Police chief defends handling of McArthur case
Toronto’s police chief is continuing to defend the police service’s handling of the Bruce McArthur investigation and is denying suggestions that more could have been done to close the case sooner.
Speaking to CP24 on Tuesday night, Police Chief Mark Saunders said police investigating the disappearances of missing men in the Church-Wellesley Village kept “every single lane” open and did not dismiss any possibilities.
“We had alarm bells, which is why we put the resources in. What we were looking for is evidence," Saunders said.
"If I don’t have evidence, I’m not walking into a courtroom. It doesn’t work that way."
Saunders and investigators have come under fire from some members of the public who believe their concerns about a serial killer in the village were not taken seriously.
In 2012, the police service launched Project Houston, an investigation into the disappearance of three men with ties to the Church-Wellesley Village. But the 18-month police probe yielded no leads and investigators were unable to confirm if the disappearances were a result of foul play.
Last year, public outcry intensified after Andrew Kinsman and Salim Esen, two men with ties to the village, went missing under what those close to them believed to be suspicious circumstances. The new disappearances prompted police to launch Project Prism in August.
In December, police once again told the community that there was no evidence to suggest that the men who disappeared had been murdered and denied suggestions that there was a serial killer targeting members of the community.
“The evidence today tells us that there is not a serial killer,” Saunders said in December.
About a month later, two first-degree murder charges were laid against 66-year-old landscaper Bruce McArthur in connection with the deaths of Esen and Kinsman.
Earlier this week, McArthur was charged with the murders of three more men, including Majeed Kayhan, one of the missing men identified in Project Houston.
Police have said unidentified human remains have been found during searches of about 30 properties tied to McArthur and investigators said they believe there will be more victims.
“When the rumours and concerns were coming out, once we started Project Houston, we put in thousands upon thousands of thousands of hours of putting in highly trained officers to conduct an investigation and we were out there in the community trying to get those answers,” Saunders said.
“And then when we had Project Prism, one of the things that was done was we added that Project Houston lens to Project Prism because we knew that it was the exact same theme.”
Saunders said the police service was never “coy” when it came to protecting public safety.
“I regret that I don’t have foresight. The first person that I can hire that has foresight, I’ll pay them a million dollars a year,” he said.
“In the courtroom, the story lines will play out and we’ll articulate exactly what happened, what we knew, what we didn’t with it on that. Did we do the right thing? Did we do the wrong thing? And I’m comfortable with the investigation. I’m comfortable with the lead investigators.”
When asked if he thinks lawsuits will be pending, Saunders said people have a right to sue.
“We take all of our investigations seriously and I can tell you that there are certain things that I’ve asked for, certain reviews on how we handle missing persons, and what we need to improve upon those practices,” he said.
“We have over 4,000 people missing a year. There was one year we had 7,400 people missing so the numbers are very huge… If anyone feels the urge to bring it to court, then that’s what they will do and I will accept that.”
Community helped police solve the case: Saunders
Saunders admitted that information provided by members of the community played a big role in the investigation.
“People came in and they did give us stuff. And based on that, we moved in certain ways, we did certain things and those certain things put us in opportune moments to get evidence and then to move forward and lead to the arrest,” he said.
“I’m proud of the work that the officers did and I’m proud of the fact that the community did help us out in this.”
The police chief conceded that there are opportunities for the police service to learn and improve its relationship with the LGBTQ community.
“We can take a step back and figure out what the go forward is going to look like. What do we need to strengthen relationships because at the end of the day, there are still segments of that community where there is a space between us,” Saunders said.
“I’m not going to say that it is fractured. There is room for development. We have an open mind, an open door, and we are willing to talk and start those conversations to heal.”