WARNING: This story contains details that some readers may find disturbing.
An Ontario judge has sentenced serial killer Bruce McArthur to serve life in prison and ordered that McArthur not be eligible for parole for 25 years.
“I am satisfied, beyond a reasonable doubt, that these men died a slow and painful death by ligature strangulation for the sexual gratification of Mr. McArthur,” Justice John McMahon told the court while delivering his sentence.
“All or most of the victims were vulnerable individuals who were lured to their deaths, no doubt on the promise of consensual sexual activity. The accused exploited his victims’ vulnerabilities, whether they involved immigration concerns, mental health challenges or people living a secretive double life.”
McMahon sentenced McArthur to life in prison for each of the eight counts. He said McArthur won’t have consecutive periods of parole ineligibility.
“Due to the accused’s age, I am satisfied that when dealing with the protection of the public, concurrent periods of parole ineligibility can adequately address the protection of the public. It would not be until Mr. McArthur is 91 years of age that he could apply for consideration for parole,” McMahon said.
During his sentencing argument, Assistant Crown Attorney Craig Harper said based on the “horrific” nature of the offences, McArthur shouldn’t be eligible for a period of 50 years — up from the standard 25 years. Under Canadian law, he noted, the parole eligibility in first-degree murder cases is in 25-year increments.
McMahon said while the Crown’s position was reasonable, there were other factors he needed to consider.
“Sentencing the accused to parole ineligibility until he is 116 years of age is symbolic. There is a fine line between retribution, which is an appropriate sentencing principle, and vengeance,” the judge said.
“If the accused either had a trial or would have been younger, I would have had no hesitation in imposing consecutive parole ineligibility terms to protect the public.”
James Miglin, McArthur’s lawyer, acknowledged to the court during his submission that the crimes are “horrific” and said McArthur will serve a life sentence. Miglin, while asking for a concurrent period of parole ineligibility, cited McArthur’s current age and the fact he would be 91 before he could apply for parole. He also asked McMahon to take into consideration that McArthur waived his right to a preliminary inquiry and pleaded guilty to all of the charges.
During the proceedings on Tuesday, McMahon gave McArthur the opportunity to address the court if he wanted to.
“No, your honour, I’ve discussed this with my counsel,” he quietly responded.
The court heard disturbing detailed evidence of the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Selim Esen, Andrew Kinsman, Majeed Kayhan, Dean Lisowick, Soroush Mahmudi, Skandaraj Navaratnam, Abdulbasir Faizi and Kirushnakumar Kanagaratnam during a sentencing hearing on Monday and Tuesday.
McMahon reflected on how McArthur staged his victims and took photos of them.
“The victims were not only used for the accused’s gratification in life but also in death. He staged six of his victims in perverse and degrading fashions and then photographed them,” he said.
“These eight innocent victims then faced the greatest post-mortem indignity. Each was systematically cut up in pieces and buried in planters or in the ground in an unsuspecting person’s property in Leaside. The ability to decapitate and dismember his victims and do it repeatedly is pure evil.”
McMahon referred to a couple of the poignant victim impact statements presented in court while recounting how family and friends of the victims have been affected by the killings.
“Each of these innocent men died a horrible death and the victims’ families, friends and the community have been victimized twice,” he said.
“First when their loved one went missing … They were victimized again when they learned the horrific truth. Their loved one not only was brutally murdered within a day or two of their disappearance but was then dismembered and hidden in planters.”
While delivering his sentence, McMahon focused on how Toronto was impacted by the murders — especially the LGBTQ community.
“The accused’s brutal killings have devastated the LGBTQ community,” he said, noting he hasn’t seen an evidence of remorse from McArthur.
“In a community that works to foster feelings of openness and belonging, Mr. McArthur’s crimes have instilled fear and distrust, worries about entering relationships and fear of becoming a victim.”
McMahon said it has been difficult for immigrants and refugees, particularly those from the South Asian and Middle Eastern communities.
“The accused disproportionately targeted victims from these communities. Vulnerable members have been exploited and murdered. The fear, anger and distrust has and continues to be felt in these communities,” he said.
