh set identified from the Leaside planters. Police said his name had not come from the many tips generated by the release of his post-mortem photograph but that he had been identified with help from an undisclosed international agency. Kanagaratnam was a Tamil asylum-seeker who was under a deportation order and had not been reported missing. Police said they would look into why his name was not on a list of missing persons. He had last had contact with his family in August 2015, and police believed that he had been killed between September 3 and December 14, 2015.
The scope of the investigation was expanded at the end of February 2018, looking at outstanding murder cases, hundreds of missing-persons cases and sudden death occurrences and coordinating with other Canadian and international forces. Police had received tips from around the world, including countries where McArthur had vacationed. Idsinga said that the investigation would take years.
A police source told the National Post that McArthur had covered his tracks, using aliases online, using pay phones instead of cellphones and avoiding areas with surveillance cameras. The source suggested that McArthur had targeted vulnerable men who did not have a fixed address or had not told their families that they were gay.
Detective-Sergeant Stacy Gallant of the TPS homicide squad's cold-case unit said that active crime scenes of the investigation took precedence over revisiting cold cases. Each of 600 cold cases was being looked at for consideration of further attention. They drew up a list of 15 homicide cold cases linked to the gay village, and fitting the general profile of the victims identified thus far. Investigators began reviewing these cold cases, dating between 1975 and 1997, for a possible connection to McArthur. By mid-July, forensic testing related to the cold cases was underway, searching for links to McArthur. The cold cases include some of a series of brutal murders in the gay village between 1975 and 1978, when McArthur would have been 23–26 years old and working just a few blocks south of the gay village. The victims of these crimes, all gay men, were found in their homes, naked, tied to beds, and stabbed or beaten to death in a manner described as "overkill". In October 2018, homicide detective David Dickinson said that they had not yet found any links between McArthur and the cold cases.
Investigators had planned to return to the 30 properties associated with McArthur in April or May, when the frozen ground had thawed, allowing cadaver dogs to operate with greater accuracy. Idsigna said he was particularly interested in excavating at 3 properties, which included revisiting the Leaside residence where remains had been found. Additional tips saw the number of properties to be searched grow to 75 then 100, some of them outside the city. A team of seven cadaver dogs, some on loan from other GTA police forces, were searching the properties by the second week of May. These searches had concluded by the first week of June. Follow-up investigations had then considered whether additional searches would be required.
Between July 4 and 13, twenty police investigators conducted excavations in the forested ravine behind the Leaside property. They began sifting through a large compost pile, then proceeded with the guidance of canine assistance and a forensic anthropologist. They collected human remains almost every day of this search. On July 20, it was announced that the remains belonged to Kayhan, and that the remains of all of McArthur's alleged victims had been identified. Idsinga said that they had no evidence suggesting McArthur was connected to any other deaths, though the investigation into cold cases was continuing.
Waterloo Regional Police contacted Ontario's serial predator crime investigations coordinator to inquire about McArthur in the November 2002 disappearance of David MacDermott from downtown Kitchener. Jon Riley of Meaford, Ontario, is another possible victim. He had gone to Toronto to find work in landscaping, planning to stay in a shelter at Church and Wellesley, and disappeared in May 2013.
Five victims were noted by investigators for similarities: middle-aged, bearded, patrons of The Black Eagle bar, and self-identified as "bears" (gay men with overtly masculine traits, such as beards). They had also disappeared over holiday weekends: Navaratnam at Labour Day, Faizi after Christmas, Kayhan during Thanksgiving, Esen on Easter, and Kinsman after Toronto Pride. During McArthur's sentencing hearing, prosecutors said that the eight victims had ties to Church and Wellesley and a "social life" in that community, physical similarities which usually included facial hair or a beard, and six were from South Asia or the Middle East. Most had traits that made victimization more likely or the crimes harder to detect, such as secret lives due to their sexual orientation or a lack of stable housing.
