TORONTO — A day after attending Toronto’s gay pride festivities last June, Andrew Kinsman, 49, a building superintendent with deep roots in the community, dropped out of sight, missing his volunteer food-bank shift and leaving his cat unfed.
Friends knew right away there had to be something wrong, and now, after months of anguished searching, the horrific answer to what happened to him has not only shaken the gay community but has also widened its long-standing rift with Toronto Police.
Last week, police said they had recovered the dismembered remains of six people, including Kinsman, from planters on a property where Bruce McArthur, a 66-year-old landscaper, worked, and investigators were searching 30 other places across the city.
McArthur has been charged with the murders of Kinsman and four other men, and police said additional charges were expected.
But as the investigation has grown, so, too, has anger among gay activists in Toronto, Canada’s largest city, who accuse authorities of neglect in missing-person cases involving gay men that have stretched out over nearly a decade.
“The symptom is missing and murdered people,” said Nicki Ward, a director of the neighborhood association for Church-Wellesley, an area also known as the Gay Village, where the cases were concentrated. “The disease is how police manage the job of taking care of the community.”
For decades, the Gay Village, a cluster of streets dotted with rainbow flags, restaurants, bars and coffee shops, has been a meeting place for gay, lesbian and transgender people. Police raids of bathhouses in the neighborhood in 1981 spurred Canada’s gay rights movement, much like police raids in 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in New York helped start the movement in the United States. The movement in Canada ultimately led to the passage of a same-sex marriage law more than a decade ago and greater legal protections for sexual minorities.
Relations between the community and law enforcement were strained anew last year when the organizers of the gay pride parade, in support of Black Lives Matter, barred uniformed officers from marching. The decision spurred anger from officers and protest from politicians who tried to cut funding for the event.
By then, men had been vanishing from the Gay Village for years, spurring rumors of a serial killer. In December, the Toronto police chief, Mark Saunders, said there was no evidence of such a killer — an assertion that prompted outrage just weeks later, when McArthur was charged.
“This has been an open wound since 2010,” said Kyle Rae, Toronto’s first openly gay city councilor, who has worked to improve police ties, referring to men vanishing from the neighborhood. “It feeds into frustrations in the community.”
The distrust has persisted despite efforts by police to increase the number of gay and lesbian police officers and the issuance of an official apology, by Saunders in 2016, for the bathhouse raids.
Meaghan Gray, a spokeswoman for the Toronto Police Service, said police have made “considerable strides in providing bias-free police work,” and noted that Saunders had announced in December a review of how missing-persons investigations were conducted.
“We’re always listening when any community, particularly the LGBT community, feels that they haven’t received the appropriate level of policing or respectful policing,” she said.
After the first disappearances were reported, involving three Middle Eastern and South Asian men, police began a special investigation in 2012, though that came up empty.
Last August, police opened a new special investigation, Project Prism, that focused on the disappearances of Kinsman and another man, Selim Essen, 44, a Turkish immigrant reported missing in April. Within a few weeks, police say, investigators began to focus on McArthur. He had had a sexual relationship with Kinsman, they said, though it was not until November that investigators suspected him of killing Kinsman.
In January, McArthur was charged with killing Essen and Kinsman; Majeed Kayhan, an Afghan immigrant who disappeared in 2012; Soroush Mahmudi, 50, a married father of two who was reported missing by his family in 2015; and Dean Lisowick, 47, a homeless prostitute who was never reported missing.
The charges renewed accusations that police put less effort into finding men who were poor, closeted or minorities.
“Unfortunately, it had to take the disappearance of Andrew Kinsman, a white man who was such a community pillar, to reopen the investigation and make these links,” said Haran Vijayanathan, executive director of the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention in Toronto. “The police didn’t account for cultural and religious stigma. A lot of people live double lives.”
Vijayanathan’s organization and other activists have called for an independent review of the police investigation.
The mayor of Toronto, John Tory, said he would meet with community leaders to hear their concerns but said he would not interfere with a continuing police investigation. “I understand that people have a certain sense of fear and insecurity,” he said.
Sgt. Hank Idsinga, a homicide detective with the Toronto Police Service who is managing the investigation, disputed allegations of neglect or bias.
“We don’t simply show up, take a missing-persons report, throw it on a pile and do nothing with it,” he said, noting that Project Prism yielded results in part because Kinsman’s disappearance was reported the right way. “That gave us good ability to jump-start the investigation,” he said.
During a vigil last week at the predominantly gay Metropolitan Community Church, mourners lit candles to honor each of the victims.
“They all vanished without a trace,” said Todd Shearing, 52, a friend of Kinsman who joined search parties after he went missing. “But Andrew was the catalyst that made the community shout very loud.”