Concerns arise over police handling of Bruce McArthur case; Tory calls for independent review
It was 2013, after the case went from a missing persons investigation to a homicide investigation, and back to a missing persons investigation, that Toronto Police interviewed Bruce McArthur about a man he is now accused of killing.
This, according to a police source with knowledge of the investigation into the disappearance of Skandaraj "Skanda" Navaratnam, last seen leaving Zipperz nightclub in downtown Toronto in 2010, now alleged to be the first to be murdered by accused killer Bruce McArthur.
Questioned about the interview Wednesday, lead Homicide investigator Det. Sgt. Hank Idsinga would not comment on who has been interviewed in relation to the case, when they were interviewed or in what capacity. He did say, however, that in late 2017, he became aware "of an incident in the previous years where we're not sure if what was done investigatively should have been done."
According to the source, the 2013 interview police gave to police about Navaratnam's disappearance was not what prompted the report Professional Standards. Rather, that interview was standard in nature, given McArthur was one of several people who knew Navaratman who were questioned as part of the missing persons investigation.
Navaratnam's case was initially deemed a missing persons investigation, then classified as a possible homicide in late 2013 after a tip came in from an international fetish community about a Peterborough man named James Alex Brunton. Brunton was ultimately found guilty of secretly recording teen boys in a locker room, as well as child pornography offences related to a 15-year-old Colorado boy he met on a cannibalistic fantasies website. He was, however, ultimately found to have nothing to do with the disappearance of Navaratnam and as such, the case was re-classified as a missing persons investigation.
It was after this time that McArthur was interviewed — not as a suspect or a person of interest, but as someone who knew Navaratnam.
Contacted by a CTV News Toronto reporter by phone on Wednesday, Brunton said, "I'm not interested," and hung up.
Idsinga would not comment on what specifically prompted his report to the Professional Standards Unit. Asked if the information would have been considered relevant to his investigation, Idsinga said, "Everything that's gone on since Skanda Navaratnam was reported missing in 2010 is relevant to our investigation. So, would it have changed the outcome of the investigation if things had been done differently? I can't answer that yet. Hindsight's always 20/20. There's never going to be a perfect investigation, but if there's things that we can learn, learn from and figure out how to do things better, then we welcome that."
According to Idsinga, McArthur was first considered a murder suspect in November 2017 after the disappearance of Andrew Kinsman shifted from a missing persons investigation to a homicide investigation.
"At that point in time, we can say Bruce McArthur is a suspect into what we believe is the murder of Andrew Kinsman...Not a strong suspect, not a strong case to make that Andrew Kinsman's been murdered, but certainly some evidence to suggest that," Idsinga said. "It's not until January 2017 that we have evidence, strong enough evidence, that we have reasonable and probably grounds to say we believe that Bruce McArthur has murdered not just Andrew Kinsman but Selim Essen as well."
McArthur has since been charged with six counts of first-degree murder.
On Monday, police announced they have recovered the remains of seven people. The same day, Idsinga released the picture of an unidentified man police believe was killed by McArthur. He said Wednesday he expects to lay a seventh charge of first-degree murder once that person is identified.
Tory calls for external review
In the meantine, Mayor John Tory has called for an external review of the way the Toronto Police Service handles missing persons reports in the wake of the Bruce McArthur case.
In a statement issued on Wednesday afternoon, Tory said that he continues to be “deeply disturbed” by the revelations that have come to light so far about the “murders and disappearances of Toronto residents and members of our LGBTQ community.”
He said that in order to “ensure that absolutely no questions are left unanswered” he plans to ask that an external review be conducted into “the Toronto Police Service’s practices with respect to missing person's investigations.”
He also said that he will ask the province to consider holding a public inquiry at the conclusion of the criminal proceedings against McArthur.
In December, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders did announce an internal review of the way police handle missing persons reports following criticism about the response to four such cases, two of which have since led to the filing of murder charges against McArthur.
“I know that the public has many questions related to this case, and I have questions, too,” Tory said in his statement, noting that he plans to move a motion at the next meeting of the TPS board. “That is why I support open and transparent reviews of how our police service handles missing person cases generally and how these specific investigations were conducted.”
Tory said that the external review should look at “policies, procedures, protocols, training and organizational structures” that relate to missing persons reports.
He said that the review should also examine whether any “differentiated treatment or bias including but not limited to the LBGTQ communities” is at play in the way police respond to missing persons reports.
Finally, he said that the review should look at “national and international best practices” with respect to missing persons investigations and make recommendations on how the TPS can better respond to those cases.
Police Chief Mark Saunders has not commented on Tory’s calls for a external review, though police spokesperson Meghan Gray did tell CP24 on Wednesday afternoon that he has always said that he would be “open to a public inquiry” and “has already taken steps to consider what areas can be reviewed right now, during the ongoing investigation.”