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Police incident with alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur subject of internal probe

Police at a property on Mallory Crescent that’s been linked to alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur.

Jesse Winter/The Globe and Mail

The lead detective investigating Bruce McArthur has uncovered possible misconduct by police in a "troubling" incident involving the alleged serial killer years before he was arrested.

The interaction is now the subject of an internal investigation as the Toronto force faces growing demands from the city's LGBTQ community for police to release more details about the service's previous interactions with Mr. McArthur and questions regarding whether more could have been done at the time to solve the original string of disappearances from the Gay Village from 2010 to 2012.

Homicide Detective Sergeant Hank Idsinga told The Globe and Mail that, while he came across the the details of possible impropriety or misconduct in the midst of Project Prism, which began in the summer of 2017 and led to Mr. McArthur's arrest in January, he was only able to compile the details of the incident in recent weeks. He filed the report to the force's professional standards unit on Monday, when an investigation was opened.

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Mr. McArthur now faces six first-degree murder charges.

Toronto Police have said that the incident in question relates to Mr. McArthur, but is unrelated to the missing-persons cases. Now that Det. Sgt. Idsinga's report is with the professional standards unit, he said it is up to them to determine whether there was wrongdoing, the scope of the investigation and whether there should be charges laid under the Police Services Act.

In an interview with CP24 on Wednesday, Det. Sgt. Idsinga was asked if the investigation was "a career case" for him and his colleagues.

"This one is certainly going to have an impact on some careers, positively and possibly negatively as well, but it's definitely one for the books," he replied.

Beyond the force's internal probe, Toronto Mayor John Tory on Wednesday echoed the community's calls for an independent inquiry into the police handling of the investigation, saying he'd endorse the plan at the next police board meeting.

On Tuesday night, The Globe reported that police interviewed Mr. McArthur in 2013 after he was connected to three missing-persons cases, citing a police source with knowledge of the investigation.

The Globe reached out to police on Sunday and Monday. Each time, the service declined to comment on who was or wasn't interviewed as part of Project Houston, the probe tasked with investigating the three original missing-persons cases.

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Det. Sgt. Idsinga declined comment again Wednesday, but did acknowledge that the probe spoke to many with connections to the three men.

Since Mr. McArthur's arrest, the service has pointed to Project Houston to exemplify the work they put in to solve three earlier missing-persons cases, two of which have now been formally linked to Mr. McArthur. A dozen full-time investigators were assigned, police say, but they failed to turn up an explanation for the three disappearances.

Project Houston, however, was not originally started to investigate the three missing men.

Det. Sgt Idsinga said the task force was started based on a tip from another police agency that Skandaraj Navaratnam, the first man to go missing, had been murdered. That tip implicated an online cannibal ring in his disappearance.

It was from that tip that police identified a suspect.

"We spent the better part of six months working that suspect and working that evidence," Det. Sgt. Idsinga told The Globe.

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The probe, which began in November, 2012, led police to James Alex Brunton, a Peterborough man and a member of that online forum. On May 14, 2013, Toronto Police arrested Mr. Brunton on child-pornography charges, for which he was convicted in 2014.

Court records show that Mr. Brunton communicated with a teenager in the United States through a cannibalism web forum between August, 2009 and October, 2012.

Det. Sgt. Idsinga admits it sounds "far-fetched" to conclude that someone had been killed in connection with cannibalism, but said investigators were not just "grasping at straws." Mr. Brunton was not, however, a murderer.

That left police without an explanation for Mr. Navaratnam's disappearance. Det. Sgt. Idsinga said that, at that point, police continued to investigate other avenues that could have explained Mr. Navaratnam's disappearance.

He went on to say that "during that time we discovered that not only is Skandaraj missing from the Village, but so is Basir Faizi and Majeed Kayhan." Just over three weeks after officers arrested Mr. Brunton, on June 6, 2013, Toronto police announced that they would be investigating all three missing men.

Mr. McArthur is now accused of murdering Mr. Navaratnam and Mr. Kayhan, while investigators continue to probe the case of Mr. Faizi.

