‘Systemic discrimination’ contributed to failings in Toronto police missing-persons cases, report finds

An independent review of the Toronto police force’s handling of missing-persons cases has found that “systemic discrimination” contributed to failings in a number of investigations.

That’s one of the many takeaways from a massive report led by former judge Gloria Epstein that was released Tuesday morning.

Epstein found there were “serious flaws” in how missing persons cases have been handled in Toronto, and notes that “the police could have done better.

“To be clear, we are past the time for conversation only,” she wrote. “The public is entitled to insist on transformative change with measurable, sustainable outcomes, timelines for completion, and accountability.”

“Intent” to discriminate is not the issue here, Epstein said. “Proper missing persons investigations should not depend on whose voices are the loudest or most empowered in sounding the alarm,” she said.

The review was ordered in the summer of 2018 after the arrest of serial killer Bruce McArthur but did not initially include his crimes in order to preserve his right to a fair trial.

Its scope was later expanded to include that case after McArthur pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of eight men with ties to Toronto’s Gay Village.

The review focused on those eight men, as well as Tess Richey, a young woman whose body was found in an outdoor stairwell by her mother, and Alloura Wells, a trans woman found dead in a ravine.

The issues identified in the report include a lack of communication within the police service, between the force and the police board, and with the community — as well as an often unnecessary amount of secrecy that undermined public trust.

Epstein also found investigations were inconsistent, and in many instances, “basic investigative steps were overlooked or delayed,” while searches were at times “disorganized, incomplete or poorly documented.”

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