Police investigated Bruce McArthur for months before telling public there was no evidence of serial killer

When Toronto police told the public in December that there was no evidence of a serial killer operating in Toronto’s Gay Village, the force had actually for months been investigating Bruce McArthur, who has since been charged with eight counts of first-degree murder.

Investigators named McArthur, 66, a self-employed landscaper, in their requests to seal warrants starting with a production order for Bell Canada on Sept. 8, 2017.

Many more orders would follow, including a general warrant to search McArthur’s apartment three days before Toronto police held a December news conference, attended by Chief Mark Saunders, where they assured the public there was no evidence of a serial killer.

The CBC along with the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail and CTV, have been fighting in court to unseal all of the warrants obtained by police in both Project Houston and Project Prism, which were set up to investigate the disappearances of men from the Gay Village.

88 warrants in last 6 years

On Friday, Judge Cathy Mocha unsealed parts of 88 warrants issued in both investigations between December 2012 and March 2018.

More warrants have been obtained since, but information on them remains sealed.

In Project Prism — which started as an investigation into the 2017 disappearances of Andrew Kinsman, and Selim Esen — police have obtained 24 production orders, eight tracking warrants, 10 search warrants and one general warrant since August of last year.

McArthur has been charged in their deaths as well as the deaths of Skandaraj Navaratnam, Abdulbasir Faizi, Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, Dean Lisowick, Soroush Mahmudi, and Majeed Kayhan.

McArthur has been held in custody since he was arrested on Jan. 18.

CBC News previously reported that McArthur sold an old, rusty, maroon-coloured Dodge Caravan to an auto parts shop outside Toronto on Sept. 16, 2017, according to the shop owner.

A month later police came looking for the vehicle.

Now unsealed warrant information shows that investigators obtained their first tracking warrant two days before McArthur sold his van. The order was “for vehicles” and remained valid for 60 days.

Police get warrants to track calls

In early November, police obtained more tracking warrants.

On Nov. 2, investigators got an order allowing them to track calls, but not the content of those calls through a transmission data recorder warrant. The order also included a tracking warrant for an individual and for “a thing,” which includes a vehicle.

It’s unclear whether the order related specifically to tracking McArthur, as personal identifiers remain sealed.

CBC News only has access to the dates warrants were issued and covered, the type of warrant, and in the case of search warrants, most of the addresses searched. The police’s reasons for requesting the orders be sealed have also been released.

If the order was for McArthur, it appears investigators might have been tracking others during the investigation as well, because a similar tracking warrant was issued on Nov. 6.

Here are the reasons investigators submitted to the court to get a sealing order on all of the warrants obtained between September and the November tracking warrants.

“Project Prism is an ongoing investigation that has generated media and community interest and they will be seeking to understand the steps being taken by police.

“However, I believe that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the disclosure of the facts involved in this inquiry, up to this point, would jeopardize the conduct of this investigation to which this court order relates through the public disclosure of the investigation into Bruce McArthur. To prevent compromising the nature and extent of an ongoing investigation, I am requesting that this application be sealed.”

McArthur is accused of killing these eight men. Top row, from left to right: Skandaraj Navaratnam, 40, Andrew Kinsman, 49, Selim Esen, 44, and Abdulbasir Faizi, 44. Bottom row, from left to right: Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, 37, Dean Lisowick, 47, Soroush Mahmudi, 50, and Majeed Kayhan, 58. (CBC/Toronto Police Service)

Between November and McArthur’s arrest in mid-January most of the orders issued are tracking warrants, besides a general warrant issued for McArthur’s apartment on Dec. 5.

That order also applied to two other addresses, which are still under seal for investigative reasons.

General warrants give police the power to “use any device or investigative technique, or procedure” to do any thing described in the warrant that would normally be considered an unreasonable search and seizure without a warrant. 

Most of the orders since McArthur’s arrest are search warrants, including for the alleged serial killer’s apartment and a home on Mallory Crescent where he stored equipment. Police have said they found the remains of several men in planters at the Mallory Crescent property.

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