Serial killer who stalked and terrorised Toronto's gay village sentenced to life

TORONTO (WASHINGTON POST) – For years, members of Toronto’s gay community warned that there was a serial killer on the loose, that vulnerable men were going missing, that the streets were not safe. They were right.

On Friday (Feb 8), Bruce McArthur, a 67-year-old landscaper and former mall Santa, was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years on eight counts of first-degree murder, ending a trial that shocked a city – and a country – that likes to see itself as inclusive and safe.

McArthur was accused of killing and dismembering eight men between 2010 and 2017, hiding seven of the corpses in planters and the eighth in a ravine.

He pleaded guilty last month.

At a sentencing hearing that ended on Tuesday, Canadians heard how he lured and murdered men he met in Toronto’s Gay Village, then posed corpses in costumes, keeping pictures of each victim in labelled digital folders.

They learned McArthur was stopped when police raided his home, finding a man tied to a bed. He was a potential ninth victim, the court heard, and McArthur had a folder waiting.

In a city that prides itself on being gay-friendly and welcoming to new Canadians, McArthur sought out men marginalised by their sexuality, ethnicity, immigration status or poverty. Most of his victims were refugees or immigrants. Several struggled with substance abuse. Some had not revealed they were gay.

The details of the case are so brutal, the crimes so depraved, that the headlines at times obscured the fact that eight men – Skandaraj Navaratnam, Majeed Kayhan, Abdulbasir Faizi, Soroush Mahmudi, Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, Dean Lisowick, Selim Esen and Andrew Kinsman – had been killed.

Now, with the trial over, advocates want to put the focus back on why so many died before police cracked the case. Some have argued that the police response was slowed by homophobia and racism – that the force might have acted more quickly if different men had disappeared.

Asked about allegations of bias, Meaghan Gray, a spokeswoman for the Toronto police, said the force launched two investigations, Project Houston and Project Prism, “to do everything possible to locate the missing men”.

“We will continue to do what we can to support the community and look for opportunities to improve our relationship,” she said in an e-mail.

Haran Vijayanathan, executive director of the South Asian Alliance for Aids Prevention and a longtime advocate for the victims and their families, praised the team of detectives that caught McArthur, but expressed anger that it seemed to take the murder of a white man, Kinsman, to spur action.

“This is a real wake-up call for Canada,” Vijayanathan said.

Toronto’s Gay Village is a couple blocks of shops, restaurants and bars in the heart of the city. It was there, in the early 1980s, that police raids on bathhouses spurred Canada’s gay rights movement.

McArthur was a regular in the area. Kyle Rae, Toronto’s first openly gay city councillor, recalled seeing him around.

“I remember seeing Bruce McArthur sitting outside Starbucks. He was a fixture,” he said.

The first victim to go missing was Navaratnam, a refugee who fled Sri Lanka and settled in Toronto. He was last seen leaving a village bar in September 2010.

In December of the same year, Faizi, originally from Afghanistan, vanished. By 2012, Kayhan, also an immigrant from Afghanistan, was gone, too.

The disappearances of the three men sparked an investigation called Project Houston, for which officers interviewed McArthur. Eventually, the effort was disbanded. The killing resumed.

In 2016, McArthur was interviewed for a second time after a man claimed McArthur had tried to choke him. Detectives did not press charges. The officer who handled that case, Sergeant Paul Gauthier, now faces professional misconduct charges.

The break in the case came in June 2017, when Kinsman, a white, Canadian-born activist with deep ties to the community, went missing. By July, Project Prism was launched to look into his disappearance and another recent case.

Many in the community say they were convinced a serial killer was on the loose, an idea the police dismissed about a month before McArthur was caught.

“We follow the evidence, and the evidence is telling us that that’s not the case right now,” Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders told reporters in December 2017. “The evidence today tells us that there is not a serial killer.”

Rae, the former city councillor, said the resistance to believing there could be a serial killer reflected the city’s need to believe it was safe.

“This is part of the culture of Toronto and Canada. We are ‘Toronto the good.’ That can’t happen here. But this type of murder can happen here,” he said.

In January 2018, police arrested McArthur on two counts of murder. After months of sifting through remains buried at a property where he once worked, police charged him with eight counts of murder.

At the time of his plea, one of the detectives who helped gather evidence of McArthur’s crimes said he hoped it would provide closure for the families.