|Name||Age||Last seen||Reported missing||Charges laid||Notes|
|Abdulbasir "Basir" Faizi||42||Dec 28, 2010||gay village||Dec 29, 2010||Apr 11, 2018||Afghan immigrant leading a double life|
|Majeed "Hamid" Kayhan||58||Oct 18, 2012||gay village||Oct 25, 2012||Jan 29, 2018||Afghan immigrant leading a double life|
|Skandaraj "Skanda" Navaratnam||40||Sep 6, 2010||gay village||Sep 10 or 11, 2010||Feb 23, 2018||Sri Lankan Tamil refugee with no family in Canada; sexual and employment ties to McArthur|
|Soroush Mahmudi||50||Aug 12, 2015||South Cedarbrae||Aug 2015||Jan 29, 2018||refugee from Iran|
|Andrew Kinsman||49||Jun 26, 2017||Cabbagetown||Jun 29, 2017||Jan 18, 2018||sexual and employment ties to McArthur|
|Selim Esen||44||Mar 20, 2017||gay village||Apr 20, 2017||Jan 18, 2018||Turkish citizen with history of drug use|
|Dean Lisowick||43–44||Apr 21, 2016||Scott Mission||not reported||Jan 29, 2018||homeless, former drug user and sex worker|
|Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam||37||Aug 2015||unknown||not reported||Apr 16, 2018||Sri Lankan Tamil asylum-seeker under a deportation order|
Skandaraj "Skanda" Navaratnam, 40, was last seen in the early morning of September 6, 2010, leaving Zippers, a former gay village bar, with an unknown man. A friend who saw Navaratnam the day before said he was excited about having a dog; he left this pet behind at the bar when he disappeared. He was reported missing September 10 or 11, 2010. Navaratnam was romantically involved with McArthur, whom he met in 1999. Navaratnam also worked for McArthur's landscaping business and friends said that they were still involved in 2008. Navaratnam was a Tamil refugee from Sri Lanka and had no family members in Canada.
Abdulbasir "Basir" Faizi, 42, was last seen December 28, 2010, leaving his workplace in Mississauga, though banking records later placed him at Church and Wellesley. His last night out included a stop at the Black Eagle bar and the Steamworks bathhouse. He was an immigrant from Afghanistan. While living in Iran, a childhood friend had cautioned him on coming out as gay, advising that he should "find God or leave". That conflict remained with Faizi, who kept his gay life hidden from his family, including his wife and children. A colleague said that he had been working overtime to ensure that his two daughters got everything that they wanted for Christmas. He was reported missing on December 29 to Peel Regional Police, west of Toronto. His 2002 Nissan Sentra was found abandoned on Moore Avenue, steps away from the Beltline Trail, a small ravine which is a popular cruising spot for gay men. Moore Avenue connects to Mallory Crescent and the Leaside home where McArthur stored his landscaping equipment. On April 11, 2018, police charged McArthur with the murder of Faizi, which occurred on or about December 29, 2010.
Majeed "Hamid" Kayhan, 58, was last seen October 18, 2012, in the gay village near Yonge Street and Alexander Street. He was reported missing by his adult son on October 25. Kayhan was an immigrant from Afghanistan, who fled to Canada with his wife and children in the late 1980s. Kayhan and his wife divorced in 2002 but, as the son of a Muslim cleric, he had not come out to his entire family. He suffered PTSD from the Soviet–Afghan War and was a heavy drinker. According to a bartender, Kayhan had been active in the gay village since the mid-1990s and would stay at an apartment kept by his partner, who had also not come out to his family. Following the death of his partner, Kayhan romantically pursued McArthur whom he knew from the Black Eagle. Kayhan's remains were found in a ravine behind the Leaside property, the eighth set to be identified.
Soroush Mahmudi, 50, was last seen alive on August 14, 2015, by his home near Markham Road and Blakemanor Boulevard in the South Cedarbrae neighbourhood. He was a manufacturing plant worker who lived with his wife. Police believe that McArthur killed Mahmudi on or about August 15, 2015. He was reported missing by his wife in August. Mahmudi had come to Canada as a refugee from Iran and did not have any family in Canada until he met his wife. They moved from Barrie to Toronto to be closer to his wife's family. Police and his family had not connected him to Toronto's gay scene, though before his marriage he had been in a four-year relationship with a transgender woman he met in a bar in Church and Wellesley.
Andrew Kinsman, 49, was last seen June 26, 2017, the day after the Pride parade, near his Winchester Street residence in Cabbagetown, south of the gay village. He was reported missing on June 29. A friend who last saw him said that Kinsman was "happy and upbeat". Kinsman was known as a stable and responsible man, a superintendent of his building and a community volunteer. Kinsman had known McArthur for at least a decade, back to when Kinsman was a bartender at the Black Eagle. Kinsman was seen carrying bags of debris on one of McArthur's landscaping projects in 2011 and had been in a sexual relationship with McArthur for some time.
