Eight men were murdered in Toronto, their bodies dismembered and placed into more than dozen fiberglass garden planters on a residential property on Mallory Crescent. This was the same Leaside neighborhood where self-employed landscaper and occasional mall Santa Bruce McArthur worked. Fragments of bodies were found in a wooded area adjacent to the property as well. During a nine-day intensive investigation period of the ravine behind the Mallory St property, investigators found teeth, bones, and other remains belonging to the victims almost every day.
Many of these murdered men were brown – refugees and immigrants from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey. Thick lashes and beards, dark eyes look out from photos of the victims in the media. Allegedly, these men were familiar to Bruce McArthur as companions and sexual partners. McArthur was arrested on January 18 on charges of first-degree murder and denies all allegations.
McArthur, who is white, is said to have a penchant for “darker-skinned men” and “Middle Eastern looks.” The Middle Eastern and South Asian ethnicities of the victims strike a contrast with McArthur’s own whiteness. Photos of McArthur circulate underneath headlines: McArthur at Niagara Falls, skin tinted pink with sun, casually posing for the photo beside an actual rainbow. McArthur squinting into the camera against a wholesome, all-Canadian backdrop of a lake surrounded by coniferous trees.
McArthur was known to Toronto police. In an incident in 2001, a sex worker reported McArthur to police after McArthur, unprovoked, became violent and beat him with an iron pipe until he blacked out. For this, McArthur was convicted in 2003 to two years conditional sentence and a legal ban from Toronto’s gay village. A psychologist’s report from the same year indicated that “the risk for violence is very minimal.”
In 2016, another individual reported McArthur to police after McArthur began non-consensually and violently choking him during a sexual encounter. McArthur was then arrested in 2016, interviewed by a detective and released with no charges, once again presumed innocent and not likely to harm others. In the course of his career as an independent landscaper, McArthur was entrusted to house-sit the very property on which the dismembered bodies were later found.
It took the death of a well-known and well-loved white gay man, Andrew Kinsman, to initiate an intensive policing process that culminated in the discovery of Kinsman’s body alongside the butchered bodies of seven other men. Some of the brown men had been reported missing for years before their remains were found – a fact not missed by the non-white LGBT community in Toronto who looked critically at Toronto police actions. The Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention (ASAAP), based in Toronto, said in a written statement that “it is saddening and unacceptable that it took the disappearance of Andrew Kinsman to reopen the public interest in the cases of the missing South Asian and Middle Eastern men. … A different standard of justice for racialized and LGBTQ+ people is the reality in our city and province”.
The murdered South Asian and Middle Eastern men whose fragmented bodies were discovered only because police were searching for a missing white gay man speaks volumes about the structural and systemic racism that exists within state institutions in North America. People of color are not conceded the dignity of being fully human. Whether through the mechanism of the Canadian criminal justice system or its immigration system, the presence of brown bodies elicits a kind of repression that far exceeds that experienced by white counterparts, suggesting that brown bodies are perceived as a threat by the white majority state.
Queer theorists Gayatri Gopinath and Roderick Ferguson suggest that the queer diasporic person of color brings to the forefront the heteronormative and white imperialist foundations of the state. U.S. foreign policy, for instance, has regulated and disappeared brown men’s bodies through detention or deportation, and particularly so after 9/11. Building on these scholars’ diasporic queer of colour perspective, the alleged murderer Bruce McArthur and the state of Canada perform the same function – namely, to disappear and fragment queer diasporic brown people.
People of color are not conceded the dignity of being fully human.
One of the slain victims, Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, was an undocumented migrant seeking refugee status in Canada. In 2010, Kanagaratnam arrived on the west coast of Canada aboard the Thai cargo ship the MV Sun Sea after roughly 100 days at sea with 491 other Sri Lankan asylum seekers. In a Toronto Star article, Fatima Syed and Wendy Gillis write how politicians spoke of the asylum seekers as terrorists, human smugglers and traffickers. It is exactly this kind of xenophobia that resulted in some of migrants of the MV Sun Sea being held in detention centers for as long as 15 months and deemed illegal, upon land that was unlawfully seized from Indigenous peoples no less.
