Former judge unveils panel tapped to review Toronto police missing-persons probes in wake of McArthur case

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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 wgillis@thestar.ca or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis

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These are the death probes police watchdog wants reopened

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It was, according to the OIPRD, a “textbook case to treat as a suspicious death unless and until a thorough investigation showed otherwise.”

Instead, “police quickly latched onto the finding of hypothermia, disregarding the evidence that compelled further investigation,” the report said — including the possibility, given her state of undress, fresh head injuries and bruises and abrasions, she had been sexually assaulted.

A central issue, the report found, was the failure to thoroughly investigate an unnamed man who was with Gliddy on the night she died. The man was interviewed, but it was not clear to OIPRD investigators in what capacity, namely whether he was a suspect. “Very few questions” were asked of him in a recorded interview, the report notes.

The OIPRD identified other concerns about Gliddy’s death probe, including “haphazard” collection of exhibits and photographs from the scene and a failure to interview key witnesses.

“Investigators should have focused on how (Gliddy) came to be unconscious, whether anyone else’s actions contributed to her death — and more specifically, whether she was sexually assaulted,” the report states.

A senior officer who investigated Gliddy’s death, and who was interviewed by the OIPRD, said in hindsight, police could have done more … The case closed earlier than it should have in the circumstances.”

“C.D.,” February 2014

“C.D.” was an 18-year-old Indigenous woman who was in a common-law relationship with a male who was nearly 50. A man called 911 and reported his girlfriend had tried to hang herself but was still alive. She was later pronounced dead and an autopsy determined the cause of death was “ligature hanging,” according to the report.

During the initial police investigation, it was determined the 911 caller gave a false identity, and the boyfriend, who was unco-operative, later disappeared.

The police investigation “was deficient in several critical areas, leaving important questions unanswered which could affect the ultimate conclusions in the case,” according to the report. That included that no formal statements were taken and none of the woman’s acquaintances were interviewed.

Major problems were identified with the forensic work. The report also questioned how the coroner’s investigative statement could conclude the woman’s boyfriend found her and “cut her down” when photographic evidence suggested the belt had not been cut.

The OIPRD report also notes the “coroner briefly attended the scene” and it appeared “he declared the death to be non-suspicious before he had even examined the body at the hospital and before the autopsy had been performed.”

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Marie Lynette Spence, April 2016

Police were called in to investigate after a woman’s body was found in a wooded area. The woman’s pants were partially pulled down. According to police, the supervising coroner did not think the death was suspicious.

Days later, an autopsy ruled the cause of death as hypothermia “in a woman with ketoacidosis and acute ethanol intoxication.” The autopsy report notes 34 recent injuries to her head, neck, torso and more.

The OIPRD investigation found multiple problems with the police probe, including that the discovery of her body in a state of partial undress should have compelled “police to treat this as a suspicious death unless and until foul play could reasonably be excluded.”

Errors were also made in part due to confusion about who was the primary investigator — police or the coroner. The death “was only one of a number of cases in which the coroner made decisions better made by, or in consultation with, criminal investigators.” As a result, there were issues maintaining the scene, and Spence’s body was moved though it is not known by whom, or why.

“G.H.,” March 2015

A passerby called police after finding the body of a 20-year-old man, G.H., in the snow, the report said. Firefighters confirmed the death, and according to police advised them the deceased “had possibly been in a fight.”

The cause of death was listed as “hypothermia,” with other conditions noted, including “elevated blood ethanol concentration.”

The OIPRD raised the alarm about a number of factors, including that no criminal investigators attended the scene while the body was there. Instead, the coroner ordered the removal of the body “before investigators had even arrived at the scene.”

There was also insufficient questioning of a witness, who “was never asked the most rudimentary questions about his knowledge,” the report said. The report raised concerns about some officers’ basic police knowledge, saying it was evident at least two investigators on this file failed to have a complete understanding of how the deceased’s injuries had to be considered.

“I.J,” March 2017

The body of a 57-year-old Indigenous woman was discovered by a passerby on the icy pavement. She had “a clump of hair gripped in her hand” and “fresh abrasions and cuts.” She had been released from hospital less than two days before, after police brought her there under the provisions of the Mental Health Act.

A forensic pathologist determined her cause of death was “hypothermia and ethanol intoxication in a woman with a left ankle fracture.”

Problems were identified with the initial actions taken by police, including that the crime seen depicted in photographs “was not accurately or completely captured by attending officers describing the scene, including the investigators.”

