TORONTO — The Toronto Police Services Board says it has retained an Ontario Appeal Court judge to lead an external review into how the police force handles cases of missing persons.
The board says in a statement that Justice Gloria Epstein will be retiring Sept. 1 and will then “be devoting herself thereafter to the review.”
The announcement comes about three months after Mayor John Tory moved a motion to go ahead with the review, saying there were “troubling questions” in light of the killings for which landscaper Bruce McArthur has been charged.
While the review won’t look at the investigation into McArthur, who has been charged with eight counts of first-degree murder, it will examine how missing persons cases connected to the investigation were handled.
The review also follows the death in November 2017 of 22-year-old Tess Richey, whose body was found by her mother in an outdoor stairwell.
Police were sent to her last-known location the day after she was reported missing, but it wasn’t until her mother came to the city to search for her that her body was found.
“It is vitally important that we learn from the past to ensure every Toronto resident is kept safe in the future,” Tory, who sits on the police board, said in the statement.
Police have also come under fire from the LGBTQ community for failing to take the disappearances some of the men missing from Toronto’s gay village seriously for years — until January, when they arrested and charged the 66-year-old McArthur.
Tensions were further inflamed when police Chief Mark Saunders suggested no one in the LGBTQ community had come forward with information that might have led to an earlier arrest, but he later said it was not his intent to blame the community.
In April, the organizers behind the Toronto Pride Parade asked police to withdraw their application to take part in the annual event. For the second year in a row Sunday, uniformed Toronto police officers did not take part in the march.
In Monday’s statement, police board chair Andy Pringle said the review “is a necessary and vital step” to identify systemic issues and improve trust between the police and “Toronto’s vulnerable communities.”
Epstein was appointed to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in 1993 and to the Court of Appeal for Ontario in 2007. Her rulings include a landmark 1996 decision that found the definition of a spouse under Ontario law was unconstitutional because it discriminated against same-sex couples.
Epstein’s appointment comes after the police board approved the terms of reference and a $3-million budget request suggested by a working group last week.
The review is expected to start later this year and last through 2019.
Daniela Germano, The Canadian Press