The retired Ontario judge leading an independent examination of Toronto police missing persons investigations has announced an advisory panel to help conduct the wide-ranging review that was struck in the wake of deaths linked to alleged killer Bruce McArthur.
The tasks of the eight-member team — which includes experts in LGBTQ issues, law, policing and more — include outreach, particularly to members of vulnerable and marginalized groups, and generating community feedback on recommendations that will arise from the review.
“They will also assist me in ensuring that everyone who wants to be heard is indeed heard,” said retired Ontario Court of Appeal justice Gloria Epstein in a statement Tuesday.
Epstein was last year tapped by the Toronto police board to perform an external review of how Toronto police conduct missing persons probes — an independent examination struck amidst mounting criticism over police handling of the disappearances of men now alleged to be victims of McArthur.
The 67-year-old landscaper is charged in the deaths of eight men between 2010 to 2017, most of whom had ties to the city’s Gay Village and were from South Asian or Middle Eastern communities.
Three of McArthur’s alleged victims were previously the subjects of a missing person’s probe dubbed Project Houston, an investigation that examined the disappearances of Skandaraj (Skanda) Navaratnam, Abdulbasir Faizi, and Majeed Kayhan, who went missing from 2010-2012.
But the probe ended after 18 months, when police could find “no evidence to suggest criminal activity.” It is alleged that McArthur went on to kill five more men after Project Houston wound down.
The review will not examine the police probe into McArthur, in order to not compromise the ongoing criminal trial set for January 2020. But it is looking into how Toronto police investigated the men’s disappearances before McArthur came onto police radar, as well as other disappearances where community concerns have arisen.
Specifically, it will review whether the missing persons investigations could have been impacted by systemic bias or discrimination and whether the policies and procedures currently in place within Toronto police provide sufficient protection for members of the LGBTQ community or marginalized groups.
The advisory committee includes: Ron Rosenes, a health researcher and consultant working in the HIV and the LGTBQ community; Haran Vijayanathan, the executive director of the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention (ASAAP); Christa Big Canoe, an Indigenous lawyer with Aboriginal Legal Services; Monica Forrester, program co-ordinator at Maggie’s Toronto Sex Workers Action Project and a transgender woman of colour; Brian Lennox, former Chief Justice of the Ontario Court of Justice; Michele Lent, a former New York police officer, member of the Gay Officers Action League who has trained of officers on investigative techniques; Andrew Pinto, a lawyer specializing in workplace human rights; and Angela Robertson, the executive director of Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre.
Epstein told the Toronto police board last year that she would launch a “broad consultative process” to include public and private meetings. She and her team have also begun collecting and analyzing documents, according to an update posted on the review’s website.
“In my opinion, the work of the review is of critical importance to our diverse communities within Toronto and specifically to how missing persons investigations are done, and should be done, particularly as affecting marginalized or vulnerable communities,” Epstein told the Toronto police board this summer.
McArthur is due back in court next week.
Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing. Reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis