The Toronto police civilian oversight board has established a working group that will lay out the parameters for an external review of how the force handles missing persons cases.
The board announced the independent review in March in the wake of murder charges laid against accused serial killer Bruce McArthur. Many of the 66-year-old landscaper’s alleged victims went missing from Toronto’s gay village, where community members have criticized police for their response to the disappearances.
A report unanimously approved by the Toronto Police Services Board at a Wednesday meeting says the working group will identify the form, focus, duration and potential costs of the external review.
Toronto Mayor John Tory, who sits on the police services board, called the formation of the working group an “important first step” in the review process.
“It’s really important that we do this and do it well and do it properly and inclusively,” Tory said prior to the board vote approving the working group. “I think the people we have here are first rate.”
The group will be made up of police board member Ken Jeffers, Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention board member Shakir Rahim, sex worker advocate Monica Forrester, and lawyer Sara Mainville, who specializes in cases involving Indigenous peoples.
The board also assigned a “facilitator” role to Breese Davies, vice-president of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, who has participated in several high profile public inquiries and inquests.
Tory said he recognized the value of including people in the working group who belong to the communities most affected by such cases.
The review will not probe issues specific to McArthur — who now faces eight counts of first-degree murder — so as not to disrupt the ongoing investigation and court proceedings, Tory said, but it will take a broad look at police handling of missing persons cases.
As recently as six weeks before McArthur’s January arrest, members of the force, including Chief Mark Saunders, said there was no indication the disappearances of several men from the city’s gay village were the work of a serial killer.
In February, Saunders came under fire after seeming to suggest that police might have cracked the cases earlier if members of the public had been more forthcoming with investigators. He later said it was not his intent to blame the community.
Police also come under fire following the death of Tess Richey, a 22-year-old reported missing after a night out in the gay village in November 2017.
Her mother, who travelled from the family home in North Bay, Ont., to search for her daughter, found Richey’s body four days after a missing persons report was filed, in a stairwell at the back of an alley, just steps from where she was last seen alive.
A 21-year-old Toronto man, Kalen Schlatter, has since been charged with first-degree murder in connection with Richey’s death, which police have said was caused by “neck compression.”