That the woman’s belongings were scattered and her money holder was open should have “required that this matter be dealt with as a suspicious death and that foul play not be discounted without a thorough investigation.”

Jethro Anderson, October 2000

Anderson, 15, was reported missing to police by his aunt on Oct. 29, 2000, but according to the records obtained by the OIPRD, there was no police activity before Nov. 3, 2000.

According to the report, police were told volunteers would be conducting a ground search along the Kaministiquia River because he was known to hang out there, and there was concern he may have fallen into the river. Anderson’s body was found Nov. 12 in the river. A coroner was contacted and observed bruising to his left cheek and an abrasion. Later, the coroner reported the cause of death was “asphyxia due to drowning.”

The OIPRD described the police probe as “wholly inadequate.” That included that, despite being told by multiple sources Anderson had been assaulted before his death, “no sustained or serious criminal investigation followed.”

A review of the file “compels the conclusion that (Anderson’s) death did not get the attention it deserved. It also invites consideration as to whether this is explained by his personal circumstances, Indigenous status or both. At the very least, the poor quality of the investigation had the effect of undervaluing his life.”

Curran Strang, September 2005

Strang, 18, was reported missing Sept. 22, 2005, but according to the report, there is no indication police acted before Sept. 24. Strang’s body was located Sept. 26 in the river, about four metres from shore. He was face down and had no shirt or socks on.

The coroner attended the scene and ordered an autopsy. The OIPRD report states Strang’s lungs were full of water and the cause of his death was “consistent with drowning and acute alcohol intoxication.”

The OIPRD found problems with the investigation, including that injuries found on Strang’s body were not investigated by the pathologist. The report states police were “not in a position, based on the very limited investigation conducted, to rule out foul play in this death.”

“In some of these cases, the passage of time may make re-investigation difficult. The point of recommending re-investigation is to reflect that in these cases, the original investigations were so incomplete or inadequate to prevent the ruling out of foul play or third party contributions to the deaths,” according to the report.

Kyle Morrisseau, November 2009

Morrisseau, 17, was reported missing Oct. 28, 2009, after a school counsellor reported he hadn’t been at school for two days. His body was found in the river on Nov. 10, was removed from the water and the coroner was called. An autopsy report stated the cause of death was “asphyxiation due to drowning associated with alcohol intoxication.” There were abrasions on his shins.

The OIPRD’s investigation found there were “many leads developed during the missing persons investigation which were not followed up on,” and many investigative steps that would be expected in a suspicious death probe were not taken, according to the report. “As such, TBPS is not in a position to rule out foul play in this death,” it states.

Jordan Wabasse, February 2011

Wabasse, 15, was reported missing on Feb. 8, 2011. His body was not found until May 10, 2011, when boaters spotted it floating in the river. The coroner attended the scene and an autopsy concluded the cause of death was “cold water drowning,” with contributing factors being “alcohol use, cold ambient temperature,” according to the report. A pathologist stated “in the absence of any other evidence, there is no reason to suspect foul play.”

The OIPRD identified problems with the investigation, including that despite receiving information that Wabasse may have been mistakenly targeted for drug debts, it was concluded there was “no reason to suspect foul play.”

“There were several leads to follow up on and individuals to interview who may have had direct knowledge of this matter. This was not pursued,” reads the report.

“There is compelling evidence that (Wabasse) may have been a victim of a crime,” the report says.

Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing. Reach her by email at wgillis@thestar.ca or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis

Jennifer Yang is a Toronto-based reporter covering identity and inequality. Follow her on Twitter: @jyangstar

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OSPCA wants out of horse, livestock cruelty probes due to funding shortage

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Ontario’s animal welfare agency plans to pull back from investigating cruelty cases involving livestock and horses as part of a restructure that insiders say may eventually see all its resources go toward shelters and rescue programs.

The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, whose officers have police powers and can lay both provincial offence and criminal animal cruelty charges, said lack of funding and years of financial losses had led to the decision.

« We’re looking for help and we’re challenging the status quo, » said OSPCA spokeswoman Alison Cross. « Otherwise these challenges will never be addressed. We have to restructure. »

Sources say the OSPCA has been quietly discussing the merits of remaining in the animal cruelty investigation field altogether, citing increasing costs and the collapse of several high-profile cases, such as a probe involving Marineland, which have contributed to poor public perception of the organization.

Last week, the OSPCA called in its animal welfare officers from across the province for a meeting at its headquarters in Stouffville, Ont., north of Toronto. There, CEO Kate MacDonald laid out the organization’s plans for the future.

