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Some in LGBTQ community question concert linked to Bruce McArthur case

Last Updated Mar 8, 2018 at 2:50 pm EDT

Bruce McArthur, 66, in a Facebook photo. HANDOUT/Facebook

TORONTO – Members of Toronto’s LGBTQ community are raising concerns over a star-studded concert billed as “part vigil, part celebration” in the wake of the arrest of alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur.

#LoveWins is a free music event planned for March 29 at Nathan Phillips Square.

The lineup features performances by Carole Pope and members of the Barenaked Ladies, the Forte Toronto Gay Men’s Chorus and winners from CTV’s “The Launch” music competition series, among others.

But some say the plans are tone deaf with what’s actually happening in Toronto’s LGBTQ community, as police continue to seek answers about a serial killer who was targeting gay men in the community for years.

McArthur, a 66-year-old self-employed landscaper, has been charged with six counts for first-degree murder. All of the alleged victims had ties to the city’s gay village.

The #LoveWins poster doesn’t mention McArthur by name but references “the series of killings that have rocked Toronto’s LGBTQ community.” Other performers in the lineup include American R&B singer Thelma Houston, former Nylons member Billy Newton Davis and “Canadian Idol” winner Theo Tams.

In a number of posts that have all been deleted from the event’s page, Facebook users questioned several aspects of the concert, including why it appears few members of the local community were consulted or asked to perform.

They also suggested the organizers’ description of the event, which describes the evening as when “the work of healing now begins,” ignores that many questions about the murders remain unanswered.

Salah Bachir, co-organizer of #LoveWins, said “a lot of people in the community” were looking for something to raise their spirits, which is why he didn’t expect a negative reaction in some groups.

“There was so much that was going on, people were in shock and grieving, and we needed something that was uplifting as a community kind of thing, in light of all the murders,” he said in a phone interview.

“There have been a couple different vigils and people have left them more depressed than ever.”

The 62-year-old, who heads movie exhibitor Cineplex’s media division, said he knew several of the murdered men. He downplayed social media criticism of the event.

“There’s a lot of young people that are angry — angry at the police, angry at the city, angry at the mishandling of stuff — and I think venting their anger. Yeah, I enjoyed reading them,” he said of the deleted Facebook posts.

Sara Malabar, who founded a “Stop #LoveWins Concert” page on Facebook, said she takes issue with “celebrating” when a number of her gay male friends are still actively traumatized by the case.

“If there ever was a time for this idea, this is definitely too soon,” she said.

“Our dead are still in forensic labs, some of them don’t have names, some of them may not even be found yet. It’s just way too soon for people to come together to ‘celebrate’ anything.”

Malabar said she’s willing to change her perspective if family or friends of the victims were to support the concert, but so far she hasn’t seen any evidence of that opinion.

“Instead of trying to throw some sort of ‘Let’s feel better’ concert, maybe we need to be coming together in our grief in respectful ways and working through the trauma that this has created through various community supports,” she said.

“As long as it’s just trying to make people feel better about a horrifying situation, that’s not good enough for me.”

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