By Emma King and Kiki Cekota
Despite a guilty plea, uncertainty and confusion remains over the police handling of Bruce McArthur’s multiple homicide investigation.
On Jan. 29, in front of friends and families of the victims, McArthur pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder that he committed between 2010 and 2017.
The 67-year-old was arrested in January 2018 and charged for the murders of Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, Majeed Kayhan, Skandaraj (Skanda) Navaratnam, Abdulbasir Faizi, Selim Esen, Soroush Mahmudi, Dean Lisowick and Andrew Kinsman.
A number of victims had ties to Toronto’s Gay Village and were of South Asian or Middle Eastern descent.
After the court appearance, Haran Vijayanathan from the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention told reporters he’s grateful McArthur pleaded guilty. Vijayanathan said he’s in touch with most of the families of the victims.
“Today there’s a sense of relief, but there’s also confusion and question over why and when and what happened,” he said.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community have long voiced concerns about the Toronto police’s investigation and how long it took for police to take action.
Interviewed in the heart of Toronto’s Gay Village, Anthony Oliveira said the murders have had a lasting effect on the community.
“I have lived in the shadows of the murders. I don’t know what it’s like to not live in the shadow of these murders,” said Oliveira, who is a writer and PhD candidate at the University of Toronto. “The first thing I knew when I came out is that there was a killer. I was warned when I grew a beard, to be careful because that’s what ‘he’ likes — he being the killer.”
Oliveira explained that for many years, members of Toronto’s Gay Village reported to police that there was a suspected serial killer in the village. He said the police reaction was to laugh in their faces.
“The police are a symptom of larger social forces, but they have created a margin, a shadow which people like Bruce McArthur can step into and perform the actions they perform,” he said.
Last year, Toronto police recovered remains of seven victims from several large planters on a property in Toronto’s Leaside neighbourhood. McArthur had worked as a landscaper at the property. Remains of an eighth man were found in a nearby ravine.
Speaking to press outside of the courthouse, Karen Fraser, the owner of the home where the victims were found, said McArthur’s court appearance was “another really strange, sad day.”
According to an official statement of facts from the Crown, several of the murders were sexual in nature. The Crown also said a number of the victims were strangled.
Mayor John Tory released an official statement on the guilty plea, calling McArthur a “monster who preyed on our city.”
Toronto police Insp. Hank Idsinga declined to comment on why McArthur pleaded guilty because the investigation into other possible victims is continuing.
McArthur will appear in court on Feb. 4 to begin his sentencing hearing. Victim impact statements will be read.
“He has pleaded guilty and the nature of the crimes is such that he will almost certainly spend the rest of his life in jail, which is relieving,” Oliviera said. “But I don’t know what happens now. That is my anxiety.