“People wanted answers,” Detective David Dickinson told reporters. “I’m hoping we brought some of those answers to them.”

The city, though, is not done asking questions. A recent editorial in the Toronto Star expressed hope that an independent review of the investigations could shed light on whether systemic bias played a role in how the disappearances were handled.

“Why did the police seemingly not take the concerns of the LGBTQ community more seriously?” the paper asked.

“Would police have taken more and swifter action if McArthur’s victims had not been gay or people of colour, homeless or addicted to drugs?” the editorial read.

“Answers to those questions are what the broader community still needs for any real closure in this case.”

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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos accuses magazine of ‘blackmail’ over ‘naked selfies’ story

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has published an astonishing personal blog detailing what he claims is extortion and blackmail on behalf of National Enquirer tabloid magazine.

The billionaire, 55, took the unprecedented step of posting the allegations the US tabloid magazine said they were prepared to publish about him if his newspaper, the Washington Post, did not stop investigating them.

The National Enquirer broke the story about Bezos’ relationship with Lauren Sanchez which, the tabloid claimed, was conducted behind his wife’s back.

The Amazon tycoon – the richest man in the world with a fortune of nearly $140billion – is currently splitting from wife MacKenzie in the largest divorce ever.

In his post on medium.com, Bezos says he was allegedly threatened with the publication of nude photos of him and suggestive photos of Sanchez unless he publicly made a statement saying the magazine’s parent company American Media (AMI) was never “politically motivated or influenced by political forces”.

The magazine publisher is at the centre of a continuing controversy involving Donald Trump over the practice of “catch and kill,” in which stories were allegedly bought by the National Enquirer but never published to avoid embarrassing the President.

Bezos published the emails his lawyers had received from AMI after they wrote to them wanting to broker a deal.

They allegedly approached Bezos after learning he had been conducting a private investigation into how it obtained his text messages between him and Sanchez.

They tried to persuade him into shutting down the investigation because of the likelihood it may lead to more damning revelations about AMI’s “catch and kill” tactics and its political ties to Trump and other world leaders.

The photos in question include a “full-length body selfie of Bezos wearing just a pair of tight black boxer-briefs or trunks,” and a “naked selfie in a bathroom,” among others, according to a threatening email sent to the man Bezos hired to run the private investigation penned Dylan Howard, the chief content officer of AMI on February 4.

In a letter sent to Bezos’ lawyers, Jon P Fine – AMI’s deputy general counsel – accused the Amazon tycoon of "continuing defamatory activities".

He said the Enquirer’s activities  were "consistent with applicable laws" and wrote: "American Media emphatically rejects any assertion that its reporting was instigated, dictated or influenced in any manner by external forces, political or otherwise.

"Simply put, this was and is a news story."

Mr Fine said the Washington Post’s reporters "continue to pursue and to disseminate these false and spurious allegations in a manner that is injurious to American Media and its executives".

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Oldest restaurant in Toronto still going strong after 90 years

Located on Victoria Street, The Senator is the oldest restaurant in Toronto.

“I’ve always said that anybody could open a restaurant for a day, but the real art of operating and owning a restaurant is being able to get up the next day and the next day,” said Bobby Sniderman, owner of The Senator restaurant.

Since purchasing the restaurant in 1984, Sniderman has been getting up consistently.

“The restaurant itself is 90 years old, but the building dates back to 1860,” he said . “So this is one of the oldest hospitality operations in all of Canada.”

Longtime customer Dr. Keith Meloff said very little has changed in the 31 years he’s been a patron of the diner.

“It’s more or less the same as its always been over three decades,” Meloff said.

And that, is purposeful on Sniderman’s part.

“[The place] is almost identical except for the espresso machine,” he said. “The original building was a home and the home was renovated by a man called Bob Angeloff, and he named it ‘The Busy Bee Diner’.

“It stayed until 1948, and it was purchased by George Nicolau, and George renamed it ‘The Senator.’”

Whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, this dining landmark serves more than 2,000 homemade meals each week. When asked what the most popular item on the menu is at the moment, Sniderman said the answer is irrefutable, thanks to a certain “Rocket Man.”

“That’s indisputable right now because Elton John was here a few months ago and he tweeted out to his 1.5 million followers that The Senator has the best burgers in the world,” Sniderman said.