Selim Esen, 44, was last definitively seen on March 20, 2017, near Yonge Street and Bloor Street, just west of the gay village, though there have been reports that he was seen as late as April 14 near Bloor Street and Ted Rogers Way in the gay village. He was reported missing by a friend on April 20. Police initially described Esen as a man of no fixed address who often pulled a wheeled suitcase. A friend disputed this, saying that Esen was in an "unhealthy relationship" and would at times stay with friends. Esen was a Turkish citizen who had first come to Canada to be with a partner that he had met in Turkey. According to the friend, he struggled with addiction but was getting control of his problem and had completed a certificate course in peer counselling from St. Stephen's community house just before he disappeared. McArthur was also a client of St. Stephen's and very trusted within the community support organization. He was killed by McArthur on or about April 16, 2017.
Dean Lisowick, 43 or 44, was not reported missing. He was a resident of Toronto's shelter system. He had periodically stayed at The Scott Mission on Spadina Avenue since 2003 and was last recorded there on April 21, 2016. He had faced struggles including issues with substance abuse but was remembered as being very respectful. He was trying to work more, as a cleaner or labourer, having previously worked as a prostitute. He was killed by McArthur on or about April 23, 2016.
Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, 37, last had contact with his family in August 2015. He was not reported missing. He was one of 492 Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka who had arrived in Canada on the MV Sun Sea in August 2010. When his deportation order was given, he went into hiding in the Tamil community in Ontario and worked as a cleaner and mover. McArthur killed him on or about January 6, 2016.
Following the extensive coroner and pathology examinations, after Crown and defence lawyers had information needed for trial, the victims' remains were released to their families. A memorial for Kinsman was held in September, and Mahmudi and Esen's funerals were held in mid-October. Lisowick's remains were laid to rest in late October.
In January 2018, a publication ban was ordered on court proceedings, limiting what can be reported in the media.
McArthur was detained at the Toronto South Detention Centre. Torstar News Service reported on March 19 that McArthur was being held "in segregation and under constant suicide watch". As of November 5, 2018,[update] McArthur remained held at the Toronto South Detention Centre.
He made his first court appearance on January 19, 2018, represented by lawyer Marianne Salih. He made another brief courtroom appearance on January 29 and subsequently attended via video link, represented by W. Calvin Rosemond of the legal defence firm of Edward H. Royle & Partners. Rosemond's biography on the firm's website states that he believes "guilty pleas ought only be entered as a last resort".
Rosemond noted at a February 14 hearing that it was McArthur's third court appearance without disclosure. Crown attorney Mike Cantlon said his office received disclosure from police on February 13 and was in the process of vetting and screening it. In mid-March, Cantlon said one package of disclosure had been made to McArthur's lawyers, with more to be expected in the following weeks, some in excess of 10,000 pages owing to the case's complexity. On April 25, Cantlon said more evidence would be turned over to the defence before the next scheduled court date, May 23, at which time defence counsel said that they were continuing to receive disclosure. On June 22, the Crown stated that it had disclosed all evidence to the defence.
A judicial pre-trial was scheduled for June 20. The closed-door meeting with the Crown and defence attorneys and judge was to address issues such as resolving the case without a trial (such as by entering a guilty plea), trial length, and procedural and evidentiary issues. Daniel Lerner, a Toronto defence lawyer and former Crown prosecutor, suggested that the Crown would consider severing charges. Lerner noted that a long and complicated trial could put a burden on the jury and create a risk of mistrial. Kevin Bryan, a former detective with York Regional Police's forensics unit, considered the amount of evidence to be catalogued and disclosed and believed a trial was "years away".
Several media outlets had applied for the release of the psychiatric and presentencing reports from McArthur's 2003 assault conviction. James Miglin, an attorney for McArthur, argued that this could risk his fair trial rights but Justice Leslie Chaplin felt the reports were generally positive toward McArthur and released them on June 27, 2018. Chaplin also allowed the media to view, but not publish, photographs of the victim's injuries and the weapon used, citing fair trial rights and the victim's privacy.
In court on October 5, Cantlon said that "negotiations and discussions are ongoing". Represented by James Miglin, McArthur appeared in court in person on October 22 and waived his right to a preliminary hearing, not contesting the weight of evidence which warranted a trial. McArthur was ordered to be tried for eight counts of first-degree murder. On November 5, he first appeared at the Superior Court of Justice before Justice John McMahon, who noted a 2016 Supreme Court of Canada ruling, by which the trial should conclude before August 2020. Following a judicial pretrial on November 30, McArthur appeared in court and was told that his trial would begin on January 6, 2020, and was likely to last three to four months.
