The head of the external review looking at the way the Toronto Police Service handles missing-persons investigations has asked to have her mandate broadened to include the case of serial killer Bruce McArthur.
Justice Gloria Epstein has written a letter to the Toronto Police Services Board asking the civilian body to lift the restrictions in her terms of reference that stopped her from examining contacts between Mr. McArthur and police.
She sent the letter on Wednesday, the day after the 67-year-old landscaper pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder of men with ties to the city’s Gay Village.
"This will allow us to do an even more comprehensive and thorough review,” the review’s lead counsel, Mark Sandler, said in an interview.
The review was set up last year following concerns about the way Toronto police handled reports of missing people with connections to the Village. But it was limited in what it could investigate about police dealings with Mr. McArthur, whose trial date had not been set at that point, out of concerns it would prejudice the judicial process.
In a statement, the chair of the Police Services Board, Andy Pringle, said Justice Epstein’s request would be taken under consideration. He added that the board had been in touch with the Ministry of the Attorney-General to learn if there were other ways “to review the broader issues and questions” now that Mr. McArthur has pleaded guilty.
Mr. McArthur’s guilty pleas have lifted concerns about protecting judicial process, but they have also renewed questions about whether he could have been stopped years before his 2017 arrest. He was interviewed twice by police, in 2013 and 2016, but not considered a suspect.
Douglas Elliott, a lawyer who has taken part in public inquiries, was part of a group of LGBT community members who called for a public inquiry last March.
“My father and grandfather were police officers. I do not hate the police. However, I do not think that they should be immune from criticism either,” Mr. Elliott told The Globe and Mail in an e-mail interview on Wednesday.
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders has previously stated that he is open to a public inquiry.
Speaking earlier on Wednesday, Premier Doug Ford would not rule out calling a public inquiry but came to the defence of the city’s police force, which he said is being “dumped on” over its handling of the McArthur case.
Mr. Ford called the case an “absolute tragedy” and said he’ll be meeting with Toronto police to “make sure this never happens again.” But he stopped short of heeding calls from advocates who say a public inquiry is needed.
“I’m going to sit down with our police. But you have to keep in mind, I think the police are being dumped on a little bit. They were able to capture him and [he] pleaded guilty,” he told reporters.
When asked why he wouldn’t call a public inquiry, he said, “I never said we aren’t going to.”
He then added: “It’s a terrible tragedy. But let’s just once in a while support our police rather than always attacking them. We shouldn’t be attacking our police. Yes, can we correct things within the police? One hundred per cent we can correct things."
Community members have praised the homicide detectives who caught Mr. McArthur but still wonder how he was able to kill eight men during a seven-year span.
“I agree with Premier Ford that there was some good police work done (the work must have been traumatic for many of them), but there is much room for improvement,” Mr. Elliott said by e-mail.
“It could have perhaps been prevented. We don’t want to see this happen again,” said LGBT community organizer Susan Gapka.
Mr. Ford also said he would not pull any provincial funding for Toronto Pride over its recent decision to ban uniformed police officers from events indefinitely.
“Full disclosure: I love our police," the Premier said. "They do a great job, and it’s a shame that they’re being excluded from this, but hopefully they’ll work it out.”