« During our meeting we felt it was important to begin our discussion on our new focus we’ll be undertaking over the next year, » said OSPCA deputy chief Jennifer Bluhm.

Part of the plan MacDonald discussed at the meeting was farming out animal cruelty protection of large farm animals to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

Not notified of plan, province says

That was news to the Progressive Conservative government, which pays the OSPCA $5.75 million each year under an agreement that stipulates the agency is responsible for running a call centre to respond to animal cruelty tips, a major case team to investigate complex cases, a registry of zoos and aquariums and specialists to investigate those facilities, as well as animal cruelty coverage of First Nations and northern Ontario.

A government spokesman said the OSPCA had not notified the province of its plan. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs assists with inspections and investigations related to farm animals when requested by the OSPCA or police, but it does not have the authority to enforce the provisions of the OSPCA Act, Brent Ross said in an email.

« In the event the OSPCA no longer performs these duties, police services have authority to enforce animal welfare laws, » he said.

The OSPCA said it has for years operated its enforcement arm at a significant financial loss and had to balance the books by pulling from its donor dollars that it uses to fund its other operations, which include shelters and rescue programs. The OSPCA said that will stop by 2019.

The agency brought in $7 million from donations and fundraising last year, according to its 2017 financial report. It took in about $2.4 million in municipal contract fees and $2.1 million in shelter and veterinary revenue. The report states animal care and protection cost nearly $14 million.

The OSPCA said it continues to respond to livestock cruelty concerns, but hopes that the provincial government will take over that role.

However, some of the officers who attended the agency meeting last week said they were left with the impression that the move was imminent.

« We are no longer all things to all animals…We are no longer investing in investigations, » MacDonald said at the meeting, according to two officers who were present but did not want their names used for fear of being fired.

« It sounds like we’ll become a dog and cat cruelty organization, » one of the officers said. « Those are much easier to deal with. »

No organization can do work alone​: OSPCA

When asked about the CEO’s remarks, the OSPCA said it strives to be a leader in animal welfare, but that no single organization can do the work alone.

« As we restructure, the Society will turn to other industry experts to assist in addressing concerns for animal welfare, » Cross, the spokeswoman, said.

There are currently 71 officers who respond to animal cruelty concerns across the entire province, down from about 200 a decade ago.

The OSPCA started as an animal shelter in 1873. In 1919, it entered into an agreement with the provincial government to enforce animal cruelty laws through legislation that created the OSPCA Act. The OSPCA received little government funding until 2012 when then-Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty decided to augment their enforcement abilities and give them more than $5 million annually to carry out those new responsibilities.

A 2016 report titled Difference Makers: Understanding and Improving the OSPCA’s Animal Cruelty Investigation Network found that the majority of officers are poorly paid, work in the field alone often facing dangerous circumstances, and are responsible for « extremely large geographic regions. »

One of the authors, Kendra Coulter, the chair of labour studies at Brock University, said funding for the OSPCA is insufficient.

« The idea of using donor dollars to help fund the enforcement of public laws, to me, is very problematic, » she said. « (But) I don’t think abandoning large groups of animals, many of whom are the most vulnerable, is the appropriate response to financial constraints. »

Coulter also criticized the entire set up of a private charity using public money to enforce the law, citing lack of transparency and accountability.

« It’s an organization with a board and upper management that makes a range of decisions on how to spend public money and the public has few opportunities to better understand how those decisions are made, » she said.

Financial struggles

Internal documents show the agency has been struggling financially for years.

In November 2016, it was forced to disband its major case management team, a centralized group of specialized investigators tackling complex cases like dogfighting rings and allegations of cruelty at zoos and aquariums, according to an internal memo.

The agency said the team was struggling to keep up with more than 15 complex cases per year, so it decided to instead deploy specialists throughout the province, a tactic that was more efficient.

Mike Zimmerman, a former manager of animal welfare with the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services who was involved in the drafting of the 2012 agreement, said the agency crying poor was a false argument.

« They were doing investigations entirely on their own income when the government said we’d like to help with that and provide money for additional services and strategies, » he said. « And they’d had little government money going back to 1919. »

Zimmerman said under the 2012 agreement, the government was never meant to provide all the funds for enforcement, adding the OSPCA fundraises on the backs of their cruelty investigations.

« They’re operating in a way that ignores their primary reason to be, which is to protect animals in Ontario — all animals, » he said.

