When he had finished summing up the reasons for his sentence, Justice John McMahon asked Bruce McArthur to rise. “Mr. McArthur, sir, will you please stand up.” The convicted serial killer, wearing a black sweater and plaid shirt, faced the bench. The judge, in his robes and red sash of office, looked down at him, peering over lowered eyeglasses.
Then, one by one, he read out the sentences Mr. McArthur would face. For the first-degree murder of Skandaraj Navaratnam, “I sentence you to life in prison with no eligibility of parole for 25 years.” For the murder of Abdulbasir Faizi, 25 years; for Majeed Kayhan, 25 years; for Soroush Mahmudi, 25 years; for Dean Lisowick, 25 years; for Selim Esen, 25 years; for Andrew Kinsman, 25 years; and for Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, 25 years.
A few minutes later, a guard cuffed the killer’s hands behind his back and he trudged out of the courtroom, looking at the floor as he went. He will never breathe the air of freedom again. Sixty-seven years old now, and suffering from Type 2 diabetes, Mr. McArthur will be 91 by the time he qualifies to apply for parole. He has no realistic chance of getting it, even if he is still alive to ask. No parole board would ever release a man responsible for such horrendous crimes.
So Justice McMahon was right to order him to serve his sentences concurrently, rather than consecutively. Piling them one on another just to send a message would have been futile. The Crown wanted 50 years, keeping him from applying for parole until he was aged 116. Others talked of even longer sentences. Why not 200 years: eight murders times 25? But the message has already been sent – and sent well – by the the judge’s ruling.
Between September, 2010, and June, 2017, he said, Mr. McArthur “lured eight innocent men to their deaths.” The murders were “planned and deliberate, and included dimensions of sexual assault and confinement.” Even in death, the men were subjected to unspeakable indignities. Mr. McArthur kept pictures of his victims, “no doubt for his own perverted sexual gratification.” He even kept some of their personal items as trophies. The killer chose his victims selectively. As the judge put it, he “exploited his victims’ vulnerabilities, whether they involved immigration concerns, mental health challenges or people living a secretive double life.”
Mr. McArthur has not shown a shred of remorse for any of this. Though he eventually chose to plead guilty rather than take advantage of his right to be tried, he decided not to make any kind statement to the victims or to the court. Apart from a few mumbled words in answer to the judge, he said nothing at all at his sentencing hearing this week – nothing to the friends and relatives who gave sorrowful testimony in court about the murdered men, nothing to the gay community terrorized by his seven-year campaign of killing. While robbing eight men of their lives, he robbed many others of their sense of safety and trust.
Now he is paying the price. Taking away his freedom for the rest of his life is the harshest penalty available in Canada, which rightly abandoned the death penalty years ago. No punishment will ever really seem sufficient for crimes of such enormity. The 40 years without parole meted out to Alexandre Bissonnette for mass murder at a Quebec City mosque will strike many as inadequate, too. They would like to see the killers suffer a much worse fate than spending time in prison.
But a civilized society exacts retribution with a measure of restraint. One thing that stood out in the Toronto courtroom this week was how respectfully Mr. McArthur was treated despite everything – the judge always called him “mister” or “sir.” Even in the public gallery, no one interrupted the proceedings to shout a curse at him, even as they heard the litany of his crimes. That was as it should be.
The McArthur case leaves plenty of questions in its wake, the most urgent being why police failed so long to find him. Those questions demand answers. But once he was identified as the probable killer, the police and the courts did their jobs well, first gathering evidence against him and then compiling an unassailable case.
He was caught, jailed, brought before the courts and given a life sentence. After all the controversy and all the pain, finally, this week, there was a sense of justice being done.