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Tory defends police chief after Saunders suggested LGBT community did not come forward about Bruce McArthur

Mayor John Tory said “no one” is blaming victims for failing to come forward with information about alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur, after the city’s police chief suggested in an interview that the LGBT community could have done more as officers investigated missing men from the city’s Gay Village.

Tory was responding to comments Chief Mark Saunders made in an interview with the Globe and Mail, suggesting that if members of Toronto’s LGBT community had come forward with information, McArthur may have hit police radar sooner.

In the Globe story, transgender activist Nicki ward suggested that the chief’s comments amounted to victim blaming.

“I just want to make it very clear as mayor that there is no one who is suggesting any blame belongs on victims of horrific crimes; that we are all grieving as a city with the LGBTQ and Church-Wellesley community and there are reviews underway now to determine exactly what happened here and why and how we can do better,” Tory told reporters Tuesday during a transit news conference when he was asked about the chief’s remarks.

In the interview, Saunders suggested police “knew something was up” in the city’s Gay Village, but investigators “did not have the evidence.”

“If anyone knew before us, it’s people who knew [McArthur] very, very well. And so that did not come out.”

In December, Saunders said there was “no evidence” to suggest a serial killer was at work in the Gay Village, despite members of the community raising concerns of such a possibility as a string of men continued to go missing from the neighbourhood.

Police announced the first charges against McArthur in January.

In 2012, police launched Project Houston to probe the disappearances of three men: Skandaraj Navaratnam, 40, Abdulbasir Faizi, 42, and Majeed Kayhan, 58, who disappeared between 2010 and 2012.

Bruce McArthur

Bruce McArthur, 66, is accused of killing six men and police believe there may be more victims. (Bruce McArthur/Facebook)

McArthur is now charged with first-degree murder of Navaratnam and Kayhan, as well as four other men: Andrew Kinsman, 49, Selim Esen, 44, Dean Lisowick, 47 and Soroush Mahmudi, 50.

The force is conducting an internal review of how police handled Project Houston and the cases of missing men from the village. In the interview, Saunders defended his officers’ work.

“I’ve heard a lot of sources say certain things, and had those sources said those things when we had Project Houston, I think there is a very strong potential that the outcome could have been different,” Saunders said.

According to the Globe, he later added: “We knew that people were missing and we knew we didn’t have the right answers. But nobody was coming to us with anything.”

‘I hope it’s just a distorted headline’

On Tuesday, Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, whose ward includes the village, noted that police have long had a strained relationship with the LGBT community, dating back to the bathhouse raids of 1981.

“But I also do know that members of the community throughout the years, quite honestly, have been raising the concerns with the Toronto police that something was not quite right,” she told CBC Radio’s Metro Morning.

“So the rumour of a serial killer in the village has been percolating for literally years.”

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam says a rumour that a serial killer was at work in the Gay Village had been “percolating for years.” (CBC)

She herself spoke to officers at 51 Division about the community’s concerns, and there were community meetings during which the public raised the issue with police, Wong-Tam said.

“Throughout the case we know that there were digital footprints, everybody seems to have one these days, because of online dating, and I find it rather difficult to understand and I hope that the police the chief’s comments were taken out of context,” she said.

“I find it rather difficult to understand why he may be blaming the community and I hope it’s just a distorted headline.”

CBC Toronto is awaiting response from the chief to a request for comment made Tuesday morning.

Wong-Tam noted that there are frontline officers who have excellent relationships with the LGBT community, but “we have to work harder to advance police relationships with the community.”

‘Whole idea is to heal’

In the Globe interview, Saunders said he’s “willing to hear” ideas about how to improve the relationship between police and the LGBT community.

Tory also suggested Tuesday that his focus is on helping that cause along.

“The whole idea is to heal, is to restore and increase trust between the police and the community. So I’m very focused on that, and I know the chief is, too,” Tory said.

“And I think we just have to keep working on that, and work through this and find out what happened here and how we can do better because I think that’s really what we all have to do in the end.”

CBC | Toronto News