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Bruce McArthur guilty plea sparks call to widen missing persons review

Last Updated Jan 30, 2019 at 4:59 pm EDT

Defence lawyer James Miglin, left to right, Justice John McMahon, court registrar, Bruce McArthur, Crown Attorney Michael Cantlon, Detective Hank Idsinga, and friends and family of victims, back right, are shown in this court sketch in Toronto on Jan. 29, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alexandra Newbould

The head of an independent investigation into how Toronto police handle missing persons reports has called for an expansion of her mandate to include cases involving serial killer Bruce McArthur, her lead counsel said Wednesday.

In a letter to the chairman of the city’s police services board, Gloria Epstein said McArthur’s unexpected guilty plea Tuesday removes the need for a restriction on his case that was meant to safeguard his right to a fair trial, according to Mark Sandler.

“We are asking that the restrictions be removed to enhance Justice Epstein’s ability to examine the full range of relevant events and make necessary recommendations going forward,” Sandler said in an email.

“We believe that the proposed changes to the terms of reference will assist us in answering the questions posed by members of the community about the investigations of missing persons in Toronto, particularly in relation to those who are vulnerable or marginalized.”

The police services board did not respond to a request for comment.

Following McArthur’s arrest early last year, the board approved the independent probe amid significant concern in the LGBTQ community about how police had looked into missing-person reports. Those concerns included fears that the handling of such investigations was being tainted by “implicit or explicit, specific and systemic bias.”

The review is focusing on policies and procedures related to missing-persons investigations as well as on how Toronto police officers investigated the disappearance of members of the community who were later found to have been killed.

For example, Toronto police spent 18 months looking into the disappearance of three missing men before concluding in 2014 there had been no foul play. The men were ultimately found to have been among McArthur’s eight admitted murder victims.

Epstein, a former justice of the Ontario Court of Appeal, began her review last summer.

However, her terms of reference precluded “prejudicing any ongoing criminal investigation or criminal proceedings.” The stricture applied specifically to the prosecution of McArthur, who pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder on Tuesday. All his victims had ties to Toronto’s gay village.

Earlier this month, Epstein named members to an advisory panel to help her work. She has said she expects to finish her work around April 2020.

Asked today about McArthur, 67, and the possibility of a public inquiry into his crimes, Premier Doug Ford said he thought police were being “dumped on a little bit” and called for more public support for their efforts.

“I never said we aren’t going to,” Ford said of calling an inquiry. “We won’t rule out any further investigations on it.”