On January 28, 2019, TPS announced an anticipated "significant development" in McArthur's case the following day. People queued outside the courthouse from 6 am, following a major snowstorm, and the hearing was moved to the largest available courtroom. On January 29, before Justice John McMahon, McArthur pleaded guilty to each of the eight first-degree murder charges that he was facing, ending the possibility of any trial.
Reading from an agreed statement of fact, Cantlon divulged details of the killings, which took place in Toronto between 2010 and 2017. Each murder was either premated or involved other crimes which qualified them as first-degree: six were "sexual in nature" and five included confinement. McArthur kept trophies from his victims including jewellery and a notebook. DNA from four of the victims had been found in McArthur's van. Cantlon then outlined McArthur's "post-offense rituals". McArthur had hundreds of post-mortem digital photographs of his victims, which were recovered forensically after he tried to delete them. He took staged post-mortem photographs, typically with ropes around their necks or with them nude in a fur coat or hat; some photographs had them with their heads and beards shaved and he had kept their hair in Ziploc bags in a shed at Mount Pleasant Cemetery.
Cantlon said that McArthur "sought out and exploited [...] vulnerabilities" in his victims that made his crimes difficult to detect; that he used sex to lure them, killing many in his bedroom through "ligature strangulation". One photograph showed a rope around a victim's neck twisted with a metal bar wrapped in tape, a mechanism to control the pressure during strangulation. The bar was found in McArthur's 2017 van and contained the DNA of Kinsman and Esen.
McArthur's sentencing hearing began on February 4. A 2011 change to the criminal code permits a judge to order that parole ineligibility periods be served consecutively for offences committed after that year, which would include six of McArthur's murders. The crown asked for a 50-year parole ineligibility, citing "the enormity of McArthur's crimes", his lack of remorse (McArthur declined to address the court), the betrayals upon his victims, the effect of his crimes on the community, and how he had been a danger up to his arrest. Milgin said such would be "unduly harsh" given McArthur's age, and noted McArthur had waived a preliminary hearing and pleaded guilty, which benefited all involved in the proceedings. On February 8, 2019, Justice McMahon sentenced McArthur to life imprisonment with no parole eligibility for 25 years. McMahon described the crimes as "pure evil" and stated that McArthur showed "no evidence of remorse" and would have continued killing had he not been apprehended. Despite this, he felt that the sentence should not be one of vengeance given McArthur's age and his guilty plea. McArthur could apply for parole when he is 91, but McMahon said that it would be "highly unlikely" he would be granted parole. The Toronto Sun noted that McArthur is overweight with Type 2 diabetes and is unlikely to live that long.
The high-profile investigation and media coverage have drawn controversies including accusations of indifference towards LGBTQ, racialized and homeless persons.
In mid-November 2017, Richmond said that there was no evidence to establish or exclude that a serial killer was responsible for the disappearances. Saunders told the community on December 8 "The evidence today tells us there's not a serial killer". Police first said that they were dealing with an alleged serial killer on January 29, 2018, confirming what some in the community had feared for years. Some questioned whether police had been taking their concerns seriously. Nicki Ward, a director of the Church-Wellesley Neighbourhood Association, asked "Why weren't we listened to earlier? Perhaps some lives could have been saved if that was the case."
Saunders responded that police were not being "coy" about community safety, but that he had been speaking of the evidence that they had at that time. Saunders, who had been a homicide detective for nine years, was an investigator first and spoke in terms of evidence that could be presented in court. Idsinga said that police knew "something was up" with the disappearances in Project Houston, that they had hunches of a killer operating at Church and Wellesley, but that he could not say it without evidence. TPS spokesperson Meaghan Gray noted that while there were theories connecting the disappearances, there had been no evidence at that time.
James Dubro, a long-time Toronto crime journalist and past president of the Crime Writers of Canada, wrote in July 2017 that a serial killer – though not ruled out by police – was highly unlikely. Jooyoung Lee, a University of Toronto associate professor who teaches a course on serial homicides, said in November 2017 that the disappearances had the warning signs of a serial killer but that it remained unclear and that serial killers were very rare.
Sasha Reid, a University of Toronto PhD candidate specializing in statistical analysis of missing persons and sexually motivated killers, was compiling a missing-persons database when she came across the Project Houston disappearances. She noticed a pattern and concluded that a serial killer was operating in Toronto. Reid said she informed police of her findings and provided a basic criminal profile in July 2017, the month Project Prism was created. She was not contacted again by police, probably because her academic data could not be used in court. Reid's profile identified a suspect of colour in his early 30s, which excluded McArthur. Reid noted that the term serial killer was problematic as it is defined and used differently by various organizations, legal jurisdictions, researchers and the media.
