Report finds ‘serious flaws’ in how Toronto police investigated missing-persons cases

TORONTO — Systemic discrimination contributed to “serious flaws” in a number of missing-persons investigations conducted by Toronto police in recent years, including the case of a serial killer who preyed on men in the city’s gay village for close to a decade, an independent review found Tuesday.

Officers unfamiliar with marginalized and vulnerable groups failed to effectively engage those communities to help solve cases and understand the significance of evidence, and some cases didn’t receive the attention they deserved, the report found.

As well, some officers had “misconceptions or stereotypical ideas” about the LGBTQ2S+ communities that impeded their work at times, the document said. 

Those issues, combined with poor communication and excessive secrecy surrounding such investigations, further eroded the already strained relationship between police and some marginalized communities, it said. 

The review, led by former Appeal Court judge Gloria Epstein, recommends a significant overhaul of how missing-persons cases are handled in Toronto in favour of a more “holistic approach” that would see greater reliance on civilians and social services rather than just law enforcement.

Epstein acknowledged Tuesday some improvements have already been made, including the creation of a centralized missing-persons unit, but said more work is clearly needed to ensure such cases are properly prioritized. 

“These investigations continue to be severely under resourced, an issue that is deeply troubling given the disproportionate number of marginalized and vulnerable people who go missing, and who are exposed to risks while they are gone,” she said in a news conference.

“Moreover, barriers that prevent some vulnerable people from being reported missing to the police are equally concerning.” 

The roughly 900-page report examines policies and procedures related to missing-persons cases, as well as how officers investigated the disappearances of residents who were later found to have been killed.

It focuses on the eight men murdered by serial killer Bruce McArthur — Andrew Kinsman, Selim Esen, Majeed Kayhan, Soroush Mahmudi, Dean Lisowick, Skandaraj Navaratnam, Abdulbasir Faizi, and Kirushnakumar Kanagaratnam — as well as Tess Richey, a young woman whose body was found in an outdoor stairwell by her mother, and Alloura Wells, a trans woman found dead in a ravine.

The issues identified in the report include a lack of communication within the police service, between the force and the police board, and with the community, as well as an often unnecessary amount of secrecy that undermined public trust.

Epstein also found investigations were inconsistent, and in many instances, “basic investigative steps were overlooked or delayed,” while searches were at times “disorganized, incomplete or poorly documented.”

The review, which cannot make findings of misconduct or criminal liability, was ordered in the summer of 2018 after McArthur’s arrest but did not initially include his crimes in order to preserve his right to a fair trial.

Its scope was later expanded to include that case after McArthur pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder.

The case stirred significant concern in Toronto’s LGBTQ community regarding how police investigated missing-person reports. Many voiced fears that investigations were affected by systemic bias and discrimination.

The Canadian Press

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