“I fell in love with this restaurant, I fell in love with the family who restored it, and it will continue to be a part of my family forever,” he said.

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U.S. lawmakers introduce bipartisan bill on cockpit safety

(Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers are pushing for stronger aviation security with a bipartisan bill that would require passenger airlines to install secondary security doors between cabins and the cockpit on current aircraft to prevent another Sept. 11-style attack.

Hijackings remain a threat despite improvements in global aviation safety since Sept. 11, 2001, when hijacked planes flew into New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon, four U.S. representatives – Democrats Andre Carson and Josh Gottheimer and Republicans Brian Fitzpatrick and Peter King – said in a news release.

Congress last year imposed a requirement for secondary barriers, aimed at preventing would-be hijackers from rushing the cockpit when pilots take bathroom breaks or meals, for future, newly manufactured commercial airplanes. But that legislation did not address existing aircraft.

The new bill, introduced last week, would extend the requirement to all passenger jets.

Secondary barriers would allow a pilot to close the cockpit door before opening another door to the rest of the plane. Current measures to protect the flight deck include stationing a flight attendant or food cart in front of the cockpit.

A study by the Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees aviation security, concluded that cockpits are vulnerable when pilots step out and cited secondary doors as the most efficient, cost-effective form of protection, according to the news release issued on Wednesday.

The lightweight, wire-mesh barriers would cost $5,000 to $12,000 per aircraft, the lawmakers said.

Airlines for America – an industry trade group representing large commercial carriers like American Airlines Group Inc, Southwest Airlines Co and United – said individual airlines should be the ones to decide whether to install such systems.

Association spokesman Vaughn Jennings said the airline industry has worked closely with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to implement a multilayered security system following 9/11 and noted that some U.S. airlines have determined that secondary cockpit barriers are appropriate on some aircraft.

The pilots union, The Air Line Pilots Association, did not immediately comment on the new bill.

Following the 9/11 attacks, airlines reinforced cockpit doors and the TSA rolled out advanced airport screening equipment.

The TSA also oversees the Federal Air Marshal Service, which deploys armed U.S. air marshals on flights across the world.

But critics have questioned the effectiveness of passenger screening and the air marshal program.

The new bill for secondary barriers is called the Saracini Enhanced Aviation Safety Act after pilot Victor Saracini, who was killed when his plane was hijacked during the 9/11 attacks. His widow, Ellen, has been an advocate of legislation for aviation safety.

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Kingston residents upset at new building proposal in their neighbourhood

A number of people are speaking out about a proposed new construction project in the University District. The owner of a property at 218 Albert Street has applied for a permit, asking to demolish a single-family home — and replace it with much larger housing, likely geared towards students.

“It’s just too much for the neighbourhood,” said Ken Ohtake, a resident of the area.

The main concern for several residents is the number of people the development, just steps away from the Queen’s University campus, could bring. According to the city document, the owners have asked to build a three-storey home, housing three separate units, which is taller than most houses in the region.

“It will clearly stick out like a sore thumb and it will also be a precedent for the rest of the block, for the same thing to happen,” said Ohtake, who has lived on the street for several years.

This wouldn’t be the first near-campus house to be rezoned to accommodate student housing, and likely not the last. Multiple properties in the surrounding region have also been rezoned to accommodate additional density in the student-heavy area. Jason Sands, senior planner with the City of Kingston, says it’s a common request to have applications of this nature.

“There have been similar examples of increased intensification of units on properties,” said Sands.

But it seems the neighbours in the region have drawn a line in the sand with this application. A public meeting is being held on Thursday for the planning department to gauge the interest in this change — an important step for the process according to Sands.

“Staff are very interested to see what public comment arrives through that forum as well as our own technical review through that file.”

Concept drawings presented to the city illustrate 12 bedrooms in the new build, but Ohtake fears some of the studies and storage rooms could be converted into sleeping quarters over time.

“I’m guessing probably as much as 20-21 people on this property,” says Ohtake.

Sands, however, says the application process will allow them to enforce guidelines that will prevent such a measure from happening.

“There are regulations that would be then instilled, which would then form applicable law that must be adhered to city specification.”

It could be six months before the planning committee is ready to present their findings. Once completed, they will make recommendations to city council.

