February 7, 2019 9:30 pm
Updated: February 8, 2019 8:02 pm

How Bruce McArthur’s victims were remembered in court, and how the murders impacted Toronto

WATCH ABOVE: After the court sentenced serial killer Bruce McArthur to life in prison, family and friends of his victims and the LGBTQ+ community seek to find closure and healing from the tragedy. Caryn Lieberman reports.

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Throughout the sentencing hearing for serial killer Bruce McArthur, 30 family members and friends of the victims, as well community organizations, presented powerful statements to describe how the murders impacted them and the city.

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McArthur pleaded guilty on Jan. 29 to eight counts of first-degree murder in connection to the deaths of Selim Esen, Abdulbasir Faizi, Kirushnakumar Kanagaratnam, Majeed Kayhan, Andrew Kinsman, Dean Lisowick, Soroush Mahmudi and Skandaraj Navaratnam.

READ MORE: Crown argues Bruce McArthur should get consecutive sentences, no parole eligibility for 50 years

The court heard on Monday and Tuesday graphic evidence of how the eight men died, submissions from Crown and defence lawyers on what McArthur’s sentence should be, and victim impact statements. Justice John McMahon is expected to deliver his sentence Friday morning.

Below is a compilation of excerpts of several of those victim impact statements in an effort to provide a more complete picture of how Esen, Faizi, Kanagaratnam, Kayhan, Kinsman, Lisowick, Mahmudi and Navaratnam are being remembered by their loved ones, how their deaths affected them, and how McArthur’s crimes affected Toronto — especially the city’s LGBTQ community.

READ MORE: Gruesome details of victims’ murders heard at sentencing hearing

Selim Esen

Selim Esen, 44, was reported missing from Toronto in April of 2017.

Toronto Police Service

“Our lives were shattered with the shocking news. We can’t come to terms with his savage murder. It is like part of our body is cut into pieces and will keep bleeding forever,” Nadia Wali, who spoke on behalf of Herhat Cinar, Omer Esen and Oguz Esen — brothers and close family of Esen — told the court, questioning how the killings “went unnoticed for seven years.”

“This man took his time to plan and preyed on [the] gay community’s trust and vulnerability of innocent people one after the other.”

Richard Kikot, a friend of Esen, said Esen was in an “entirely vulnerable” state.

READ MORE: Toronto LGBTQ community express relief, anger after arrest of suspected serial killer Bruce McArthur

“He was in such need of some type of connection or intervention that he could not quite find at that time. This was maddening and altogether heartbreaking,” he said.

Wali described Esen as being a man with many interests and talents.

“He loved nature, growing trees, textile design, managing a cafe, among other things,” she said.

“He had a passion for studying sociology and philosophy. He had an inquisitive mind and questioned things. He stood firm for fairness and social justice. He was kind, generous and selfless.”

Kikot shared Esen’s love of walking throughout Toronto “not aimlessly, but purposely.”

“He was a romantic. He believed in the power of love. When he had nowhere else to go or had been turned out from where he was, he would walk,” Kikot said.

Abdulbasir Faizi

Abdulbasir Faizi is seen in an undated photo.

Police/Handout

Kareema Faizi, Abdulbasir Faizi’s wife, was the only person to formally speak on Abdulbasir’s behalf in court. She wrote that her husband’s death has left her “emotionally and physically unable” to perform day-to-day tasks and activities, adding she wakes up with headaches and physical pain.

“It is so difficult to manage my work, the needs of my home, and be a parent to my children. I work 16 to 18 hours daily because that is what is required to provide for my family,” Kareema wrote, adding her daughters had to get jobs to support the household as well.

“My daughters suffer terribly knowing what happened to their father. They pretend to be strong in front of me. But when they are alone in their room, they take a picture of their father with them. I hear them crying constantly.”

She wrote that the couple’s children were only six and 10 years old when Abdulbasir went missing.

“They talk about the times their father would play with them and their memories of them together. That’s all they have left of him now,” Kareema wrote.

“My older daughter loves me a lot and when she finished school, she wanted me to live with her as I’m the only person she has. She wants to keep me close and safe.”

Kirushnakumar Kanagaratnam

Kirushnakumar Kanagaratnam is seen in an undated photo.

Handout / Toronto Police Service

“I myself have lost any motivation for life. I don’t eat or enjoy the things I once did. When I sleep, I sleep with a sadness which fills my heart and always tears come to my eyes,” Kirushnaveny Yasotharan, Kirushnakumar Kanagaratnam’s sister, wrote in her victim impact statement, adding her three children don’t understand what she is feeling.

“I take anti-depressant medication (Prozac). I live with my mind on auto-destruction. I have lost considerable weight. I don’t want to live in this world which became so terribly cruel.”

