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February 21, 2018

Why are these men victims of Canada's first serial killer?

Scott Stockdale

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Three men - who disappeared between 2010 and 2012 - are recently - and only recently - being identified as victims of alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur. Abdulbasir "Basir" Faizi, 44, and Majeed Kayhan were both from Afghanistan, and Skandaraj "Skanda" Navaratnam, was a 40-year-old Sri Lankan refugee. All three were immigrants, known to frequent the gay village, east of downtown Toronto. Is there a common denominator here that eluded police investigators?

Mr. McArthur is now being dubbed “Canada's first serial killer”.

How much or how little support did these missing men receive from community and religious organizations, they or their families may have been affiliated with?

In fact, one of the six men Mr. McArthur is now being charged with killing, Dean Lisowick, was never reported missing; but Toronto Police Sgt. Hank Idsinga said it’s believed he was killed at the age of 43 or 44, sometime between May of 2016 and July of 2017.

“He was an occupant of the shelter system in Toronto,” Sgt. Idsinga said.

Coming from South Asian and Middle Eastern countries and, communities in Canada, Abdulbasir Faizi, Majeed Kayhan and Skandaraj Navaratnam would have to have dealt with negative stereotypes of gay people - often referred to as homophobia - in their communities.

Moreover, class issues – especially if they were new immigrants - would compound their isolation from their community members. And their religion and cultural identities would make it more difficult for them to be treated as valued members of mainstream Canadian society.

Although the Toronto LGBTQ community had raised concerns about several missing persons from their community over the years – missing person posters with pictures were and are prevalent throughout the community – its representatives had always been assured by Toronto police that their fears were unfounded.

Toronto Police services conducted an investigation - labelled Project Houston - into the disappearance of Abdulbasir Faizi, Majeed Kayhan and Skandaraj Navaratnam and, after 18 months of searching cell phone, bank, and social media records, and canvassing the gay village, in April 2014, Police at 51 Division closed their investigation with no suspects nor leads.

It was as though these men - Abdulbasir “Basir” Faizi, Majeed Kayhan and Skandaraj Navaratnam, lived in, and then went to a different world.

Subsequently, Selim Esen, 44, of Toronto, vanished from the city's gay village on April 14, 2017; and Andrew Kinsman, 49, was reported missing from the gay village in late June 2017.

As a result, in August 2017, Toronto police launched yet another investigation, this time called Project Prism. Mr. Esen, 44, was a Turkish citizen who had completed a peer counseling course just prior to his disappearance; and Mr. Kinsman, 49, was a well-known community LGBTQ advocate whom police say had a “sexual relationship” with Mr. McArthur.

Initially, unbeknownst to the public – and it appears to the police as well - on April 11, 2003, Bruce McArthur — who now faces charges of first-degree murder in the killings of Andrew Kinsman and Selim Esen and four other men including Abdulbasir “Basir” Faizi, Majeed Kayhan, and Skandaraj “Skanda” Navaratnam - was sentenced in Ontario for one count of assault causing bodily harm and one count of assault with a weapon, after attacking a man with a metal pipe. His sentence prohibited him from the gay village area and from spending time with “male prostitutes.”

At the time, Mr. McArthur received a conditional sentence – served in the community rather than jail time – of two years less a day (the maximum allowed by law) and probation for three years.

One can only imagine the outrage at such a light sentence for such a violent crime if Mr. McArthur had attacked a member – especially a prominent member – of mainstream Canadian society.

Moreover, put his record for a violent crime together with the sentencing judge's belief that Mr. McArthur was a potential danger to those in the gay village and “male prostitutes”; and it's hard to imagine why he didn't appear on police radar screens for so many years, after men known to frequent the gay village, were being reported missing.

Why did it take police so long to connect the dots in the alleged McArthur killings?

As late as December 8, 2017, Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders denied there was evidence of a serial killer walking the streets of Toronto, but recently he did say the force will review its practices in missing persons investigations. Toronto Police Sgt. Hank Idsinga – the lead investigator in the McArthur case - said: “The city of Toronto has never seen anything like this, so it’s very tiring and draining for everyone involved.”

Meanwhile, in a January 24, 2018 letter, Alliance for South Asian Aids Prevention (ASAP) stated:

We strongly emphasize that racism and homophobia are systemic issues that affect every part of our society. A different standard of justice for racialized and LGBTQ+ people is the reality of our city and province.

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