It was after Mr. Brunton's arrest, just as police turned their attention to the trio of missing men, that the project's resources were steadily reduced, going from 12 full-time investigators – the number often cited by the Toronto Police – to just two, according to the police source.

Det. Sgt. Idsinga, who left the project not long after Mr. Brunton's arrest, acknowledged that staffing for the probe was drawn down, but said that is to be expected in the transition from the investigation of a suspected murder to a missing-persons case.

He added that the project continued to have resources from the division, including K9 and marine-search units.

While Det. Sgt. Idsinga said it's "fair to say" that the project's staff was significantly reduced, he added that "it was always staffed as required."

As the pair of remaining officers continued to probe the case, they came across Mr. McArthur's name, a police source told The Globe: first, as a contact of both Mr. Navaratnam, with whom Mr. McArthur had a previous romantic and professional relationship, and Mr. Faizi, whom Mr. McArthur is said to have communicated with on dating apps. But it was a tip from the community, connecting the alleged killer to Mr. Kayhan, that pushed them to interview Mr. McArthur.

Two weeks ago, CTV's W5 program aired an interview with a friend of Mr. Kayhan who said he brought Mr. McArthur's identity to the police after his disappearance, telling the force that the last time he saw his friend alive he was with Mr. McArthur.

The details of the police interview remain unclear, and police have refused to confirm whether it was the only time the Toronto Police Service interviewed Mr. McArthur since the start of Project Houston.

It wasn't the first interaction between Mr. McArthur and police, however.

In 2001, Mr. McArthur was arrested and charged with assault after he attacked a sex worker with a lead pipe. As part of the conditions of his conviction, he was banned from the Gay Village for two years. It is not clear whether that charge would have remained on his record, given he may have applied for a pardon.

More recently, two different men have come forward to say that they were attacked by Mr. McArthur during sex.

Peter Sgromo told The Globe in January that he had been choked by Mr. McArthur in the back of the landscaper's van in the spring of 2017.

Sean Cribbin told Sirius Radio that he had a similar experience in Mr. McArthur's apartment that summer, where he alleges Mr. McArthur choked him until he was unconscious.

Mr. Sgromo said he reported that incident to police, albeit some time later and only in the process of filing a police complaint regarding a different matter; Mr. Cribbin did not report the incident at the time.

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Sept. 16, 2010

Skandaraj Navaratnam is reported missing. He was last seen on Sept. 6 after leaving the Zipperz gay bar with an unknown man.

Dec. 29, 2010

Brampton resident Abdulbasir Faizi goes missing. His car was later found in Toronto, north of the Gay Village.

Oct. 25, 2012

Majeed Kayhan is reported missing by his son. He was last seen on Oct. 14 at a family wedding.

Nov. 2012

Start of Project Houston, according to Detective Sergeant Hank Idsinga. A source says it initially investigated a tip that Skandaraj Navaratnam was a victim of a cannibal ring. The tip turns out to be unfounded.

June 6, 2013

Police make an appeal for public assistance to find the three missing men.

After June 2013

Police connect Bruce McArthur to all three missing men and interview him, a source tells The Globe and Mail.

Aug. 15, 2015

Soroush Mahmudi vanishes after leaving his Scarborough apartment building.

Sometime between the spring of 2016 and the summer of 2017

Dean Lisowick disappears but, because he is a transient, is not reported missing.

April 14, 2017

Selim Esen goes missing from the Yonge Street and Bloor Street area.

June 26, 2017

Andrew Kinsman disappears following the Pride weekend.

Aug. 14, 2017

Toronto police forms Project Prism to investigate the disappearances of Selim Esen and Andrew Kinsman.

Sept. 2017

Bruce McArthur again comes to the attention of police.

Jan. 18, 2018

Bruce McArthur is arrested and charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Andrew Kinsman and Selim Esen.

Jan. 29, 2018

Bruce McArthur is charged with the murders of Majeed Kayhan, Soroush Mahmudi and Dean Lisowick.

Feb. 23, 2018

Bruce McArthur is charged with murdering Skandaraj Navaratnam.

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