Justice looks to have missing persons inquiry expanded to include McArthur
The scope of a review into the way police handle missing persons cases, which was launched in the wake of Bruce McArthur’s arrest, should be widened to allow for a closer look at the investigation into the now-convicted serial killer, a lawyer speaking on behalf of Justice Gloria Epstein says.
In July, the Toronto Police Services Board brought in the retired judge to conduct an external review into the force’s handling of missing persons cases in the Church-Wellesley Village, but a number of restrictions were placed on her probe to ensure that it would not jeopardize the criminal prosecution involving McArthur.
For example, the terms of reference for the review stipulated that Epstein could not examine any facts after Sept. 1, 2017, when police first identified McArthur as a person of interest in the disappearance of Andrew Kinsman. The terms of reference also explicitly prohibited her from examining “any of the police contact with or consideration of Bruce McArthur” before or after Sept. 1, 2017.
The idea behind the restrictions was to protect McArthur’s right to a fair trial, but in the wake of his decision to plead guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder on Tuesday, Epstein is now seeking to have her mandate widened.
On Wednesday, a lawyer for the missing persons review told CTV News Toronto that Epstein has written a letter to TPS board chair Andy Pringle requesting that the terms of reference for her work be amended.
“I think it will ensure the people of Toronto and the board that our review is truly an exhaustive and comprehensive one,” Mark Sandler said. “I can’t say that it will make things faster because certain additional events might be examined that otherwise would not have been examined. But in our view it will enable us to make more thorough recommendations going forward.”
Sandler said that Epstein accepted the restrictions placed on her review initially but believes that may no longer be necessary following McArthur’s decision to plead guilty.
Currently, Epstein’s review is focused on “policies as well as service procedures and practices in relation to missing person investigations,” particularly those involving people belonging to the LGBTQ, immigrant, Indigenous, South Asian, Middle Eastern, black and homeless communities.
Sandler said that Epstein is conducting a “systematic review” and noted that the events that transpired after McArthur was identified as a person of interest in Kinsman’s disappearance were “of course part and parcel of the missing persons investigations.”
“We accepted the restrictions at the time for good reason and that was the importance of the ongoing criminal prosecution. Now that that has ended it may well be that the terms of reference should be amended to reflect that,” he said.
TPS Board considering options for reviewing McArthur case
In a statement released Wednesday night, the Toronto Police Services Board said that in light of developments in the McArthur case, it is already considering options “to more broadly examine the important issues related to missing persons investigations.”
The board, which overseas Toronto police, said in its statement that it will consider the request from Justice Epstein to expand her scope.
“As the Board has indicated through the establishment of this Review, it is, and remains, committed to ensuring that an independent, comprehensive and transparent review is conducted into these significant issues affecting the public in general, and, in particular, our LGBTQ2S+, immigrant, homeless and other marginalized communities,” the statement read. “As a Board, we want to not only examine as to how we can improve our policies, procedures, training and culture, but how to fortify confidence in our police service, and to continue to build bridges with residents from all of our communities.”
The statement said the board will engage with the Ministry of the Attorney General to coordinate on options for reviewing the issues surrounding the McArthur case.
Tory supports ‘broader inquiry’
Epstein’s efforts to have the terms of reference for her review altered came as Mayor John Tory speaks out in favour a “broader inquiry” into the McArthur case.
At a news conference on Wednesday morning, Tory said that such a review would “delve much more deeply into everything that happened” and could be conducted once all legal avenues for appeal have closed.
“I think it is likely that a further inquiry will be needed. With regards to timing I think we are a step closer to that being able to be done responsibly now but I am not sure we are all the way there given there are appeals that could be launched,” he said. “I would rely on lawyers to give us advice on when would be the appropriate time to pursue that and I certainly will be one who will speak up in favour of a broader inquiry that goes beyond the very important work that Justice Epstein is doing.”
McArthur’s arrest last January came in the wake of years of speculation within The Village regarding a possible serial killer, a possibility that Police Chief Mark Saunders famously dismissed during a December 2017 news conference.
Tory said that a broader inquiry could take a closer look at everything that happened in the leadup to McArthur’s arrest, particularly “as it affected the LGBTQ community and the victims who tragically lost their lives.”
He said that he would be open to expanding the mandate given to Justice Epstein or launching some sort of separate inquiry.
One way a broader probe could be conducted is through a public inquiry, though only the province has the ability to order public inquiries.
Speaking with reporters at an unrelated news conference on Wednesday morning, Premier Doug Ford dismissed suggestions that he wouldn’t support such a review but at the same time indicated that now is not the appropriate time for those discussions.
“I never said we aren’t going to but I just want to congratulate our police for catching someone like this,” he said. “He (McArthur) is done, he is gone. It is a terrible tragedy but let’s just once in a while support our police rather than always attacking them.”
In a statement provided to CTV News Toronto on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney General said when “considering a public inquiry or other potential review mechanisms, it is important to ensure all criminal proceedings, including any appeals, be allowed to continue without interference or influence.”
“As this matter is still before the court, it would be inappropriate to comment further,” the spokesperson said.
MacArthur is expected to return to court on Monday for the beginning of his sentencing.