The arrival of Kanagaratnam and the other refugees upon the MV Sun Sea harkens back to an earlier time in 1914 when 376 South Asian migrants arrived in Canada’s west coast aboard the Komagata Maru ship and were denied entry. The premier of British Columbia at the time, Richard McBride, spoke openly of the reasoning behind state’s racist hostility to the migrants, stating, “To admit Orientals in large numbers would mean the end, the extinction of the white people.” For at least one hundred years and counting, the presence of intact brown bodies on the land in Canada has been treated as a deeply existential threat to whiteness and the state.
In the months that followed his arrival, Kanagaratnam applied to the government of Canada for asylum as a refugee. He was denied. Eventually, Kanagaratnam stopped telephoning his family in Sri Lanka with whom he previously had regular contact. This is a common practice for undocumented migrants intending to quietly stay on in countries looking to eject them.
In the rejection of Kanagaratnam’s application for refugee status, the state intended for Kanagaratnam to disappear from the land. Living in a precarious situtation as an undocumented migrant, a serial killer literally disappeared him. A serial killer who smiles beside coniferous trees and wind-whipped lakes. The Canadian whose legitimacy, legality, and belonging are never questioned.
For at least one hundred years and counting, the presence of intact brown bodies on the land in Canada has been treated as a deeply existential threat to whiteness and the state.
Bruce McArthur is the personification the Canadian state’s xenophobia. This man was questioned multiple times by police due to his violent nature and was always deemed innocent and inoffensive. He was entrusted with the property of landowners. He formed relationships with men who were queer, diasporic, closeted, undocumented, vulnerable, and brown, and then killed them, fragmenting their bodies into innumerable pieces, and dispersing those pieces across the land.
Brown bodies who were not found until a white man went missing. Bodies who, when alive and whole, were spoken of as traffickers and smugglers. Bodies who, when alive and whole, were deemed illegal and a threat to the existence of white people. The transformation of the murdered brown men’s bodies into separated pieces yet another horrific representation of the fragmentation of families due to Western colonization, and frankly, white power.
The effects of this serial killer may cause further fear and repression of queerness in diasporic brown communities, an enactment of the cyclical nature of violence. Yet the notoriety of this case has also worked to make visible those erased by racism and heteronormativity, inserting possibilities of brown queerness where they might otherwise be overlooked or assimilated by the wider population. With the violence committed against queer people of color made hyper-visible in the public eye, we may then turn to critically consider the conditions that created the possibility for this violence to occur in the first place. The question remains as to why such inhumane violence is necessary in order for the public and government institutions to take seriously the harms committed against queer people of colour, which range from routine aggressions to abhorrent stories such as the McArthur case.
Citing the effects of trauma resulting from the Bruce McArthur alleged murders and the Toronto police’s ineffectual responses to missing persons cases of queer-identified racialized people, Pride Toronto has finally followed the lead of Black Lives Matter Toronto in formally requesting that uniformed Toronto police officers be omitted from the Pride Toronto march. Brown queerness is brought to the forefront and made visible on a public platform. The case too, has resulted in an inquiry into the professional conduct of Toronto police and their handling of Bruce McArthur’s earlier arrests and the missing persons cases from the village.
In death and dismemberment, the murdered victims of the Toronto serial killer bring into the mainstream the presence of brownness, queerness, the nature of living as a diasporic person. In death and dismemberment, the murdered victims bring to the forefront the racist and homophobic underpinnings of the state and state police. They bring to the forefront the fragmented existence of life as a queer brown diasporic person.
Investigations are ongoing into cold cases of missing persons reports in Toronto. Bruce McArthur awaits trial.
Dedicated to Skanaraj Navaratnam, Abdulbasir Faizi, Andrew Kinsman, Selim Esen, Majeed Kayhan, Soroush Mahmudi, Dean Lisowick, Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, and any other victims yet unnamed.
Art by Pala Pothupitiye