'We have to hold them to it': McArthur assault victim hopeful that change will come to policing
TORONTO -- Before the release of the long-awaited independent review into how the Toronto police force handled a number of missing persons investigations in the city’s Gay Village, assault victim Mark Henderson admits he had a sleepless night.
The review followed public criticism that police had not done enough in response to a number of missing person reports in the Village.
The probe wasn’t initially supposed to include the case of serial killer Bruce McArthur as it was before the courts at the time, but its scope was later widened after McArthur plead guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder.
"I have a lived experience with this case and the police that coincides," Henderson told CTV News Toronto. It is a lived experience, he said, that he will never forget.
In 2001, Henderson was allegedly brutally attacked by McArthur with a pipe. An attack that left him hospitalized.
"It was a devastating experience. I fought for my life, and in the various reports it says that I went unconscious. I can tell you that I never once went unconscious, like I was conscious the whole time. It wasn't until the ambulance got there that I began to panic,” he said.
"As soon as he hit me he went to headquarters and said 'I hit Mark Henderson.' So he was no longer under investigation, he was then just charged as I was in emerge. Done, they don't have to interview me."
McArthur had pleaded guilty to charges of assault with a weapon and assault causing bodily harm. Twenty years later, Henderson said he still has never spoken with a Toronto police officer about the assault.
"Since my attack to this day I have not sat and talked with a police officer, except for when I gave a statement to them in January or February of 2018."
By then, McArthur had been arrested in connection with the murders of eight men. When Henderson sat down to be interviewed by Retired Ontario Court of Appeal justice Gloria Epstein for her review into missing persons, he learned something about his own case.
"I didn't know that he had been pardoned, which meant that everything that happened to me in the eyes of the law didn't exist,” he said.
It also meant that police didn't learn about McArthur's violent past until it was far too late, including when they brought the serial killer in for an interview in 2013.
It's just one of the many investigative oversights and errors highlighted in the more than 1,100 page report, which also suggests that police officers perceptions about the LGBTQ2S+ community may have impeded their investigations.
Henderson said one such example of came on the day McArthur pleaded guilty to the murders.
"On the day of the verdict, the police service came to the microphone and said these are 'sex murders,' and I just fell to the floor and cried, I sobbed. They're not ‘sex murders,’ they were murders," he said.
In her report, Epstein called McArthur’s killing spree “a seven year rein of terror” and concluded that “police could have done better.”
She said that McArthur’s victims were “marginalized and vulnerable in a variety of ways” and that their disappearances “were often given less attention or priority” than they deserved by police.
Henderson, who joined the Toronto Police Auxiliary in the late 2000s, says he's inspired by a new generation of activists, fighting for change.
"It might be Black Lives Matter that gives police skills they can apply to us, or we might teach the police a skill in our process they use with other communities, so it's a living document and we have to stay open, and positive and hopeful."
The recent report makes a total of 151 recommendations on how to improve missing persons investigations in the future.
The most transformative of which would involve the implementation of a new model that would “preserves a centralized Missing Persons Unit” while recognizing that some cases are “best addressed by social service, public health, and community agencies.”
Henderson said remains he hopeful that the changes called for in the report will be enacted.
"Once somebody goes through something like this, they are never the same again. I am never the same again, and I don't expect to be,” he said.
“I have a lot of empathy. I still believe people are good. I still believe that there's a way that the City of Toronto and all of its communities can have their voices heard with Toronto police, but we have to hold them to it."
- With files from CP24’s Chris Fox