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Ottawa teams with brain injury experts as it probes mystery attacks on Canadian diplomats in Cuba

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OTTAWA—The federal government has partnered with brain injury experts in Nova Scotia in its search for what caused health problems among Canadian and American diplomats based in Havana, as speculation swirls that they may have been the targets of a microwave weapon.

Global Affairs Canada has joined with the Brain Repair Centre, affiliated with Dalhousie University, the Nova Scotia Health Authority and the IWK Health Centre, to conduct research into the symptoms and potential causes of what left about a dozen diplomats and family members suffering an array of mysterious symptoms.

“The research study is another avenue to try to further understand the symptoms they are experiencing,” a senior federal government official told the Star.

Despite an RCMP-led investigation that has stretched on for more than a year, done with the co-operation of the Cubans, the official said they seem no closer to determining what happened.

“Despite all these ongoing investigations, the cause or causes of the health incidents our staff have experienced are still unknown. We are still basically looking, still investigating, working with our counterparts,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“These are very unusual incidents and sort of unprecedented,” the official added.

Officials in Washington and Ottawa have been searching for answers since late 2016 when American diplomats, then Canadians, were caught up in a series of mysterious incidents. The incidents left them suffering persistent, concussion-like symptoms — dizziness, nausea, headaches and trouble concentrating — yet without head trauma to explain the cause.

Dr. Douglas Smith, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s department of neurosurgery and Center for Brain Injury and Repair, evaluated some of the workers. He told the Star earlier this year that it appears those affected were exposed to some form of directed energy.

In a story this month, the New York Times raised the idea that the diplomats may have been the target of microwaves.

Washington lawyer Mark Zaid, who specializes in national security cases and represents nine American diplomats caught up in the incidents, says that is a real possibility.

“We certainly have circumstantial evidence that it is microwaves,” Zaid told the Star.

“The (National Security Agency) had admitted to us that there was at least one country that was using microwaves as weapons against U.S. personnel,” he said.

Zaid referenced a 2014 statement provided by the NSA as he acted on behalf of a counter-intelligence officer with the agency who believed he had been targeted during operations in an undisclosed country.

The statement said that intelligence associated a “hostile” country with a “high-powered microwave system” designed to “bathe a target’s living quarters in microwaves, causing numerous physical effects, including a damaged nervous system.”

A spokesperson for the NSA confirmed the authenticity of the statement but told the Star that a review by intelligence community experts that same year “challenges the validity of the size of such a weapon and cannot confirm the device capabilities.”

Yet the spokesperson, Kelly Biemer, added that the experts have “associated the hostile country with some capabilities in this field.”

Dr. Michael Hoffer, a brain injury specialist at the University of Miami who has seen many of the Americans suffering symptoms, says the cause isn’t yet known.

“It’s unknown to date exactly what’s causing it. It could be ultrasonic, it could be microwave. It could be a variety of other things,” he told a recent panel discussion on the possible causes of the Havana incidents.

The session was hosted by the U.S. Department of Defence Strategic Multilayer Assessment program, which brings together experts across agencies and disciplines to tackle “challenging” problems.

Hoffer said his involvement began with a phone call in February 2017. “Literally, the call was, ‘This is the State Department. We have a problem,’” Hoffer said in the discussion, which is available online.

He said 25 Americans had symptoms that included ear pain, ringing in the ear, dizziness and cognitive issues. “All of these individuals had experienced a loud noise or pressure phenomena before and during the symptoms,” he said.

“The sound was localized and followed the individual from room to room. If they moved in the room, it would move,” he said.

As with the Canadians, the Americans experienced the incidents at their homes or in hotels rather than at work.

All had abnormalities in the organs that help the body determine gravity and balance, he said. That matches the experience of Canadians who have also suffered vestibular and balance issues.

Hoffer said that directed energy can produce “cavitation bubbles” that can cause effects in parts of the body where doctors have seen damage.

“For those who were truly affected, they really had a physical injury,” said Hoffer, who could not be reached by the Star.

Zaid said questions still swirl about the perpetrator of the attacks, their motivation and methods. “I have tons of questions trying to understand what this was. I’m keeping an open mind to it,” he said.

There have been no new cases among Canadian personnel since October 2017. Those afflicted have been getting medical treatment and rehabilitation to mitigate symptoms though some remain off work, the federal official said. Global Affairs brought diplomats’ family members home from Cuba in April.

Bruce Campion-Smith is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @yowflier

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