Piranavan Thangavel, a friend of Kanagaratnam, described how they travelled for three months by sea “just to seek the safety of [their] lives.” He said the day they arrived in Canada filled them with “indescribable joy,” but many of those who came to Canada have had their lives in limbo.

READ MORE: How police caught serial killer Bruce McArthur, according to the agreed statement of facts

“We, as refugees, fled in disgust and in fear after bearing eye-witness to the widespread vile, torturous murders and crimes against humanity during the war in 2009 in Sri Lanka. For us now to hear of a such a horrible death, we who live in this world as refugees feel like there is no safety for us anywhere in the world,” Thangavel told the court, adding he and others are fearful about meeting new people.

“To err is human nature as is it to correct such mistakes. However, I find it impossible to classify this killer as a human. I cannot find any attributes of humanity in him. I am also unable to comprehend his state of mind and thoughts.”

Majeed Kayhan

Majeed Kayhan, 58, of Toronto, was reported missing in October of 2012.

Toronto Police Service/handout

Jalil Kayhan, Majeed Kayhan’s brother, was the only person to formally speak on Majeed’s behalf in court. He wrote in his statement that his family “agonized” over Majeed’s disappearance since 2012.

“This statement as long as I can try to put it into words can never represent the true pain and suffering that I and my family members have suffered and will continue to suffer. This is merely a humble attempt to express a minute portion of it,” Jalil wrote.

He wrote that Majeed leaves behind two children, three grandchildren, older siblings, nieces and nephews who will “never been able to enjoy his presence again.”

READ MORE: Inquiry to investigate how Toronto police handled the Bruce McArthur murder case

“My family is very traditional and Majeed was the youngest of the siblings. Our older siblings have a very hard time coping with this tragedy and this has impacted all of their health and well-being,” Jalil wrote.

“It has affected all of us in tremendous and different ways. Not everyone feels comfortable to open up and share the impact it has had on their life and I believe that this will take time as we try to heal.”

Andrew Kinsman

Andrew Kinsman, 49, was reported missing in June of 2017.

Toronto Police Service

“Although I have been robbed of my brother, my confidant and my friend, the greatest tragedy is that society has been deprived of an extraordinary, quirky and caring individual who did make a difference,” Shelley Kinsman, Andrew Kinsman’s youngest sister, said in her victim impact statement.

“Please do not let Andrew’s death be just a statistic. Let’s take what he has given us in his half century here and make a difference. Please do one good and unselfish deed for your fellow man. Help someone, hug someone, start a conversation. But most of all, be kind!”

Shelley was one of 10 people to formally speak about Andrew in court. Stephen Kinsman, Andrew’s brother, wrote that he was unable to aide in the search for Andrew after he went missing due to physical restrictions. Kinsman’s family and friends organized a large search effort after he went missing. He said he had trouble sleeping while wondering what happened to his brother.

READ MORE: Feds announce $450K investment to protect LGBTQ Canadians

“I started consuming large amounts of alcohol in an attempt to assist sleeping. Friends avoided me as they were unsure of what to say and didn’t want to upset me,” Stephen wrote, saying he experienced nightmares he was in the same room as Andrew and McArthur after Andrew’s body parts were discovered.

“I tried to get to AK to stop the attack but some unknown force prevented me. I would awaken, sweating and shaking, yelling, ‘No, no, no.’ I never get to him.”

Stephen wrote he has sought counselling for what he experience. He stated he looks at strangers differently and wonders “if they are capable of such acts.”

“As a child, AK had a teddy bear. It now resides in my bedroom, overlooking my bed, as if AK is watching over me,” Stephen wrote.

Patricia Kinsman, Andrew’s sister, told the court she learned Andrew was missing through a Facebook post. She said many searched for Andrew for six months, adding she still thinks about him daily.

“[Andrew’s] life was snuffed out by someone that knew him for close to 15 years. [McArthur] strangled AK, dismembered him, threw him in a planter and then admired his work for seven months,” Patricia said.

“Nothing I can say here can let you know how I felt when I viewed his remains in the funeral home. I can’t describe the smell when the body bag was opened — shock and disgust. A wonderful man gone from the world — murdered by him. We never say his name.”

READ MORE: Review of Toronto police handling of missing person cases to take longer

Meaghan Keannine Marian was a tenant in the building Kinsman lived and worked at as a superintendent. She read a lengthy statement in court and vividly described Kinsman, his character and his interests. Marian described how Kinsman beat cancer and explained how he loved restoring the building they lived in and tending to plants, caring for her birds, social justice and cooking.

