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Serial killer who preyed on gay men evaded capture for seven years amid ‘systemic discrimination’ in policing

Emma Powys Maurice April 14, 2021
Bruce McArthur

Toronto Police missed opportunities to catch serial killer Bruce McArthur (YouTube/The Fifth Estate)

The investigation into a serial killer who preyed on gay men and evaded capture for seven years was greatly hindered by “systemic discrimination” within Toronto Police, a damning investigation has found.

Between 2010 and 2017 Bruce McArthur killed and dismembered eight men, mostly of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent, after luring them from Toronto’s Gay Village.

He was repeatedly interviewed by police but released each time as officers failed to link him to the deaths, allowing him to continue his terrifying killing spree.

A two-and-half-year investigation of the Toronto Police released on Tuesday (13 April) found “serious flaws” in the force’s handling of the case, including “misconceptions or stereotypical ideas” about LGBT+ people that “impeded their work”.

The four-volume report concluded that police repeatedly failed to take the disappearances seriously and did not devote sufficient resources to the cases because officers saw the victims as members of “marginalised and vulnerable communities”.

The investigations were plagued with so many missteps and shortcomings that multiple officers overlooked evidence and leads connecting McArthur to three of his victims.

They also dismissed as irrelevant his 2003 conviction for hitting a man over the head with a lead pipe. Some of those who interviewed McArthur did not even check databases for his criminal history.

Investigators were hindered with “tunnel vision,” the review found, focusing entirely on claims of an international cannibalism ring which was later dismissed as a grisly fantasy.

“There was institutional resistance to the notion that these cases might be linked and that a serial killer might be preying on Toronto’s LGBTQ community,” wrote retired Ontario justice Gloria Epstein, who compiled the report.

“This systemic failure is perhaps the most troubling.”

The report singles out Mark Saunders, the city’s former chief of police, for publicly dismissing concerns that a serial killer was targeting Toronto’s gay community, finding that he corroded public confidence within that group.

Additionally, Epstein said investigators “failed to appreciate” the barriers that “prevented some witnesses from coming forward” – including a deep mistrust of police in marginalised communities and a long history of LGBT+ criminalisation.

Her report includes 151 recommendations, including a substantial overhaul of missing persons cases, using resources from other agencies, and more civilian oversight of the city’s police force.

“I cannot say that McArthur would necessarily have been apprehended earlier if the investigative steps outlined in this report had been taken. He was a true psychopath. He disarmed others, including his interviewer, with his calm and ostensibly helpful approach to the interview,” she wrote.

“But the Toronto police did lose important opportunities to identify him as the killer.”

Bruce McArthur was eventually apprehended in 2018 after the disappearance of his final victim, Andrew Kinsman, who was white. Kinsman’s family and friends drove a powerful public campaign that pushed the police into action.

“Proper missing person investigations should not depend on whose voices are the loudest or most empowered in sounding the alarm,” Epstein noted pointedly.

More: Canada, gay serial killer, murder

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