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Toronto mayor, police chair call for independent review of McArthur case

Mayor John Tory speaks during a news conference in Toronto on Jan. 18, 2018.

Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Toronto's mayor and the chair of the police board are calling for an independent external review of the police force's handling of the investigation into alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur.

The case has caused outrage in the city's LGBTQ community, where many accuse police of failing to do enough to investigate the disappearances of several gay men who are now alleged to have been among Mr. McArthur's victims.

Anger deepened with the latest revelation that police had interviewed Mr. McArthur years before he was arrested in January.

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Police have launched an internal review, but Mayor John Tory said there are now even more questions that need public answers.

"It adds to what were already a series of very important and very troubling questions, troubling to the LGBTQ community and to people looking at this," Mr. Tory said by phone from Ottawa, where he was attending a conference on guns and gang crime. "Unanswered questions are always troubling."

In a statement, a police spokeswoman said Chief Mark Saunders would support an external review of his officers' conduct.

"The chief has always said we are open to a public inquiry into these investigations and Chief Saunders has already taken steps to consider what areas can be reviewed right now, during the ongoing investigation," wrote Meaghan Gray.

Toronto Police Services Board chair Andy Pringle said that he also supports an external review and believes other members of the board will feel the same.

"I certainly fully support the chief's initiatives to get an external independent review and that's what the mayor is talking about. This is [a] very, very important tragic experience and we want to make sure that we've learned everything we can from it and we've done everything properly. So an open transparent review is, I think, very appropriate."

In an editorial board meeting with The Globe and Mail last week, Chief Saunders said that while open to an inquiry, he believed his officers had done their best and he questioned if those who crossed paths with Mr. McArthur could have provided more information sooner.

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After the chief's comments sparked outrage, Mr. Tory moved a motion at the Police Services Board calling for an internal police review, already under way, to be made public; it is looking at how missing persons cases were handled.

But now the mayor says more needs to be done.

"I would now go a step further and I have always believed this and, by the way, I think the chief agrees, there will need to be an independent external review of both the generic question of how missing persons have been handled in Toronto, but also the specific instances in this case."

Mr. Tory said he had not settled on what kind of review was needed, saying it could take one of several different forms, including a full-blown public inquiry, or a coroner's inquest.

In this case, the provincial government would have the authority to call a public inquiry, while a coroner's inquest is up to the coroner.

A lower-level review, conducted by an independent third party such as a retired judge, for example, is another option, Mr. Tory said.

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In a statement issued later Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Tory said that at the next Toronto Police Services Board meeting, he would move a motion to support a request from Chief Saunders for an external review of missing persons cases and the policies and procedures police follow, including any "systemic concerns" about "differentiated treatment or bias" against LGBTQ people or other groups.

The statement also said the mayor would ask the province to consider holding a public inquiry once criminal proceedings in the case have finished.

Mr. Tory's statement echoes many of the demands of groups in the LGBTQ community with which he has met in recent weeks, and acknowledges the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention, which has been calling for an independent inquiry.

"There is a crisis in public trust," said Shakir Rahim, a director at the alliance. "The community, understandably, is highly disturbed by the idea that Bruce McArthur was known to the police. Whatever investigative steps were taken, they were insufficient to figure that he was allegedly the murderer. That clearly suggests some levels of negligence."

Once Mr. McArthur's case is through the court system, the alliance will ask for a provincial public inquiry, Mr. Rahim said.

Mayor Tory agreed that whatever review takes place cannot interfere with the continuing police investigation into Mr. McArthur or any court proceedings.

"They are pursuing this with every ounce of diligence and energy that they have," Mr. Tory said. "Our police service is an excellent police service. They are not perfect, because no group of human beings are. But in the end they just have to be allowed to proceed with this investigation."

With a report from Molly Hayes

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