Group says community 'cannot wait' for public inquiry in case of missing, murdered men
Codi Wilson, CP24.com
Published Thursday, March 22, 2018 11:55AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, March 22, 2018 4:48PM EDT
A group of members from Toronto’s LGBT community say it is “unnecessary and completely unacceptable” to delay a public inquiry into missing and murdered men in the Church-Wellesley Village.
Speaking to reporters at the 519 Community Centre on Thursday, a group of LGBT activists and community members called on Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi to promptly launch a public inquiry into the murders rather than waiting until criminal proceedings have concluded.
“The conclusion of the criminal proceedings may be many years in the future. We cannot wait until the criminal justice system has completed its work. The police have said that there investigation could take many more years,” Doug Elliott, a lawyer and LGBT community member, said.
“An inquiry is not going to stop or even impede a criminal investigation. No one, no one is asking for that investigation to be put on hold.”
Bruce McArthur, a 66-year-old Toronto landscaper, has been charged with six counts of first-degree murder in connection with the deaths of multiple men who went missing from the village over the past eight years.
Two of the murdered men, Skandaraj Navaratnam and Majeed Kayhan, were two of the three subjects of Project Houston, a 2012 investigation into the mysterious disappearances from the village. That investigation ended 18 months later with few leads.
The 2017 disappearances of two other murdered men, Andrew Kinsman and Selim Esen, were also investigated in a separate investigation dubbed Project Prism, which was launched last August.
Earlier this year, McArthur was charged in connection with the deaths of all four men, in addition to Dean Lisowick and Soroush Mahmudi.
Both Police Chief Mark Saunders and Mayor John Tory have voiced their support for a public inquiry into how law enforcement handled the disappearances and the police service’s professional standards unit has already launched an internal review into missing persons cases.
Tory has also asked the Toronto Police Services Board to commission an external review into the handling of the disappearances, a request which will be discussed at a board meeting this afternoon.
In a statement released earlier this month, Naqvi said that while there are “many unanswered questions,” if an inquiry is launched, it should be following criminal proceedings.
But Elliott contends that there is no legal reason to delay a public inquiry, adding that he himself has been involved in two public inquiries that occurred parallel to criminal investigations.
“In the two inquiries in which I was involved, the police had not even gathered enough evidence to lay any charges by the time the inquiries got underway. In this case, the police already have enough evidence to lay six charges of first-degree murder against an identified accused,” he said.
“Ever since the Supreme Court gave its blessing to this two-track approach… this two-track approach has been the usual, the preferred approach.”
He added that delaying a public inquiry, as was done in the case of B.C. serial killer Robert Pickton, could make it difficult to gather evidence and witness statements.
“As the families of the Pickton victims noted at the inquiry in that case, the passage of time only causes memories to fade and evidence to deteriorate,” Elliott said.
“That is especially so in this case. The known victims were middle-aged men… We can anticipate that many potential witnesses will be of similar ages and possibly even older. If we wait 10 or more years to get started, as happened in the Pickton case, those witnesses might not even be able to give evidence. We will all suffer immensely waiting for answers.”
Full inquiry 'necessary' for community reconciliation with police
Elliott said that launching a public inquiry immediately will help police services learn how to stop serial killers sooner.
“While we now debate the timing of an inquiry into the most recent serial killer investigation, the next serial killer may already be at work. Perhaps even right here in Toronto,” he said.
“We need to learn the lessons from this unhappy investigation and we need to learn them without any further delay. Lives are at stake.”
He noted that the relationship between members of the LGBT community and the police service is fractured and said people cannot wait for answers.
“As recently as last December, we were being told by Chief Saunders that our long-standing concerns about a serial killer preying on our community were not based on any evidence. He was wrong. He had a legal duty to warn us and instead he reassured us,” he said.
“The relationship between the Toronto Police Service and Toronto’s LGBT community is at its worst since I joined in the protests in the streets out here against the bathhouse raids back in 1981. Nothing short of a full public inquiry is going to put us back on the necessary path to reconciliation.”