Independent review of Toronto missing persons cases launches anonymous online survey

A team examining how Toronto police handle missing persons cases launched an online survey this week in hopes of soliciting feedback from many as people as possible.

The anonymous survey will be open until spring, and input from anyone who chooses to participate could be included in the final report of the Independent Civilian Review into Missing Person Investigations. That major report, launched in the wake of the Toronto police investigation into serial killer Bruce McArthur, is set to be released in January 2021 at the latest. 

The survey is especially targeted at those who may be unable or unwilling to sit down with the review team in person.

"Not everyone wants to meet with us. But this provides them with another opportunity to engage with us in an anonymized way," said Mark Sandler, legal counsel for the Independent Civilian Review into Missing Person Investigations.

In January, McArthur pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of eight men, many of whom had known ties to the city's LGBTQ community. The McArthur case resurfaced deep divisions between some in the LGBTQ community and police.

As details of the police investigation into McArthur were revealed through media reports and court documents, there were renewed criticisms of how Toronto police handle missing persons cases, especially in cases that involve vulnerable and marginalized people.

Submitted by Shelley Colenbrander

The review is being led by retired judge Gloria Epstein. 

In an interview with CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Wednesday, Sandler said the review has had "difficult conversations" with many in the LGBTQ community.

"They're difficult because we are asking people to share sometimes traumatic experiences that they've had," he said.

They have also spoken to police officers who have been involved in missing persons cases.

Reviewers have emphasized input from a wide range of of LGBTQ voices.

"One of the mistakes we do not make is to ascribe the same view to everybody in that community. It's a highly diverse community," Sandler said.

According to Sandler, the review is focusing on questions such as:

  • Did the police adequately communicate with the community about what it was that they were doing during the McArthur investigation?
  • Are police adequately drawing upon and enlisting the community to assist in missing persons investigations?
  • Are investigators giving appropriate priority to these cases?
  • Are members of the LGBTQ and vulnerable and marginalized communities generally receiving the level of service to which they are entitled?
  • Are police accurately assessing the risk of harm to persons who go missing?
  • Have police overcome the kind of legacy issues that have plagued, at times, their relationship with our diverse communities?

Sandler said the ultimate goal of the review is to find a way to ensure "effective, bias-free and timely missing persons investigations."