Ontario Attorney-General Yasir Naqvi maintains that the province should wait until the end of the court process against alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur before deciding on a public inquiry into the Toronto police’s handling of missing and murdered gay men, despite calls from activists who believe public safety is at risk with any delay.
The activists, including Douglas Elliott, a lawyer who took part in past public inquiries, said to reporters on Thursday that there are precedents to hold such reviews in parallel with police investigations and prosecutions.
Mr. McArthur, 66, has been charged with murdering six men with ties to the Gay Village.
Sources say he was interviewed twice by police before his arrest in January: in 2016, when a man reported that Mr. McArthur tried to strangle him during a sexual encounter; and in 2013, during a probe into three missing men.
“The next serial killer may already be at work. Perhaps even right here in Toronto,” Mr. Elliott 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.”
Asked for comment, Mr. Naqvi’s office issued the same statement that the Attorney-General released on March 8. “We are reviewing the request to call a public inquiry and will be maintaining an open dialogue with the City of Toronto on next steps following the conclusion of any criminal proceedings,” it said.
Meanwhile, the Toronto Police Services Board unanimously adopted a motion by Mayor John Tory to create a working group with representation from marginalized communities that will recommend by June the best way to conduct an independent external review of the police’s handling of missing-persons cases.
Mr. Elliott, who was involved in both the Krever tainted-blood inquiry and the Elliot Lake mall-collapse inquiry, said both proceedings took place at the same time as criminal investigations.
He added that he was shocked when police Chief Mark Saunders told The Globe and Mail last month that his service lacked familiarity with serial killers since Toronto police were one of three forces criticized in 1996 in Justice Archie Campbell’s review of the Paul Bernardo case.
Justice Campbell had warned that such predators pose a unique challenge to police. “The Bernardo case proves that Ontario is no exception,” his report said.
“This is not about shaming the police; it’s about making sure they do a better job next time,” Mr. Elliott said.
By the time men began disappearing from the Gay Village in 2010, police should have already heard of the systemic problems from the Bernardo case or the investigation into Robert Pickton’s serial killings in British Columbia, Mr. Elliott said. “Did the Toronto police learn a lesson from those cases?”
In Mr. Pickton’s case, an inquiry was called eight years after his arrest and lawyers representing victims’ families said that the delay resulted in lost documents and less reliable testimonies.
Mr. Elliott noted the men Mr. McArthur is accused of murdering were middle-aged and many potential witnesses will be of similar ages. “The passage of time only causes memories to fade and evidence to deteriorate,” he said.
The activists’ position was not unanimously shared.
“We respect the diversity of viewpoints in the community on the timing of the public inquiry. For now, our position remains that the public inquiry should happen after criminal proceedings end,” said Shakir Rahim, a director at the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention.
Ted Healey, a friend of Andrew Kinsman, one of the men Mr. McArthur is accused of killing, echoed the same view.
“I am frustrated and eager to see the trial begin rather than dwell on the ‘what could have been’ at this time. But I do feel that there is an issue with the number of times McArthur was within the investigation’s sights and yet nothing was connected,” he said.
One of the activists calling for an immediate inquest, Susan Gapka, noted that, after the June provincial election, Ontario might have a different government that won’t be as receptive to holding an inquiry.
“We don’t know what the landscape will be like and this is why time is of the essence,” she said.
She gave the same message at the police services board meeting later in the day.