One of the basic needs that we all have in order to grow and thrive in life is a sense of safety and security. Communities that do not feel this sense of safety within a society tend to become withdrawn, isolated and mistrustful of the institutions whose job it is to enforce safety, especially police forces.
Historically, members of the LGBTQ2 community have had strained relationships with Canada’s police forces and there has been a lot of work done on both sides to change this perception and build a sense of trust and co-operation. While a lot of progress has been made, recent events in Toronto reveal that we still have a ways to go.
By now, most of you will have heard the name Bruce McArthur, as more details become available about the increasing numbers of victims he is alleged to have murdered in and around Toronto. He was initially charged with the murders of two men active in Toronto’s gay village and, on Monday, three additional charges were laid involving male victims. The police have indicated that they expect this number to rise. They are now using the term “serial killer” to refer to McArthur and have admitted that they have found remains which have not yet been identified. There are fears that he could turn out to be the worst serial killer in Canadian history.
While there is a sense of relief in Toronto’s gay community that the alleged killer is under arrest, there is a growing sense of anger over how long it took for police to recognize how serious the problem was. Activists in the community had raised concerns about the number of missing men for several years, dating back to at least 2012, and while police did investigate, there were no concrete results. Whether it was true or not, the perception among many in the community was that police did not take the missing persons cases seriously because the missing were gay men. There is anger because if police had identified the pattern of a serial killer, a warning could have gone out to the community, which may have prevented some of the later deaths.
While there is a sense of relief in Toronto’s gay community that the alleged killer is under arrest, there is a growing sense of anger over how long it took for police to recognize how serious the problem was.
To their credit, once police identified McArthur as a suspect, they followed him, and on the day he was arrested, they acted when they saw a man enter his apartment, where they found the man tied to a bed. In addition, they have thrown a lot of resources into the investigation to determine the extent of his murderous activities.
As I watched the news conference on Monday, what struck me as an indicator of the problem was a statement to the effect that the police now feel that McArthur’s victims extended beyond the gay community to encompass the whole community across the city. This statement smacks of an attitude that now that it’s more than gay men who are victims, the situation should be treated more seriously.
Regardless of the outcome of this investigation, the focus needs to be on improving this relationship so that the community can feel a greater sense of safety. There is little to be gained by blaming the police — who have an extremely difficult job to do at the best of times — and the LGBTQ2 community has also at times taken an adversarial approach to police in Toronto by banning them from marching in uniform in the Pride Parade.
They need to come together and build a stronger bond to ensure that they are working co-operatively towards a stronger and safer community. Public safety is the responsibility of all of us, not just the police, and if we want to make all of our communities safer, we all have a role to play. If the police and LGBTQ2 community can learn to work together and build trust, they can help to prevent crime and solve cases before there are too many victims; this will help create safer communities for all of us.
Brian Hodder is an LGBTQ2 activist and works in the field of mental health and addictions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.