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'Good genes' Trump undergoes annual medical exam

WASHINGTON (AFP) – President Donald Trump, who delights in confounding health experts with his junk food cravings and disinclination to exercise, will undergo an annual medical checkup on Friday (Feb 8).

The Marine One helicopter will take him to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre in the Washington suburb of Bethesda for a full four hours of prodding, poking and testing, the White House said.

It was not clear how many of the results would be made public or when, but last year everything from the president’s cholesterol levels (high) to weight (too high at 108kg) was released.

Trump’s then-chief physician, Ronny Jackson, also held a press conference in which he declared Trump to be in “excellent health.”

Jackson, a navy rear admiral, has since run into trouble over alleged ethical misconduct and a different team will assess 72-year-old Trump.

On the plus side, Trump does not smoke and is a noted teetotaler. He says he has never even had a beer.

Less good: the former real estate tycoon and reality TV performer unashamedly embraces the couch potato life.

Not for Trump the basketball sessions that Barack Obama sweated through in the White House, or the bike rides of George W. Bush.

Trump loves the more sedate game of golf, but rides a cart between holes and has said that anything more strenuous is actually bad for your health.

“All my friends who work out all the time, they’re going for knee replacements, hip replacements – they’re a disaster,” Trump told The New York Times in 2015.

Trump has described his chief exercise as walking around the White House compound and standing up at public events.

The 45th president’s diet, reportedly involving legendary amounts of Coke and red meat, also seems to defy most doctors’ orders.

In January, Trump hosted the strapping athletes of America’s champion college football team, the Clemson Tigers, with a mountain of hamburgers and pizzas.

According to Jackson last year, Trump’s secret is genes.

“Incredibly good genes,” he said.

“It’s just the way God made him.”

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Trudeau says report his office pressed former justice minister to drop SNC-Lavalin prosecution ‘false’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says a report by the Globe and Mail that his office tried to get the former justice minister to prevent a trial of SNC-Lavalin is “false.”

But he refused to give clear answers when pressed by reporters on whether he or his office tried to “influence” the prosecution of the case more broadly.

“The allegations in the Globe story this morning are false,” Trudeau told reporters when asked about the allegations.

“Neither the current nor the previous attorney general was ever directed by me nor anyone in my office to take a decision in this matter.”

Reporters noted that the questions raised in the article are not only about “directing” action.

“Not necessarily direct, prime minister. Was there any sort of influence whatsoever,” one reporter asked.

Trudeau responded by saying again that “at no time did we direct the attorney general, current or previous, to take any decision whatsoever in this matter.”

According to the report by The Globe and Mail, published Thursday morning, Trudeau’s office asked former justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene and ask federal prosecutors to cut a deal to help the Montreal engineering firm avoid an expensive trial over the corruption and fraud charges it faces over alleged bribes paid to Libyan officials between 2001 and 2011.

SNC Lavalin reportedly lobbied federal officials to let it admit wrongdoing and pay a fine instead under a process known as a “deferred prosecution agreement” or “remediation agreement.”

Listings on the website of the federal lobbying commissioner show multiple reports of lobbying filed by Neil Bruce, president and CEO of SNC-Lavalin, over recent months of senior advisors in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Those listings report the lobbying as on “justice and law enforcement” but do not mention specifics.

Because of that, it is not yet possible to verify the report from the Globe and Mail that those communications may have been about any potential deferred prosecution agreement.

Federal prosecutors, the report states, refused to negotiate and as a result, the Prime Minister’s Office put pressure on Wilson-Raybould to intervene and persuade them to change their minds on cutting a deal.

Wilson-Raybould, the Globe’s sources suggested, believed doing so would constitute political interference and did not want to get involved.

She was booted from the high-profile portfolio last month and is now Minister of Veterans Affairs.

In an unusual public letter issued after she was shuffled, Wilson-Raybould stressed the need for the justice system to remain free of the perception of interference but did not comment on the specifics of why she wanted to make that point.

“It is a pillar of our democracy that our system of justice be free from even the perception of political interference and uphold the highest levels of public confidence,” she said in the letter.

“As such, it has always been my view that the attorney-general of Canada must be non-partisan, more transparent in the principles that are the basis of decisions, and, in this respect, always willing to speak truth to power. This is how I served throughout my tenure in that role.”

Wilson-Raybould did not deny the allegations in the Globe report but was quoted as saying she could not comment on the matter.

