Survey aims to reach LGBTQ community after Bruce McArthur conviction

Convicted serial killer Bruce McArthur is seen in this undated photograph.

TORONTO -- An independent review into how Toronto police handle missing persons cases that was launched following the Bruce McArthur investigation is hoping to hear from anyone in the city’s LGBTQ community who may be afraid to speak in person.

The Independent Civilian Review into Missing Person Investigations in Toronto has introduced an online survey to their “multifaceted” review in order to encourage a wider response.

An anonymous survey can allow a voice to those who “may not want to meet with us,” Mark Sandler, Lead Counsel for the review, told CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday.

“They may not feel that they can do so in a safe environment, so this is an anonymized survey, they can go on … and describe their perspective and experiences with the Toronto Police and with missing persons investigations.”

The Toronto Police Services Board brought in retired Justice Gloria Epstein in 2018 to conduct the external review, which has been going on for over a year.

The new survey, which went live last week and will remain open through the spring of 2020, is meant to take around 10 minutes to fill out. Respondents are asked questions such as how confident they are in the police’s effectiveness, level of bias and timeliness when handling cases involving marginalized communities.

The survey also asks respondents if they have ever chosen not to come forward to police with information during a missing persons case.

The survey is anonymous, but includes questions related to demographics so that officials running the review can see whether different minority groups feel a different level of trust or wariness regarding the police.

The Independent Civilian Review into Missing Person Investigations began in September of 2018, after Toronto police faced widespread criticism for how they handled reports of people who had gone missing from the Church-Wellesley Village, or from Toronto’s LGBTQ2s community as a whole.

Convicted serial killer Bruce McArthur -- currently serving life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years on eight counts of first-degree murder -- was first arrested in January of 2018. For years, members of the LGBTQ community insisted that a pattern of men going missing within the community was no coincidence.

Shortly before McArthur’s arrest, Police Chief Mark Saunders had publicly stated that there was no evidence that a serial killer was preying on gay men in the village.

Some of McArthur’s victims had been missing since 2010 when he was finally caught.

THE PROGRESS

Sandler said that the review is intended to look at whether members of the LGBTQ community are “getting the same level of service that others are getting.”

He said that so far in the review, they have collected over 80,000 documents detailing how “the police conducted these missing persons investigations.”

They have also met with over 150 people in the community, including “racialized members of the community, members of the LGBTQ2S+, the homeless or underhoused … (and) many police officers who were involved in the McArthur and other investigations,” among others.

“We’re trying to reach out to the community in every possible way,” he added.

Apart from asking questions, the survey includes comment boxes to allow respondents to go into more depth on their issues or recommendations for police reform.

OTHER CASES IN THE VILLAGE

The TPS has faced criticism for the handling of other missing persons cases in the village as well.

Tess Richey, 22, was reported missing after she disappeared from the area of Church and Dundonald streets in November of 2017, but it wasn’t police who found her. Her mother went searching after Richey had been missing for four days. She discovered her daughter’s dead body outside of a construction site not far from where she’d last been seen.

Another case involved Alloura Wells, a 27-year-old trans woman whose body was found in a ravine in the summer of 2017. She wasn’t identified until late November. Her father told CP24 that when he first tried to report her as missing on Nov. 6, he felt police had not taken him seriously because she was homeless.

When asked if he believes the review will have a real impact when it is complete, Sandler said that Justice Epstein -- who is leading the review -- was “not going to allow … her report to go quietly into the night.”

The results of the review will be publicized, he said, and will “set out very specific recommendations. It’ll set out timelines for implementation.

“Ultimately, the public will make the Toronto Police Service accountable for the extent to which the recommendations are followed,” he said.

To take the survey, you can go to missingpersonsreview.ca, or click here.