Mike Arntfield, a criminologist and Western University professor, has advocated data-based approaches to augment traditional investigative work, particularly in detecting elusive criminals like serial killers. His research team developed an algorithm to perform cluster analysis on 800,000 American murders catalogued by the Murder Accountability Project, which has led to arrests in Cleveland and Chicago. There is no equivalent database in Canada, which lacks standardized reporting.
Arntfield had been critical of the TPS for not admitting that there was a serial killer, suggesting that they could have made an arrest sooner if they had. He made a comparison to the Seminole Heights serial killer in Tampa Bay, Florida, where police warned the public of a serial killer in November 2017. This led to 5,000 tips being reported, one of which resulted in an arrest. On October 23, 2017, Tampa's interim police chief avoided the term serial killer when three victims had been killed with the same weapon; it was only used after a fourth murder in November when police obtained surveillance video of the same suspect at two crime scenes. In comparison, the TPS said they did not have evidence of a murder or that any of the suspicious disappearances were connected until January 17, the day before McArthur's arrest. The large number of tips generated in Tampa may have been influenced by a US$100,000 reward offered at that time.
Gay activists and orial writers have suggested that police only looked at the disappearances seriously when a white man, Andrew Kinsman, was reported missing. Idsinga denied this, noting that Project Houston was a bigger investigation. He also noted that Kinsman's disappearance in June 2017 was important to the creation of Project Prism because of evidence obtained in July, not because of race. CBC News examined hundreds of pages of partially redacted court orders unsealed in September 2018, and concluded that there had been "considerable effort" toward investigating all three Project Houston subjects.
Jooyoung Lee suggested that there was racism within the gay community, indicated by the relatively weak responses to the disappearances of the brown-skinned men in contrast with the campaign to find Kinsman.
There have also been suggestions that McArthur was initially overlooked as a suspect because he is white. In 2017, Reid theorized that the killer was a person of colour like the victims, later stating this was because serial killers tend to target familiar communities.
While defending the Project Houston investigation and responding to criticisms that police should have recognized the alleged serial killer sooner, Chief Saunders expressed his frustrations to The Globe and Mail that some sources were reporting incidents after McArthur's arrest which could have changed the course of the investigation had they been reported at the time. He was quoted as saying "We knew that people were missing and we knew we didn't have the right answers. But nobody was coming to us with anything." This was run on the front page of the national newspaper on February 27, 2018, under the headline: "Toronto police chief says civilians failed to help investigation into alleged serial killer".
The story was widely cited by other media outlets and caused a backlash against Saunders, with his comments taken by LGBTQ leaders and the community as victim blaming. One group held a rally outside police headquarters calling for Saunders's resignation. In a later interview with CP24, Saunders apologized if his comments to the Globe's orial board were "misconstrued or taken in the wrong context" and that he had not intended to single out the LGBTQ community. Saunders had expressed gratitude toward the community for their help in the investigation in earlier instances, on one occasion saying he was "proud of the fact that the community did help us out in this". Mayor John Tory defended Saunders as a leader who could repair relationships with the city's communities, despite his "awkward language" in the interview.
One widely covered story in the media was the account of a 52-year-old part-time university teacher from Thunder Bay who had known McArthur for about ten years. According to the man, McArthur had contacted him on the Bear411 app and suggested that they meet for dinner at Church and Wellesley. After dinner the man got into the back of McArthur's van where they began kissing, petting and undressing. At this point the man claims that McArthur grabbed his neck and violently twisted it, forcing his face into McArthur's crotch. "I really thought my neck was going to be snapped the way he twisted it." The man grabbed McArthur's elbow, squeezing the joint until he was able to make McArthur let go. The man did not report the alleged incident to police until after McArthur's arrest, yet felt police could have arrested him sooner. The man alleges this happened in April 2017, about the time that Esen disappeared.
Another man claimed to have been invited through a dating app to McArthur's apartment for a liaison involving "bondage and submission role-playing" in late July 2017. McArthur did not want to go to the man's apartment because of security cameras in the area. McArthur made a GHB cocktail for the man, who requested a dosage to relax and "heighten the sexual encounter". The man soon began sweating heavily, suggesting he had been overdosed. The man alleged that McArthur ignored his limits and safe words and blocked his airway "with his penis, with his hands, with his body weight sitting on my chest". The man said he lost consciousness and was saved by the return of McArthur's roommate. The man said he was contacted by police the day after McArthur's arrest, and from their questions realized McArthur had photographed him bound in what was described as "a kill position".