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Saudi allocates $3.1 billion to help companies with 2017-18 expat fee hikes

RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has approved a scheme to reimburse some of the companies who struggled to pay steadily increasing fees for expatriate work permits in 2017 and 2018 and waive the fee hikes for some who weren’t able to pay, the labor minister said.

The government is allocating 11.5 billion riyals ($3.1 billion) for reimbursements under the decision, according to the royal decree, a classified copy of which was obtained by Reuters.

“This initiative will support private sector companies, help them overcome the obstacles and achieve their goals and encourage them to expand employment of Saudi citizens,” Labour Minister Ahmed bin Suleiman al-Rajhi tweeted on Friday.

Only companies that had a higher or equal number of Saudi employees versus expats will be eligible for the reimbursement or waiver of fees, according to the decree. Companies with a lower number of Saudis compared to expats will benefit from the initiative only after they hire more locals, it said.

In its fiscal balance program announced in 2016 and implemented in 2017, Saudi Arabia said it would gradually increase the fees for hiring expatriates and obtaining visas for their dependents to encourage companies to hire more locals.

It also changed the system of payment from an annual work permit renewal to a one-time lump sum payment at the beginning of the year accounting for each foreign worker employed by the company – a so-called collective invoice.

The annual fee hikes, rising gradually to 2020, were seen as crucial to Riyadh’s plan to create more jobs and cut a 12.8 percent unemployment rate.

But private sector companies and businessmen lobbied vigorously against the collective invoice as crippling for labor-intensive sectors like the construction industry and for small- and medium-sized enterprises.

“The decision will have a huge positive impact on the Saudi economy and especially the manpower intensive construction sector, which was the worst hit by the collective invoice,” Osama al-Afaliq, head of the Saudi Contractors Association, told Reuters.

Some 10 million foreigners are working in Saudi Arabia, most of them doing strenuous, dangerous and lower-paid jobs largely shunned by the country’s 20 million citizens.

Getting hundreds of thousands of unemployed Saudis into the workforce is a major challenge for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who oversees economic policy for the world’s top oil exporter.

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Fed's Daly says slowing economy could help prevent recession

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Growing worries about the U.S. economic outlook late last year sent stock markets plunging and tightened financial conditions, but the expected economic slowdown this year is actually a good thing, San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank President Mary Daly said on Friday.

“The economy is now self-bridling itself, coming back down to a sustainable pace,” Daly told the Bay Area Council Economic Institute. “That will if anything help us prevent a recession.”

Daly did not comment directly on the Fed’s decision last month to put interest-rate policy on hold until the central bank has more clarity on the economic outlook. But her remarks suggest that she believes that economic growth is settling into a sustainable pace that needs neither higher interest rates to prevent it from overheating, nor lower interest rates to give it more juice.

Daly also said that while the partial U.S. government shutdown that ended last month will have mostly only a transitory impact on economic growth, she is concerned that another shutdown could have a more lasting negative impact on uncertainty, confidence and ultimately economic growth.

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Boy pulled alive from Istanbul collapse

Rescuers in the Turkish capital of Istanbul have pulled a teenage boy alive from a residential building almost two days after it collapsed.

An eight-storey apartment block collapsed in the city’s Kartal district on Wednesday afternoon.

Officials say the official death toll has risen to 14. Almost a dozen more people are still thought to be missing.

Rescuers have been searching through the night to find anyone still alive inside the complex’s wreckage.

The 16-year-old boy was found alive on Friday, reportedly after rescuers heard him call for help from inside the rubble.

The rescue comes one day after a five-year-old girl was saved from the collapse.

“So far 14 of our fellow citizens have been lost and another 14 people have been brought out of the rubble alive,” Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told a news conference on Friday.

Several buildings surrounding site of collapse were evacuated on Thursday for security reasons, as investigations into the collapse continued.

The city’s governor has said that three of the building’s top floors were built illegally. A textile workshop had also been in operation inside the building without a license.

The incident has led to renewed criticism within Turkey about poorly enforced building regulations.

Following the collapse, opposition newspapers have hit out at recent laws enacted by the Turkish government that granted official status to illegal construction, BBC Monitoring reports.

That law allowed citizens to apply to legalise unlicensed properties under a “Zoning Peace” regulation.

One headline, in the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper, said: “They pardoned, citizens died”.

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