“As I studied intensively for medical school entrance exams, he fed me a steady diet of banana bread, saying that potassium would help my memory. There’s nothing known in medical science supporting that claim by the way. It’s just that Andrew baked an awful lot of banana bread,” Marian said, drawing a faint chuckle from many in the courtroom.

“It took me a while to warm up to Andrew because I am aloof, but he was irresitibly warming. He brought his friends to his volunteer projects. He seeded plans for community building works. He rarely solicited help, a contribution, a commitment. But by example, he made people want to connect, to offer, to give, to share, to make meaning together.”

Dean Lisowick

Dean Lisowick, 47, is seen in an undated photo.

Toronto Police Service

Emily Bourgeois, Dean Lisowick’s daughter, wrote that she grew up in the care of her mother and stepfather and didn’t have a relationship with her father.

“I was told when I was in middle school that he was living on the street downtown somewhere and when I was in high school hanging out with my friends downtown, I always wondered if I would bump into him or even passed him and didn’t know it,” she wrote.

“I even thought maybe he turned everything around and found work and a nice lady and maybe lived in a nice big house with kids of his own or thought maybe he was gone, passed away somewhere and no one knew. Now unfortunately I know that the worst I thought was actually true and knowing what happened was nothing I ever imagined.”

READ MORE: Ontario judge to lead review of Toronto police handling of missing person cases

Bourgeois wrote she hoped to one day meet with her father.

“There is no way I could ever know what could have been because he has been taken away from the world. Now I have to go every day knowing that my father is gone and the way he left us,” she wrote.

“I’ll have to tell [my children] what happened and how he was taken away from the world and never got the chance to right his wrongs or better his life.”

Julie Pearo, Lisowick’s cousin, told the court she does not hate McArthur and isn’t angry with him because of the love she has for her cousin, who she said was born a day apart from her.

“My grief at his absence, the movie reels of memories in my head — mostly of us laughing and his amazing simle that I’ve known all but 12 days of my life — take up all the space in my heart and my thoughts. There is no room for hatred, or anger, of even thoughts of [McArthur],” she wrote.

“The last few times I saw Dean he was making plans, setting goals, and doing the things needed to accomplish them. His face lit up when he talked about his daughter — almost dragging me around downtown to show me the electric bike he wanted to buy her and how he was going to get his life together so he could do that — just to do something he thought would bring her some happiness or make her life a bit easier.”

Pearo said she has experienced nightmares, emotional distress and been physically sick as a result of the murder.

Soroush Mahmudi

Soroush Mahmudi, 50, of Toronto, was reported missing in August 2015.

Toronto Police Service

Umme Fareena Marzook, Mahmudi’s wife, was the only person to formally address the court on his behalf. Assistant Crown Attorney Gabriel Ho was asked to read Marzook’s statement to the court as she sat in public gallery, often breaking down in tears as he read her statement. Marzook, who was married to Mahmudi for approximately 12 years and reported him missing in 2015, wrote that she fainted due to extreme shock after police told her that her husband was murdered by McArthur.

“I was going through a severe degree of emotional distress and my lifestyle completely changed overnight. I was overwhelmed with grief as I could not eat or sleep,” she wrote, saying she used to frequently socialize with friends and after the news was unable to go out.

“I was no longer interested in the activities that I enjoyed prior to getting the news of my husband’s disappearance. I locked myself in the bedroom and cried constantly with a lot of anger, sadness.”

READ MORE: Toronto police reportedly cloned Bruce McArthur’s computer – what does that entail?

Marzook wrote Mahmudi’s death had a major impact on her relationship with her friends and friends because her emotional and mental health changed “drastically.”

“I had serious difficulty maintaining self-care and basic life functioning. In addition, I suffered from intense symptoms of shock, distress, sadness, poor appetite, insomnia, poor concentration and flashbacks,” she wrote.

“These symptoms appeared to be a continuation of an emotional reaction to the trauma and grief on losing my soul mate.”

Marzook said her husband was the main income earner for the household and that she has been unable to work due to the trauma of Mahmudi’s death. She said her only source of money is Ontario Works.

“After paying the rent, I have no money left for food. I am accessing the food bank once a month and there are times I have no food on my table,” Marzook wrote.

“After he was brutally murdered, I have become dependent on social assistance and food banks.”

She said she was unable to get private therapy to deal with PTSD because she didn’t have insurance coverage. Marzook said she was able to access no-cost trauma-informed therapy in October.

Skandaraj “Skanda” Navaratnam

Skandaraj Navaratnam is seen in an undated photo.

Handout

“Skanda was the livewire in our family. Since his early childhood he was a jovial character always up for fun and enjoyed the company of friends. Skanda was keen to give us a better life and look after my aging parents,” Navaseelan Navaratnam, Skandaraj “Skanda” Navaratnam’s brother, wrote in his submission to court, noting Skanda left his country for Canada due to civil war.