In early March 2018, Idsinga said that he learned of "concerning information" in the case which he immediately reported to the professional standards unit; they began an internal investigation on March 5. Police did not release any details but Idsinga said it was serious enough to affect the careers of officers involved.
The media roughly described an incident alleged to have occurred on June 20, 2016, in which McArthur and an unidentified man whom he met through a dating app were masturbating each other in the back of McArthur's van in a McDonald's restaurant parking lot in North York. McArthur allegedly began throttling the man who broke free and said he would report what happened to police. Sources then vary, with McArthur following the man to a police station or driving to a Scarborough police station while the man phoned police. McArthur either claimed it was the man who had choked him or that the man had asked to be choked then panicked and fled. According to one source, McArthur was placed under arrest and taken from 41 Division in Scarborough to 32 Division in North York where the investigation continued. No occurrence report was filed and McArthur was not charged. Homicide investigators only became aware of the alleged incident after McArthur's arrest, when the man came forward again to bring it to their attention.
In an agreed statement of fact read in court, Cantlon said that the victim of the "attempted choking" had known McArthur for years. The victim called 911 after he escaped while McArthur went to the police and said the incident was consensual. He was let go, as police believed his story was credible. His 2003 arrest did not come up on background checks. McArthur had pictures of this man; in some he was wearing a fur coat similar to the one in which McArthur posed his victims.
On February 1, 2019, Sgt. Paul Gauthier from 32 Division was charged by the professional standards unit with insubordination and neglect of duty regarding policy on reporting domestic violence, such as videotaping the complainant's statement and obtaining photos of the complainant's injuries. Gauthier's attorney said that the decision to not charge McArthur in 2016 was made in consultation with Gauthier's supervisor, and that the investigation and arrest of McArthur was fully documented. The allegations against the officer are not criminal. Gauthier has 15 years on the job and is highly regarded by colleagues, praised for his work with difficult cases involving human trafficking.
In a two-page letter emailed to colleagues and obtained by news outlets, Gauthier stated that he was being made a scapegoat. He wrote that the reports were completed and available from the night of the incident, and that he had spoken to Project Prism officers regarding it after they had identified McArthur's van, and that there were no complaints then. Gauthier wrote that this changed after Saunders's February 27 story in The Globe and Mail. The following day, Saunders's friend and former partner Idsinga called Gauthier's investigation into question with the professional standards unit. The following week it was leaked to the media, and Gauthier suggested that this was done to divert attention from Saunders's remarks. The professional standards unit received special permission from the civilian Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) to lay charges against Gauthier, as their investigation exceeded the six-month window required under the Police Act. Gauthier's lawyer and Toronto Police Association (TPA) President Mike McCormack have stated that the case should be heard by an independent judge instead of a tribunal officer appointed by Saunders.
Gauthier has not made his first appearance at the tribunal. He has been diagnosed with PTSD and wrote that he is undergoing treatment due to the toll of being blamed for the murders of Esen and Kinsman.
The TPS receives over 4,000 missing-persons reports each year, with most resolved within a few days. 51 Division, which includes Church and Wellesley, had 600 missing persons between 2014 and 2018 and about 30 cases remained open in March 2018. According to Lusia Dion, who runs the website Ontario's Missing Adults, missing men are taken less seriously as "We tend to think they can take care of themselves."
The circumstances of a disappearance are considered by TPS before committing resources to a search, especially for an adult. The city had been working to reduce the TPS budget which exceeded $1 billion in 2016. In July 2017, the Toronto Police Association (TPA) claimed that there was a staffing crisis with working conditions at "a breaking point", noting that staff had been reduced by 500 officers since 2010 while a budgetary task force recommended a hiring freeze. An unexpected number of early retirements were attributed by the TPA to stress and morale, and TPA President Mike McCormack noted "when we have a stressed-out officer, when we have people who are burned out, it really does impact public interaction".
On December 8, 2017, Saunders announced an internal probe to assess the TPS's response to Richey's disappearance, to determine if there was a procedural, training or other issue. He specifically noted the importance of call uptake and absorbing the circumstances of a reported disappearance. At a February 29 Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) meeting, Tory moved to have the internal report made public – or as much as could be released given the ongoing investigation and legal proceedings. The board and Saunders agreed to hear public input on the report.
Wells's family claimed Toronto police officers told them that her case "was not high priority" because she was homeless for several years. Her disappearance was reported by her father in early November 2017, four months after her Facebook account went dormant. Her body had been found on August 5, but was badly decomposed and was not identified until November 23.
