On Thursday, Toronto discovered it had a serial killer preying on gay men.
Or perhaps I should rephrase that. The general population of Toronto discovered that it had a serial killer preying on gay men. Not the community itself, which had long suspected that the growing list of missing men with similar physical characteristics and shared social spaces was too coincidental.
Nonetheless, confirmation of alleged killer Bruce McArthur is both a relief and incredibly disheartening. The families of Andrew Kinsman and Selim Esen can finally find some closure, but the community at large must also reassess the initial police response to the disappearances.
And the information released by law enforcement has only generated more questions than answers. There have been the numerous properties being scoured by forensic teams and cadaver dogs in the wake of his arrest (including four in the GTA and one in Madoc). There have been reports that suggest that the investigation of McArthur goes back to September 2017, with seizures of sold vehicles and surveillance footage. There is evidence of at least four homicides in his Thorncliffe apartment building, and yet still no bodies.
And there was the digital fingerprint left behind on social media and various dating sites. McArthur’s now-deleted Facebook account had all the mundane details of a life that looks so grim in retrospect, with boring food and animal videos and endless vacation snaps. But then there were the legitimately troubling elements. Many of his friends and boyfriends fit a specific physical profile that matches the victims. Skanda Navaratnam is on his friends list. There were the photos of his time as a leering mall Santa Claus, and those taken with police during the Toronto Pride parade and within the time frame that some of the men went missing. And let’s not forget his dating profile on SilverDaddies.com:
McArthur’s Facebook account weaves a number of disparate threads together into a fairly clear picture. As such, it can seem like he was operating in plain sight, with all of those generic statements and photos acting as a veneer to ongoing predatory behaviour that terrorized a community for close to a decade. This wasn’t a man who was picking up random sex partners at bars or hiding in dark corners, but someone who was actively befriending victims, building relationships with them, and then eliminating them. And the traces of those men that remain – old photos, inactive Facebook accounts, and shared connections – seem almost like social media kill trophies. It’s difficult to process.
Information will be released in the days to come, but as more men are revealed to be the (alleged) victims of McArthur, it’s hard not to feel like law enforcement should have stepped up sooner and prevented more of these deaths. The Toronto Police can speak to how the LGBT community helped them apprehend McArthur, but what of the months of inactivity and denials and general silence – a period during which more men disappeared, violence continued to escalate within the Church-Wellesley neighbourhood, and a young woman’s body was discovered by her own mother.
Beneath all of this news is a lingering feeling that if the majority of McArthur’s alleged victims had not belonged to minority communities, justice could have been achieved earlier, and with a lower body count. That for all of the statements being made about progress and the improved relationship between the LGBT community, racialized communities, and the Toronto Police, systemic biases continue to keep those marginalized communities from being safe from predators like McArthur.
And that’s the scariest thing of all. It’s not the killer hiding in our ranks, picking us off one by one. It’s that the eye of the law often doesn’t bother to pay attention to certain segments of the population until it is too late. That predators like McArthur are ultimately enabled by systemic homophobia within law enforcement and a culture that pays less attention to the whereabouts of missing dark-skinned men.
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