“Since his status in Canada may have been a challenge for him, we lived in hope that he may have gone into hiding and may appear once his status was restored. During this time our father passed away and our mother, who had become considerably weak, was growing in anxiety with the sudden disappearance of Skanda. He was her favourite boy and she kept asking for him as the calls stopped coming.”

Navaseelan wrote that he had to take unpaid leave from work and had to travel to Canada from Dubai and fly to India to take Skanda’s remains to India, leading to significant financial costs. He said while the family is grateful for the help received during “the crisis,” nothing can compensate for the loss of Skanda.

“He is gone for eternity! Nothing can bring him back. My mother, who is a heart patient not knowing the demise of Skanda, still lingers with the thoughts of seeing him face to face in the future. We concealed the truth from her due to her ill health,” Navaseelan wrote.

“May his soul rest in peace! We love you, Skanda.”

Phil Werren, Skanda’s friend, wrote the two met in 2001 a week before Sept. 11. He said they bonded while sharing their histories, noting he immigrated from the U.S. and that Skanda came to Canada as a refugee, and eventually spoke regularly on the phone.

“Skanda was a highly educated and talented man whose English was perfect. His interest in nature was something we shared as well as the political situation of the time. He was almost unbeatable at Scrabble. We began seeing each other almost daily for the next nine years. Things were never dull,” he told the court.

“I learned a lot from him and reached more empathy for people fleeing from places of conflict in the world. I also learned about tropical fish as well as many gardening tips.”

READ MORE: Working group struck for independent review of Toronto missing persons cases

He said he got a message from Skanda asking for a call back the day before he disappeared.

“I was very distraught and devastated because I had no idea what had happened. It took me several years to come to terms with this loss. I believed for years that he had simply disappeared, but secretly I worried that he had been killed,” Werren said.

“Present circumstances have given me some closure, but Skanda will never be replaceable to me.”

McArthur’s impact on Toronto and the LGBTQ community

As part of the victim impact statement process, community organizations were also allowed to make submissions to the court.

“The Church and Wellesley Village has long stood as a beacon of hope and community for members of the LGBTQ+ communities in the GTA as well as across the country. The Village is widely known as a place where all people can discover, and be, their true selves. The overarching reason this community feels able to act this way is because they feel safe to do so, safe from violence,” Haran Vijayanathan, executive director of the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention, wrote.

“Things changed in 2012 when the first three men went missing. A large scare came over the community. Many did not want to go out. Many did not want to go on dates. They feared they may be next. Their safe space was no longer what they thought it was.”

Vijayanathan said the feeling of safety was “shattered, especially for those who identify as South Asian and Middle Eastern.” He said his organization has held group and individual support sessions for those affected.

READ MORE: Toronto’s LGBTQ community calling for public inquiry into missing persons, murder cases

“Time and again we heard individuals say that [McArthur] had bought drinks for them and/or spoke to them online. He was really nice to them and were made to feel like he cared about them,” Vijayanathan wrote.

“Now they are mortified and are confused because the horrific reality has set in that they could have been one of his victims. This has sent them into depression, struggle with trusting others and therefore remain anti-social and increased their anxiety.”

Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto Rev. Deana Dudley told the court how her church operates LGBTQ-supportive community programs and how it has helped organize vigils in honour of McArthur’s victims.

“There is a concept within the LGBTQ community called ‘chosen family.’ Many of us when we came out were rejected or ostracized by our families of origin, our previous communities, our churches and other faith communities,” she said, “and for those who are marginalized, whether by sexual orientation, gender identity or immigrant status, chosen family is hugely important.

READ MORE: Toronto home linked to Bruce McArthur investigation has ceremony for renewal

“The community around us became our family. The men who were killed were our brothers. And for many people in the LGBTQ community, their murders have changed the way we look at the community forever. Even with the defendant in custody, it feels less safe. It feels less trustworthy … for many of the men who knew the defendant, there is no safe place any more.”

Dudley noted the church has helped Karen Fraser and Ron Smith, the owners of the Mallory Crescent home where McArthur kept his landscaping supplies and the remains of his victim, with rebuilding their yard after police searched the property.

“This is because we regarded that yard as far more than a body dumping ground. It was for a time the resting place of people we cared about. It is a sacred place,” she said, noting a cleansing and blessing ceremony was held after the garden was redone.

“In the spring, the plants and flowers will emerge again. There will be hundreds of daffodils. They are hardy and resilient, and they will survive … I hope they will be the harbingers of growth and healing to come for our community.”

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