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Relief and anger in Toronto’s Gay Village after arrest in men’s disappearance

A poster of Andrew Kinsman is photographed Barbara Hall Park on Church Street in Toronto, on Thursday, January 18, 2018.

Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

In Toronto's Church and Wellesley area, where fear about a potential predator targeting gay men has been rising for months, news of an arrest for the murder of two missing men was greeted with shock and relief Thursday.

"We've been on edge. As you go around the community you see the posters for the missing. It's not healthy for the community," said the Rev. Brent Hawkes, a prominent community activist. "I hope this means this is on the way to being resolved and that the community can be less afraid."

The accused, Bruce McArthur, and his alleged victims Andrew Kinsman and Selim Esen were known to spend time in the Gay Village.

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Related: Toronto police charge Bruce McArthur with murdering two missing men, believe there are other victims

Opinion: Toronto police response to Gay Village disappearances demands explanation

At Dudley Hardware, where some of the work to mobilize community awareness began, there was a sense of satisfaction that the justice system had finally kicked into gear. But there are still other cases of men missing from the neighbourhood that need answers.

Frank Baldwin, who works at Dudley's, said he recognized Mr. McArthur, a 66-year-old freelance landscaper, as an occasional customer.

"He's stopped here a few times over the years," Mr. Baldwin said. "Just to know there is progress on something, that is so good."

Local councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam said news of the arrest was upsetting but also served as a validation to many in the community who had organized meetings, searches and rallies to assist police and draw attention to the cases.

"Both the community and the police service deserve our thanks today for their dedication and ongoing efforts to make the community safer," Ms. Wong-Tam said in a statement.

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Doug Kerr, a community activist and co-owner of the Glad Day Bookshop on Church Street, said he was feeling "annoyed and angry and upset" on Thursday.

He said he believed police when they said there was not a serial killer in the village – and he was "vocal" in assuring his friends, colleagues and community members that this must be the case.

"There were a lot of people over the last year who were getting very nervous and scared, and I was saying things like 'People should be calm, we don't know.'"

But now that investigators say the murders of Mr. Esen and Mr. Kinsman are believed to be linked – and that there are likely more victims – Mr. Kerr is concerned and angry about how the case was handled by police.

"This raises a lot of questions for me. And I think this raises a lot of questions for people in the LGBTQ community," he said.

Andrew Musselman, an actor, said he first became aware of the missing men through the media. Although he was never personally afraid, he said he and his husband discussed the need to be careful when walking through the neighbourhood at night.

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"I find it incredibly sad because you're living in a time, in the city of Toronto, where you feel very safe, like the LGBTQ community isn't a target. It felt very jarring, like it couldn't be happening," Mr. Musselman said.

Robert Mohih, a manager at a Church Street creperie, said the two missing men came to the café regularly over the past five or six years. They were quiet, gentle people – and usually came alone, he said. To finally hear that police have arrested someone in connection with their deaths is sad, he said, but brings a sense of relief.

With files from Molly Hayes

Toronto police have charged 66-year-old Bruce McArthur with first-degree murder in the disappearances of Selim Esen and Andrew Kinsman from the city’s gay village last year. Police say they are still looking for the bodies. The Canadian Press
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