by Sara Jaffri
After being unable to prevent or solve a string of murders and disappearances last year, the Toronto Police Services (TPS) have charged Bruce McArthur for the murder of two of the missing persons, Salim Esen and Andrew Kinsman. Both men went missing at different times in 2017 and were last seen at intersections just outside the borders of the Church and Wellesley Village neighbourhood in downtown Toronto.
The TPS has come under fire for failing to solve several other cases, including the disappearance and murders of Aloura Wells and Tess Richey. Wells and Richey were both separately reported as having gone missing from the Church and Wellesley area last year, with their bodies eventually being discovered by citizens, not the police. In the case of Tess Richey, her body was found by her own mother in a stairwell in the Church and Wellesley area.
According to Nicki Ward, a director at the Church Wellesley Neighbourhood Association (CWNA), it was only after pressure and efforts by family and community members that the police took the two cases seriously. The police belatedly admitted to not treating Wells’ disappearance with the urgency it deserved.
Details of an assault charge against MacArthur dating back to 2003 as well as discovery of a vehicle formerly belonging to him containing traces of blood have been in the headlines this week. However, LGBTQ community member John Allan shared that himself and others are “pissed off” about how long police disregarded the lives of people from his community.
At the time of declaring McArthur’s arrest, the TPS was unable to provide any evidence at all, and still haven’t found the bodies of Esen or Kinsmen.
“We are conducting these search warrants in efforts to locate the bodies but at this point in time no we have not located them,” said Detective Sergeant Hank Idsinga of the Toronto Police Homicide Squad at a press conference on January 18.
“I’m well aware of the difficulty of prosecuting people without recovering bodies but in this case we believe we have strong enough evidence that we can do exactly that.”
During the press conference, Idsinga and Chief of Police Mark Saunders refused to comment on the Tess Richey murder case.
While police held the line that its relationship with marginalized communities is not a source of the problem, residents of Church and Wellesley gave up any hope or trust in the TPS and began to self-organize for their community’s safety.
In December, organizations like the CWNA, along with others in the Church and Wellesley neighbourhood, began to build a program through which volunteers can look out for their neighbours and accompany them on walks home.
Though the safe-walk program is still in an early stage of development, it illustrates that communities under attack are capable not only of investigating cases that the police won’t solve, but also of organizing to defend and protect themselves.
At the press conference, police framed the arrest of MacArthur as ‘progress’. However, their enthusiasm conceals the fact that last year, only 41% of reported homicide cases in Toronto were solved by the Toronto police – the lowest clearance rate in 10 years.
The credibility of the TPS in relation to marginalized communities took another blow this month when NOW magazine published a feature analysis that reveals a disproportionate number of unsolved murders relate to cases where the victim is a black male. Black males have been the victims in approximately 50% of all unsolved cases since 1959 in Toronto, despite the fact that the Toronto’s Black community makes up less than 10% of Toronto’s population.
“What little confidence that the community had in the Toronto Police Service has completely evaporated, and I think with good reason,” Nicki Ward of the CWNA told the CBC.