Nicole Borthwick, a friend of Kinsman, Lisowick and Esen, said outside of the courthouse on Friday that the sentence wasn’t harsh enough.
“I don’t think it’s enough. The man is 67. People have been known to live past 80, 90 years old. I don’t think this man is capable to be free,” Borthwick said.
“If you’re going to do a maximum crime, you deserve the maximum sentence, which is life times eight.”
Piranavan Thangavel, a friend of Kanagaratnam, said he still has questions over how McArthur met his victims.
“We want to find out how Kirushnakumar connected with McArthur,” Thangaval said.
READ BELOW: Justice McMahon’s sentence decision
He said Kanagaratnam arrived in Canada as a refugee but had his claim rejected by Canadian immigration officials and subsequently went into hiding.
“There’s a lot of people in the same situation. Their cases are rejected and they hide. If we don’t hear from them, news will never come out,” Thangaval said.
Toronto police also weighed in on the sentence, saying they were content with the decision.
“We don’t expect to see Mr. McArthur in public again and we’re satisfied with the sentence,” Insp. Hank Idsinga told reporters Friday afternoon.
Det. David Dickinson, lead investigator on the McArthur case, said the investigation into what happened is still ongoing. But he said he is glad this part of the case is over.
Police have faced heavy criticism from the public and the LGBTQ community in particular for their handling of the missing persons cases. As recently as six weeks before McArthur’s arrest, the service, including Chief Mark Saunders, said there was no indication the disappearances were the work of a serial killer.
Saunders apologized in February after seeming to suggest in a published interview that police might have cracked the cases earlier if members of the public had been more forthcoming with investigators.
An independent review is currently being conducted of the Toronto Police Service’s handling of missing persons investigations.
When asked about the McArthur case on Friday, Saunders said the service didn’t “sit flat with this” at any time. He reiterated that he spoke in the context of the evidence investigators had at the time.
“I can tell you the moment we knew what we had … we acted immediately. That’s why we have this conclusion right now,” Saunders said.
“We have the luxury of hindsight right now, and that’s unfortunate.”
The court heard it wasn’t until the disappearance of Andrew Kinsman that investigators connected the case to McArthur. Kinsman was reported missing a short time after he disappeared. Officers were able to find him on surveillance video getting into McArthur’s 2004 Dodge Caravan — a van that had unique identifying features. In Kinsman’s calendar, he had an entry saying “Bruce.” Police cross-referenced the name Bruce with Ministry of Transportation records matching the van and recent contacts McArthur had with police.
Mayor John Tory, who also sits on the Toronto Police Services Board, issued a statement on Friday encouraging the city to remember the victims. He said he’s “absolutely committed” to ensuring all questions raised in the McArthur investigation are answered.
“I led the establishment of the ongoing, independent external review that is now underway and I look forward to discussing with colleagues and with the community how we can best address other key issues now that the criminal proceedings are at an end,” he wrote.
“Transparency, openness and accessibility to the community will be key considerations as we move forward.”
Last week, McArthur, a 67-year-old, self-employed gardener, pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder. Most of the killings, which happened between 2010 and 2017, were described as being “sexual in nature,” and there were many instances cited where there was evidence of ligatures being used.
In pictures stored on McArthur’s computer devices, some of the victims could be seen staged and wearing a fur coat, a fur hat and/or a cigar in their mouths.
“He wanted to relive each murder. It spoke to his desire,” Harper noted.
“It is the broad swath of pain Mr. McArthur has inflicted that’s particularly aggravating.”
In McArthur’s bedroom, officers found a bag with duct tape, a surgical glove, rope, zip ties, a bungee cord and syringes, as well as DNA belonging to multiple victims inside McArthur’s van and on the fur coat. McArthur kept items belonging to some of his victims, such as jewelry belonging to Lisowick and Navaratnam.
Meanwhile, a community vigil will be held at the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto on Sunday at 7 p.m.
—With files from David Shum and the Canadian Press