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Killings in Toronto’s gay community highlight dangers faced by sex workers

Police stand guard at a house on Mallory Crescent in Toronto on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. Police are investigating the property in relation to the murder charges laid against Bruce McArthur.

Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS

At a town hall meeting last summer, members of Toronto's gay community, worried that a serial killer was operating in their midst, warned that the city's sex workers might be particularly at risk.

That fear proved prescient, as police reported on Monday that Dean Lisowick, a common face in the Gay Village and long-time sex worker, is believed to be the last known victim of alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur.

Mr. McArthur is also facing four other charges of first-degree murder for the deaths of Andrew Kinsman, Selim Esen, Majeed Kayhan and Soroush Mahmudi. Police say his alleged crimes are "unprecedented" in the city.

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Investigators moved in to arrest Mr. McArthur on Jan. 18 because they feared he could hurt a young man he had brought to his apartment and tied up, the Toronto Sun and several television stations reported on Tuesday.

While Toronto police would not comment on those details, a law-enforcement source told The Globe and Mail officers had to take custody of Mr. McArthur earlier than expected because they had reasons to fear that another person could become a victim.

Mr. Lisowick had never been reported missing and was homeless at the time of his disappearance. Police were not even able to give a precise date for when they believe he died. According to the charge information filed in court on Monday, Mr. Lisowick may have died anywhere between April, 2016, and March, 2017. At their news conference, police said he may have been alive as late of July, 2017.

Monica Forrester, program co-ordinator at Maggie's Toronto Sex Workers Action Project, said she saw Mr. Lisowick last summer, likely in July, at one of his regular spots on Church Street.

"He's been around," she said. "I've seen him. I can clearly remember him."

Ms. Forrester said efforts to criminalize the sex trade in recent years have made it more dangerous.

When the town hall was organized to discuss the rash of disappearances from the Village, members of the community voiced concerns that marginalized members of the community, such as sex workers and transgender individuals, may be overlooked by the investigation.

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Ms. Forrester and former Village denizen Terri Stevens remembered Mr. Lisowick as a nice, gentle person who was beset by an addiction to crack cocaine and who would engage in sex work or panhandle.

Mita Hans, who also lives near the Village, said Mr. Lisowick was always looking for odd jobs. He would enthusiastically offer to shovel a step. She recalls him showing up on Sundays to a food program she helped start.

Mr. Lisowick worked for years from Sneakers, a bar just outside of the Village, on Yonge Street, according to Ms. Forrester.

Back then, Mr. Lisowick was just one of many hustlers working on the notorious stretch of Maitland Street, which ran between Church Street and Yonge. It was a common place for young, male sex workers to find older men looking for a date.

In the late 1990s, the area was rough, but popular. Gentrification and police pressure pushed out the sex workers to other parts of the city. Ms. Forrester said that many, including Mr. Lisowick, moved to the adjacent Church Street.

It was around that time, in 2001, that Mr. McArthur was arrested for beating a man living on Church Street with a metal pipe, convicted on two assault charges and ordered by the court to stay away from the Village and sex workers.

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After announcing the identity of the two most recent victims, Detective Sergeant Hank Idsinga told reporters that they "don't quite fit the profile of the earlier victims" and that the investigation now "encompasses more than the gay community, it encompasses the city of Toronto."

But The Globe has established that all of the alleged victims have ties to the gay community. Ms. Hans and Ms. Forrester both recall seeing Mr. Mahmudi in the Village, from a coffee shop on Church Street to Zipperz and the Black Eagle, gay bars frequented by many of the victims and Mr. McArthur. Mr. Mahmudi is believed to have died in mid-August, 2015.

Mr. Kayhan lived near the Village. Friends have told The Globe that Mr. Kayhan had pursued Mr. McArthur romantically.

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Toronto Police Sergeant Detective Hank Idsinga announced the findings of three new skeletal remains in connection with the Bruce McArthur investigation, and announced three new murder charges, bring the count to 5 against Mr. McArthur. They are now referring to the case a serial killing and have upwards of 30 properties of interest around Toronto. The Globe and Mail
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