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Toronto police remove an oil drum from the harbour on Saturday. The drum contained human remains. (John Hanley/John Hanley for the Globe and Mail)
Toronto police remove an oil drum from the harbour on Saturday. The drum contained human remains. (John Hanley/John Hanley for the Globe and Mail)

Body encased in oil drum pulled out of Toronto Harbour Add to ...

Toronto police pulled an oil drum out of Toronto Harbour on Sunday containing a murder victim encased in cement.

The barrel was hauled onto a marine unit boat around noon near 125 Queen's Quay E., at the edge of a construction site that will soon be Sherbourne Park, a highly anticipated waterfront revitalization project.

Detective Justin Vander Heyden said he received information Sunday morning that led him to call the marine unit to the area, and said the murder was part of an "organized effort."

"This is definitely a deliberate act," he said. "This isn't something that was done by a single person."

The cloudy waters of Lake Ontario were treated as an underwater crime scene, and police in dive suits used techniques more commonly associated with an archeological find to create a grid on the lake bed about 20 feet below the surface.

The area was photographed to spot any other evidence left behind by those responsible, and the body was transferred to the coroner's office where the tricky job of removing it from the cement would begin.

Standing behind a yellow police line with the Redpath Sugar refinery over his shoulder and long-weekend sailors drifting by, Det. Vander Heyden declined to say whether the victim was male or female, child or adult.

"At this point I've got a good idea who's contained within that barrel, but I'm not at liberty to speculate," he said.

Police say they have some idea how long the barrel had been at the site, but released few details, saying they did not want to traumatize the families of any missing people before they could confirm the victim's identity.

The barrel was found near the water's edge at the southern end of a construction site that is closed to the public by locked gates and monitored by around-the-clock security. But Det. Vander Heyden said the construction began only recently.

"A vehicle could have had access to this area, which I believe used to be a parking lot at some point," he said.

Two officers in wetsuits dove about 20 feet down to recover the barrel, which they found quickly despite poor visibility. But getting it to the surface was another matter, because of the weight of the concrete. A boom crane on the back of the marine unit boat was used to pull the barrel to the surface.

The barrel was covered in rust, and a layer of mud and silt sat above its concrete filling.

No possible motivations were presented for the murder or the victim's disturbing disposal, with all its Hollywood-fuelled mafia associations. Police expect to release more information about the victim within two or three days.

"It will be a challenge to remove the body and preserve evidence so it's something they won't be doing quickly," said Det. Vander Heyden. "It's going to take some time. Obviously, we don't deal with bodies encased in concrete very often."

Sherbourne Park is scheduled to open later this summer. Designed by landscape architects Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg of Vancouver, it will create a much-needed oasis of green on the city's waterfront, and will also function as a storm water treatment facility. On Sunday, police and members of the media congregated near half-finished brick work laid in the pattern of maple leaves. Security guards at the site would not comment on whether they had been questioned by police.

Det. Vander Heyden did not answer a question about the organized-crime overtones of the body's disposal. But he was direct when asked if he had ever been involved in a discovery like this before.

"No people in barrels in concrete in Lake Ontario, no," he said.

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