The person who found Wells's body informed both police and The 519 community centre, but 519 staff failed to follow up with police or transgender-focused organizations. Wells's friends say that this resulted in her body being unidentified for months. In mid-December, 519 executives apologized for their "mishandling of information" but placed full blame on the police. A petition started that month called for the resignation of the 519's executive director, alleging prejudice against transgender and homeless people. The 519 board called for an independent fact-finding review of the allegations.
Tory has been supportive of police while acknowledging legitimate questions about the investigation that would be answered in due course. Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, whose ward includes Church and Wellesley, supported police at the time of McArthur's arrest when she expressed gratitude and noted that it was a complicated case. But by the end of February she said that the police relationship with the community had to be rebuilt and in early March that she was "no longer surprised" by "incompetence" in the investigation. At McArthur's sentencing in 2019, Justice McMahon praised TPS for their investigation.
Pride Toronto had been in closed-door talks about the TPS returning to the parade after controversially being banned in 2017. Progress was made but criticisms following McArthur's arrest led to an April 2 statement by Pride's executive director and five LGBT organizations asking the TPS to withdraw its application to march in uniform. The statement cited community feelings that investigations were "insufficient" and that concerns were "dismissed". Saunders had hoped that participation would demonstrate a "shared commitment to progress and healing", and considered the many TPS members who identify as LGBTQ and wished to march in the event built on inclusiveness.
In a March 9 statement, Saunders said that he understood the public's frustrations with the limited information that had been released during the investigation. He announced finalized plans for a dedicated missing persons unit, community outreach, and a professional standards review of the Richey and Wells cases. He also stated that he believed there were serious issues of systemic bias which required an independent external review, and that he had been working with other officials on how to hold such a review without affecting investigations and prosecutions.
The missing persons unit, staffed by six police detectives and an analyst, began work in July 2018. They have been tasked with digitizing and reviewing thousands of missing persons files dating to 1953, and to act as a central hub to review each active missing persons case. Their protocols are intended to flag suspicious disappearances in the early hours of an investigation and detect if broader investigations are warranted. Investigations will continue to be run by officers in each of the 17 divisions.
The Missing Persons Act would make it easier for police to obtain judicial orders for access to phone records or financial information in a missing persons case. Previously police could only obtain such records if a crime was suspected. The Act was passed in March 2018 by the Ontario Liberal government as part of Bill 175, but as of October 2018[update] it has been stalled by the new government of Premiere Doug Ford with no timeline for bringing it into effect.
In January 2018, the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention (ASAAP) demanded that the TPSB commission an external review of the investigation. In late February Saunders came to the conclusion that the public could not get clear and credible answers without an independent external review, and suggested as much to Tory and Andy Pringle, chair of the TPSB. He further suggested that the review consider systemic bias in the force. Tory's March 7 call for a public provincial inquiry was reviewed by Ontario's attorney general, who cautiously suggested that it wait until after criminal proceedings.
In mid-March, a group of LGBTQ advocates demanded an immediate inquiry. Legal experts suggested that criminal investigations and prosecutions be protected by a publication ban on witness testimony, or by preserving records and taking witness statements under seal until the trials were over. Protocol for an external review was debated on March 22 by the TPSB, which voted to back an external review that would exclude the McArthur serial murder investigation.
In mid-April, the board unanimously approved a working group to define the specifics of the external review. The group consisted of TPSB member Ken Jeffers, ASAAP board member Shakir Rahim, sex-worker advocate Monica Forrester and lawyer Sara Mainville who specializes in cases involving indigenous peoples. The TPSB named Breese Davies, vice-president of the Criminal Lawyers' Association, in a facilitator role. The TPSB had to request $25,000 from the city's budget committee for the working group and its legal consultation fees. The working group reported on June 15 that the missing-persons investigations of McArthur's alleged victims could be examined up to the point at which the investigations involved McArthur. They estimated that the inquiry would take 15 months and cost $2.5 million. Tory was adamant that the community be adequately consulted and increased this figure to $3 million, which would go before city council.
The review is to examine TPS handling of missing-persons reports, biases within the service, and any obstacles that prevented Lisowick and Kanagaratnam from being reported missing. Specific investigations to be examined will include Project Houston, Project Prism, and the investigations into missing persons Alloura Wells and Tess Richey. Past reviews are also to be examined including the review into the 1981 bathhouse raids, the city auditor's report following the Balcony Rapist investigation, and the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry following Vancouver police's Robert Pickton case.
