One day after Bruce McArthur pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder, the former judge conducting a review of Toronto police handling of missing persons cases is formally requesting that her probe now be allowed to examine the investigation into the serial killer himself.
Former Ontario Court of Appeal judge Gloria Epstein wrote a letter to Toronto police board chair Andy Pringle Wednesday morning asking that the restrictions placed on her review be lifted in light of McArthur’s guilty plea in Ontario Superior Court Tuesday.
Due to McArthur’s fair-trial considerations, Epstein’s review — which is examining how Toronto police handle missing persons investigations — has been limited in how much it can probe the Toronto police investigation into the serial killer.
“Obviously circumstances have changed,” Mark Sandler, the lawyer for Epstein’s missing persons review, said in an interview Wednesday.
“We had a time and date that we were not to go beyond, looking at the McArthur investigation, and we also had certain restrictions on how he came to be identified as a person of interest … It is our view that removing the restriction would enable a more thorough and comprehensive investigation,” he said.
A Toronto police board spokesperson could not be immediately reached Wednesday.
If an amendment is granted and the scope of Epstein’s review is widened to include the McArthur probe, Epstein could likely report on a broader set of facts, including police documents that might otherwise not have been available due to the McArthur’s fair-trial rights restrictions.
Epstein’s independent review was commissioned unanimously by the Toronto police board last year in the wake of criticism surrounding McArthur’s arrest and questions about why the serial killer had not been arrested sooner after a succession of men went missing from Toronto’s Gay Village.
In an address to the board last summer, Epstein said her review would examine whether Toronto police handling of missing persons investigations could have been “tainted by systemic bias or discrimination” and whether the policies and procedures in place “adequately protect against implicit or explicit bias or discrimination” against members of the LGBTQ community or marginalized groups.
Her review is expected to be completed by early next year.
McArthur, 67, pleaded guilty in Ontario Superior Court to eight counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of men spanning 2010 to 2017.
He admitted to killing: Kinsman, 49; Selim Esen, 44; Majeed Kayhan, 58; Soroush Mahmudi, 50; Dean Lisowick, 47; Skandaraj (Skanda) Navaratnam, 40, Abdulbasir Faizi, 42, and Kirushnakumar Kanagaratnam, 37.
Many of the victims had ties to the Gay Village and were of South Asian or Middle Eastern descent.
In the wake of McArthur’s plea Tuesday — amid relief that there would not be a lengthy and traumatic trial — there were renewed calls for accountability about how a serial killer went undetected for years.
“Why did it take 10 years?” said Haran Vijayanathan, the executive director of community group Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention, after McArthur’s court appearance.
“I think the challenge still remains for me, how do front-line officers get the supports that they need to do their job better so that we find people sooner rather than later.”
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Premier Dog Ford would not commit to an inquiry into Toronto police handling of the McArthur case, but said police could have done better.
Saying he wanted to “support our police rather than always attacking them,” Ford nonetheless said the province would discuss with Toronto police “a solution to make sure this never happens to our city again.”
“Yes, could we correct things within the police? One hundred per cent we can correct things. They know it. I’ve talked to the chief about it. And they’re going to do everything they can but we won’t rule out any further investigations.”
Asked for any justification for not holding a public inquiry, Ford said, “I never said we aren’t going to.”
Mayor John Tory reiterated his support Wednesday for a public inquiry, telling reporters that although Epstein is doing good work, he’s “not sure it’ll be enough.”
“I think there might be a need for a broader inquiry that really delves much more deeply into everything that happened here, particularly as it affected the LGBTQ community and the victims in this case,” Tory said.
McArthur’s sentencing hearing is scheduled to begin next week.
First-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years. A concurrent sentence would see McArthur first become eligible for parole at 25 years; a consecutive sentence could push his eligibility far into the future.
With files from Rob Ferguson
Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing. Reach her by email at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis