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Toronto police tracked vehicles, individuals for months before Bruce McArthur arrest

Toronto police sought more than 80 search warrants, production orders and other judicial authorizations and tracked vehicles for four months before they eventually arrested alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur in January, according to court documents made public Monday.

The Toronto police previously said that Mr. McArthur came to their attention in September, but that they didn’t have evidence of multiple homicides until his arrest. Starting last November, however, the court documents state that the investigation into Mr. McArthur was part of a probe into the disappearance of five men from the Toronto Gay Village.

The court papers are part of judicial authorizations that Toronto police sought as their investigations into missing men from the Gay Village eventually turned into a homicide investigation into Mr. McArthur, who was eventually charged with eight counts of murder.

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The documents unsealed on Monday detail efforts deployed by investigators in the months preceding Mr. McArthur’s arrest to access bank, phone, medical and transportation records.

Investigators also obtained transmission data recorder warrants. While the documents provide no further details, those warrants have been used by law enforcement in Canada to use IMSI catchers, a controversial cellphone surveillance device.

The court documents were made public after a ruling by Ontario Court Justice Cathy Mocha. Her decision is a preliminary disclosure in an application by four media outlets – the CBC, CTV, The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star – to unseal search warrants in the missing-men and McArthur probes.

While the judicial authorizations cover a period of more than seven years (from October, 2010, to this spring), most of them are concentrated in two clusters.

The first cluster, from the fall of 2012 to the spring of 2013, arose when police thought that James Alex Brunton, a Peterborough resident who had expressed fantasies about cannibalism online, was linked to Skandaraj Navaratnam, a Toronto gay man who vanished in 2010.

Mr. Brunton was put under surveillance, his home was raided and he was arrested in May, 2013. However, he was ultimately not connected to Mr. Navaratnam.

From the fall of 2013 to the summer of 2017, investigators didn’t seek another warrant in the case of the missing men, even though Mr. McArthur had two encounters with police, in 2013 and 2016.Sources say that he was interviewed in 2013 as part of Project Houston, the probe into the disappearance of Mr. Navaratnam and two other gay men of Asian origin. Then, in 2016, a man complained to police that Mr. McArthur tried to strangle him during a sexual encounter. Mr. McArthur spoke to police but was not charged.

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In the summer of 2017, however, when two other gay men, Andrew Kinsman and Selim Esen, also disappeared, Toronto police launched Project Prism to investigate.

By Sept. 8, applications to get records first mention that police were investigating Mr. McArthur. Starting on Sept. 14, police obtained warrants enabling investigators to covertly place and remove tracking devices on vehicles.

The documents don’t explicitly identify the vehicles, but it was around the same period that police tracked down Mr. McArthur’s Dodge Caravan, which he had sold to an auto-parts business east of Toronto.

Investigators also sought records from Bell Canada, Rogers Communications, Telus, three banks and Pink Triangle Press. Pink Triangle, which publishes the gay periodical Xtra, also operates the gay cruising app Squirt, which Mr. McArthur used, according to an acquaintance, Peter Sgromo.

By November, police had tracking warrants for vehicles and individuals and warrants to capture cellphone metadata.

The sealing orders for the warrants now say more explicitly that it was an investigation into the disappearances of Mr. Kinsman and four other men. The orders also say the investigation focuses on Mr. McArthur

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A month and a half before his arrest, police sought a general warrant for his apartment and for two other addresses that remain under seal because the investigation is continuing.

Lawyers for Mr. McArthur objected to the release of the sealing orders, arguing it could influence potential jurors in their client’s court case. However, in a decision from the bench on Friday, Justice Mocha said the details being released now don’t represent the kind of substantial risk to a fair trial that would justify keeping them confidential.

Toronto police declined to comment.

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