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Editorials Globe editorial: Police handling of Toronto serial-killer case needs independent review

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders’ suggestion that the investigation into a potential serial killer in Toronto’s gay village was hampered by a lack of cooperation from members of the LGBTQ community was always a poor exercise in public relations.

“I’ve heard a lot of sources say certain things, and had those sources said those things when we had Project Houston, I think there is a very strong potential that the outcomes could have been different,” he said in late February.

Chief Saunders seemed to implicate a vulnerable community in its own suffering, which alone would be bad enough. But now it appears that his statement wasn’t even accurate: that people did indeed come forward with information during Project Houston about Bruce McArthur, the man accused of killing six men over seven years.

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There is mounting evidence, unconfirmed by the police, that detectives spoke to Mr. McArthur during Operation Houston, and that their investigation connected him in various ways to three men who had gone missing in the city’s gay village from 2010 to 2012.

One person from the community says he suggested to police in 2013 that they speak to Mr. McArthur because he was close to one of the missing men. It also appears that another person from the community told police in 2016 that Mr. McArthur tried to choke him during a sexual encounter.

And now we learn that the police department is conducting an internal investigation into a “troubling” but unspecified aspect of its dealings with Mr. McArthur.

This is all too much. The mayor of Toronto and the chair of the Toronto Police Services Board have both called for an external, independent review of the department’s handling of the case. It is clear that such a review is needed to answer a blunt question: Did the police miss the chance to arrest an alleged serial killer sooner than they did?

Hindsight is 20/20, and no one should rush to judgment. But what is becoming ever more troubling is the suggestion that it wasn’t a lack of information that prevented the police from making a more timely arrest, but their handling of the information they did have.

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