Missing Persons Report – No Solution for Toronto’s LGBTQI community

by John Wilson

“Review Lays Bare Police Failings” topped page 1 in the Toronto Star of April 14, 2021. The Independent Civilian Review of Missing Persons Investigations report, led by retired Justice Gloria Epstein, falls considerably short of the press headline. While clearly condemning the indifference, bungling and “systemic” errors of police, the Review presents no credible analysis of what happened.  Worse, the solution it proposes is no solution at all. It actually urges an increase in police funding to facilitate implementation of the Review’s recommendations. (No wonder the Police Services Board welcomed the report and its recommendations!)

The review was begun in 2018, relating to the disappearances and murders of members of queer communities, South Asian and Middle Eastern men who have sex with men, sex workers and trans people. The victims included Sandaraj Navaratnam, Abdulasir Faizi, Majeed Kayhan, Souroush Mahmudi,

Kirushnakumar Kanagaratnam, Dean Lisowick, Selim Esen, Andrew Kinsman, Alloura Wells and Tess Richey. The disappearances began in September 2010, when Sandaraj Navaratnam was last seen leaving Zipperz, a now-closed gay bar at Church and Carlton, in the company of an unknown man.

The report details many “mistakes” of the police already well known by queer and trans activists, Black and Indigenous People of Colour (BIPOC), sex workers, and friends and relatives of the disappeared. It cites a “deeply flawed” police interview with Bruce McArthur (the serial murderer of eight men) years before he was arrested. The cops were aware of his criminal record (a conviction for assault with a weapon), but did not bother to investigate further. Former Toronto police chief Mark Saunders dismissed the idea that a serial killer was responsible for disappearances from the Gay Village not long before McArthur was arrested, causing great anger among activists, and friends and relatives of the disappeared. The body of Tess Richey was found only 100 feet from where she disappeared — found by her mother, not the police. Alloura Well’s remains sat in a morgue for months before they were identified. When her father reported her missing, the interviewing cop did not even file a report, quite likely because she was Indigenous, a trans woman, a sex worker and homeless.

The report’s recommendations, about restoring ‘trust’ between the police and those who are delicately referred to as ‘marginalized communities’, are laughable. There is no trust to restore. A huge proportion of people in these communities already know that.

In a hard-hitting joint statement on the report by the No Pride in Policing Coalition (NPCC) and Maggie’s Sex Workers’ Action Project, the call to let the police worm their way back into the Pride parade is denounced.  “To begin, the report does not seem to grasp that 80% of the Pride Toronto membership in January 2017 voted to expel the police from within the Pride parade and festival because of their anti-Black racism and the killings of Black people. The members of Pride Toronto have since continued to reaffirm this position, despite attempts by board members, executive directors and state funding agencies to change this.”

Opposing the report’s call for bureaucratic initiatives that would entail more police funding, the statement says, “In contrast, the NPPC argues that this missing person work must be taken away from the police as part of a broader movement to de-fund the police, and transferred to community-based groups who are much better placed to address these questions.”

The report seems to be part of the state’s increasingly desperate efforts to counter the plummeting reputation of their police among the general public. Socialists and social justice advocates should continue to demand de-funding, disarming and dismantling of the police — who have been oppressing queer people for generations on behalf of the state.