On June 25, on the recommendation of the working group, the TPSB announced that it had retained Justice Gloria Epstein, who would retire as a part-time Ontario Appeal Court judge on September 1 to lead the review. Epstein had been appointed to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in 1993 and made a prominent ruling that the Ontario Family Law Act definition of spouse was unconstitutional because it discriminated against homosexual couples. Epstein asked Mark Sandler to serve as the review's legal counsel.
In October, the review was compiling documents and establishing an advisory panel to aid "extensive outreach to the community." The advisory panel was named in January 2019, and included Forrester, ASAAP executive director Haran Vijayanathan, activist Ron Rosenes, Indigenous lawyer Christa Big Canoe, former Ontario Court of Justice chief Brian Lennox, former member of the Gay Officers Action League Michele Lent, workplace human rights lawyer Andrew Pinto, and Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre executive director Angela Robertson.
When McArthur pleaded guilty to eight murders on January 29, 2019, it removed concerns regarding his fair trial rights. Epstein wrote a letter to the TPSB requesting a mandate to fully examine the investigation and perform a more thorough review. Pringle was taking it under advisement, while consulting with the Ontario Attorney-General; a public inquiry can only be ordered by the provincial government. The same day, Tory spoke in favour of a "broader inquiry". A spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney General declined to comment as the matter was still before the courts. Civil litigation lawyer Douglas Elliott suggested that rather than conducting separate investigations, that Epstein be named to lead a public inquiry with a provincial mandate and subpoena powers.
The media have drawn criticism for the imbalance in images of McArthur and his alleged victims. One widely published picture is of McArthur smiling at the camera as he posed at Niagara Falls. Lisowick, in comparison, was mostly known by a police mug shot. TPS spokesman Mark Pugash explained that they only release pictures if there is a "valid investigative purpose".
Media outlets with tight deadlines obtain photos from the Internet, and copied pictures from McArthur's Facebook page and online dating profiles within minutes of his arrest. Flattering pictures that he had used to define himself thus became his image in the media. The slain men who had Facebook accounts posted fewer pictures and Lisowick, a homeless man, had no digital footprint; so the first available picture was a police-released mug shot.
Editor Kathy English said that the Toronto Star would continue to publish Facebook photos of McArthur as a journalistic duty to report reality. Editor Sylvia Stead of The Globe and Mail stated that "true news photos" should be recent, like courtroom sketches, and that the balance should be in favour of the victims.
Nikki Ward, a director of the Church-Wellesley Neighbourhood Association and graphic artist, obtained a photograph of Lisowick at a vigil which she cleaned up and shared with media outlets so that his mug shot would not have to be used.
Another controversial photo was that of a dead man which police released in hopes that the public could help identify him. The Toronto Star chose not to publish the photo because of its disturbing nature. A version cleaned up by Ward to better represent the man in life and a sketch by a TPS forensic artist were released at an April 11 news conference.
A free concert called #LoveWins was initiated by Kristyn Wong-Tam, the only openly LGBTQ member of city council. In production since December 2017, the event went public on March 7 through a news release and Facebook page, described as "part vigil, part celebration". The proposed March 29 event drew criticisms, from logos of corporate sponsors to holding a celebration when the unnamed dead were still in forensic laboratories. The event was chaired by Salah Bachir, president of Cineplex Media, who identified as a "queer Arab man" and was both sad and angry about the crimes, having known some of the victims personally while his sister was a landscaping client of McArthur's.
Sara Malabar, who produced the opening and closing events for 2014 World Pride, started a Facebook page titled "Stop Love Wins Concert" and threatened to organize a protest if it was not cancelled. Another critic noted that events are pressured to go mainstream when attracting corporate sponsors, and overlook the needs of the community that they are meant to address. It was also noted that marginalized communities could make better use of the resources than by throwing a party.
On March 10, Wong-Tam's website announced that the event would be postponed to address concerns, admitting that the event had sparked unnecessary division at a historic moment for the community. Malabar offered to help in creating a more appropriate event, with more LGBTQ performers.
"McArthur said he didn't know why he committed the offences but admitted to consuming amyl nitrate [sic] (known colloquially as "poppers") on that evening," according to the documents.
In what were originally thought to be three unconnected incidents of missing persons, police have now linked the cases of Skandaraj "Skanda" Navaratnam, 40, Abdulbasir "Basir" Faizi, 44, and 59-year-old Majeed "Hamid" Kayhan.