As Haran Vijayanathan watched Bruce McArthur finally admit to murdering eight men — most of South Asian or Middle Eastern descent — he felt a sense of relief.
After years of funerals and memorials, after supporting families struggling with unanswered questions about how, when and why their loved one died, at least this is now a fact:
McArthur murdered Skandaraj (Skanda) Navaratnam, Abdulbasir Faizi, Majeed Kayhan, Soroush Mahmudi, Kirushnakumar Kanagaratnam, Dean Lisowick, Selim Esen and Andrew Kinsman.
“We don’t have to guess at things anymore,” said Vijayanathan, the executive director of the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention (ASAAP). “It’s actually quite relieving because we have an answer now, and he’s pled guilty. I think that puts the community and the families at rest to say that we have closure now, finally.”
As the case enters the sentencing phase, it’s important to remember McArthur’s eight victims, said Candace Shaw. They include her friend and neighbour Kinsman, who she remembers as a “lovely person” with a sardonic sense of humour, who did good in his community.
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“It’s just a big weight of misery that one person is responsible for inflicting,” she said. “I feel for the people who are in jail with someone like that.”
At least there will now be an end to the “slow drip” of devastating information about the case, she added.
The guilty pleas left Jean-Guy Cloutier, a friend of Navaratnam, with mixed feelings — a combination of grief and relief, he said.
“Justice is being served,” he said. “It still doesn’t bring Skanda back, though.”
‘Guilty.’ Serial killer Bruce McArthur admits to first-degree murder in deaths of eight men
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For Dean Lisowick’s childhood friend Jeremiah Holmes, 43, the news of the guilty pleas brought relief mostly because of what it means for the many people who would have been dragged through a lengthy and exhausting trial.
“I think it just saves all that anguish. I don’t know if there is any closure — there isn’t really,” said Holmes, who was about 7 when he met Lisowick. Both boys were wards of the Catholic Children’s Aid Society. “The closure would be that he has pled guilty, there is no closure for anybody’s family who lost loved ones.”
The chilling knowledge that a serial killer spent years targeting men connected to the Gay Village weighs on Harry Singh, the ex-owner of Zipperz, a former hot spot in the heart of the Gay Village. Singh knew several of the victims, including the kind and jovial Navaratnam, who frequented the popular bar and dance club.
“I hope he gets what he deserves,” Singh said of McArthur.
Residents of the neighbourhood near Church and Wellesley Sts. responded with anger, sadness and relief to the serial killer’s pleas on Tuesday.
“Decent human beings were killed for no reason at all, just because somebody got a kick out of it,” said Reeva Jones.
Kinsman’s friend and former colleague, Nicole Borthwick said the McArthur case kept “the community hanging in the balance for over a year.”
“I don’t know if this is truly justice,” said Borthwick, who also knew Esen and Lisowick. “(McArthur) may die in prison, but I’m not sure if that’s adequate justice for friends and loved ones.”
By pure coincidence, Robert Baynton-Smith was at the same Second Cup coffee shop Tuesday morning in which he remembers seeing McArthur about 10 years ago. McArthur looked “normal,” like any other customer, he said, “but when I saw that this was the man that was arrested I remembered that face. Absolutely.”
The guilty plea is good for a “wounded” community that does not need to relive McArthur’s actions in a lengthy trial, Baynton-Smith said.
Rudy Steinbach said he personally knew Esen, Navaratnam and Kinsman, whom he described as “decent guys” who lived their lives without troubling anyone.
Steinbach said he is angry about the pain McArthur has caused and expressed incredulity at the cost of housing the murderer in prison while the city has “kids sleeping on the streets who are not getting anything.”
“He’s killed eight people,” Steinbach said.
Karen Fraser, who with her partner owns the Leaside home where McArthur hid body parts of his victims, said she saw no indication of remorse from McArthur in his court appearance.
“I only saw a blank face,” she said. “There is no closure. Perhaps an easing is all you get,” she said. “The man I knew didn’t actually exist … This is someone else entirely.”
Dozens of family members and friends are now writing victim impact statements — a difficult and emotional task likely made harder by knowing the alarming details of the murders and grappling with what may never be known, Vijayanathan said.
Tamil, Farsi and French interpreters have been organized to assist the families during the three-day sentencing hearing, scheduled to begin Feb. 4.
“We will never get all the answers. And we’ll only get (some) if he decides to give us that information,” Vijayanathan said. “I don’t think it will ever be over for the families and the communities.”
Alyshah Hasham is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and court. Follow her on Twitter: @alysanmati
Emily Mathieu is a Toronto-based reporter covering affordable and precarious housing. Follow her on Twitter: @emathieustar
Jason Miller is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Reach him on email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gilbert Ngabo is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @dugilbo
May Warren is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @maywarren11