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Saunders addresses concerns about Bruce McArthur investigation

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders speaks during a press conference in response to verdict in Forcillo trial in Toronto on Jan. 25, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Vincent Elkaim

Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders has outlined new steps being taken following criticism of how the force has handled the Bruce McArthur investigation.

Saunders says he has finalized plans for a dedicated missing persons unit, engaged in a robust outreach plan with the LGBTQ community and launched a professional standards review into the cases of Tess Richey and Alloura Wells.

Saunders adds he is also working with the province to determine what type of independent review or reviews are possible without affecting the current investigation or any future prosecutions.

The statement comes in the wake of published reports which claim a man went to police in 2016, accusing McArthur of trying to strangle him. That was one year before the disappearance of Andrew Kinsman and Selim Esen.

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

Here is the full text of Saunders’s statement.

There is no higher priority for the Toronto Police Service – or for me as Chief than the safety of the city and the confidence of the public.

For this reason, when questions related to the past encounter with Bruce McArthur came to light I immediately launched a Professional Standards investigation to get to the bottom of what happened.

With the various reviews and the ongoing homicide investigation, it has become increasingly frustrating for the community to not get the answers they are looking for.

I want to provide reassurance that we are taking their concerns seriously, that we see this as an opportunity to improve our police service and build our relationship with the community.

Here’s what we’ve done so far:

1. Finalized plans for a dedicated Missing Persons Unit, tasked with the responsibility of reviewing and updating the status of missing person reports currently on file and with investigating high-priority, historic cases and new reports

2. Engaged in a robust community outreach plan that includes in-person presentations by Deputy Chief of Police Barbara McLean and LGBTQ Liaison Officer Danielle Bottineau

3. A Professional Standards review of the Tess Richey and Alloura Wells cases where serious questions have arisen that concern the community and me.

Each of these actions is clear and concrete. As well, with the support of Police Board Chair Andy Pringle and Mayor Tory, I am pursuing an independent external review. My hope is that such a review will consider not only our investigative processes but take a hard look at systemic issues of bias of any kind. I believe these issues are serious enough to warrant a review.

I have been working over the last ten days with officials and counterparts in the provincial government to explore what independent review or reviews might be possible without prejudging any current investigations or any future prosecutions. That work continues.

I appreciate the full support I have had from the Chair and the Mayor and I look forward to speaking on these issues more fully at the March 22nd Board meeting.

In conclusion, I want to emphasize my gratitude to the members of the community who have assisted us and who have continued to support us. The Toronto Police Service is committed to ensuring their trust is not only maintained but strengthened in response to these legitimate questions and issues.

Related stories:

Ontario reviewing Mayor Tory’s call for inquiry related to McArthur case

Some in LGBTQ community question concert linked to Bruce McArthur case

Reports indicate Toronto police interviewed McArthur years before arrest

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