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Warning: Graphic content

Dressed in an orange shirt and green khaki shorts, a middle-aged man with thinning white hair slowly walked into an interview room inside a North York police station, then sat with his hands resting casually on his lap.

Across the table, pen and notepad in hand, Toronto police Det. Paul Gauthier introduced himself. He advised the man that the interview was being recorded and noted the time. It was 10:17 p.m. on June 20, 2016.

“OK, sir. And your name is?” Gauthier asked.

“Bruce McArthur,” the man calmly replied.

A never-before-seen video of convicted serial killer Bruce McArthur being questioned by a Toronto police detective in the middle of his years-long killing spree was ordered released by the Ontario Superior Court Monday, following a months-long challenge of a publication ban that was launched by the Star and other media outlets.

For the first time since McArthur’s murders were uncovered, the video provides a glimpse into the killer’s demeanour under questioning by police; no other video of McArthur being interrogated has ever been made public.

Convicted serial killer Bruce McArthur is interviewed by Toronto police Det. Paul Gauthier on June 20, 2016. McArthur was briefly arrested for assault after a man called police to report McArthur had attempted to strangle him but was released with no charges after the interview. McArthur went on to kill two more men. The 11-minute recorded interview was ordered to be released to the public by a panel of Ontario Superior Court judge on Monday, November 1 after a legal challenge brought forward by the Star, CBC, CTV and Postmedia.

The video depicts an 11-minute interview between McArthur and Gauthier, shortly after a man called 911 to report that McArthur had violently choked him during a sexual encounter inside McArthur’s van in a Tim Hortons parking lot. The incident would later be seen as a missed opportunity for Toronto police to stop a murderer, who by that point had killed six men and would go on to take two more lives.

But McArthur was only briefly under arrest before police let him go, explaining the incident was a misunderstanding after he’d misread the man’s sexual cues.

“I thought, OK, he likes it rough,” McArthur told Gauthier, appearing relaxed. “So I put my hand to his throat.”

It was “just for a few seconds,” though, McArthur said, because the man — “who was very strong” — then turned around and grabbed him by the throat “to the point that I couldn’t breathe.”

“So I put my hands in the air like, to surrender, because I couldn’t talk and that’s when he finally let go,” McArthur told police.

At the time, McArthur had already killed six men and would go on to murder two more: Selim Esen and Andrew Kinsman. Nineteen months after the interview, McArthur was arrested and eventually convicted of first-degree murder in the deaths of eight men with ties to the Gay Village between 2010 and 2017. He is serving a life sentence.

The video became public Monday by court order, after the Toronto Star, CBC, CTV and Postmedia challenged a sweeping publication ban placed on the video at a recent disciplinary hearing examining Gauthier’s handling of the incident. When members of the media challenged the ban, lawyers representing Toronto police and Gauthier opted instead to remove the video from evidence altogether.

The 2016 interview was the second time McArthur was interviewed by Toronto police amid his killing spree. He was questioned in November 2013 in connection to three missing men from the Gay Village — men who were his first victims — but McArthur was not a suspect at the time and was let go.

Gauthier has since been cleared of misconduct stemming from his handling of the 2016 McArthur complaint.

A panel of three Ontario Superior Court divisional court judges on Monday ruled that the publication ban should never have been imposed by the hearing officer — there was already one in place to protect the victim — and the removal of the video was “plainly wrong and cannot stand.” The judges ordered the video to be made public in its entirety, with the exception of the victim’s name.

“The fact that the video was introduced as an exhibit over which a publication ban was summarily imposed — and then withdrawn from the record when the publication ban was challenged — only reinforces the need for public scrutiny,” wrote Ontario Superior Court Justice Nancy Backhouse, in a decision co-signed by Justices Sandra Nishikawa and Ria Tzimas.

The video provides a complete account of what McArthur told police in the immediate aftermath of the June 2016 complaint, when a man reported that “Bruce,” a man he sometimes hooked up with, had suddenly started choking him inside his Grand Caravan, parked at Bathurst Street and Finch Avenue. The man told police he’d escaped by fighting him off and jumping out of the van, but McArthur sped away.

“All of a sudden, he grabbed me by the throat and he tried to strangle with all his strength,” the man told a 911 dispatcher, breathing heavily.

Hours later, McArthur drove himself to a police station, where he was arrested for assault and told police he’d like to make a statement. He was then questioned by Gauthier, a trained domestic violence detective, and Const. Lacey Dunning, the officer who had taken a written statement from the victim at the scene.

After the three of them entered the interview room together, Gauthier began by advising McArthur that he was under arrest for assault and had a right to speak to a lawyer. Asked if he’d like to do so, McArthur replied: “Nah, it’s fine.”

“You’re allowed to cease communicating with us at any time, but we’re certainly giving you an opportunity to present your side of the story,” Gauthier said.

Speaking calmly, McArthur told police his version of events. The account initially aligns with that of the victim, who previously told the Star in a 2019 interview that McArthur, an acquaintance he’d met online, had shown up at his house at dinnertime looking to hook up. The men had decided to meet nearby, at a parking lot near Tim Hortons at Bathurst and Finch.

McArthur told police that once he arrived, the man wanted to have sex inside his new truck, but they instead opted for McArthur’s van because there was more room in the back of the van. The two began making out, McArthur said, at which point the man asked him to pinch his penis as hard as he could.

“So I did, and he got aroused by that. So then I thought ‘OK, he likes it rough,’ so I put my hand to his throat,” McArthur said.

That was when McArthur claimed the man quickly fought back — saying, “Now I’m going to show you what I’m going to do to you,” McArthur said — and began strangling McArthur. After he raised his hands to surrender, McArthur claimed the man let go and said “I don’t want to see you again.”

McArthur claimed he sat in his car, then the man got out and said he was going to call the police and took his licence plate number down.

“I thought, oh gosh, he’s calling the cops,” McArthur said. “That’s when I got kind of uptight and I got in the car and drove off.”

“The more I thought about it, I thought, well I should go give my side of it,” McArthur told police.

Gauthier later asked if McArthur went to police on his own free will, and McArthur said he did — “no one called me.”

McArthur said he’d only known the victim for a few years, that they’d met online and got together every few months.

“Has anything like this ever happened before where things got out of hand?” Gauthier asked.

“No, not that quickly. Or not, no, just like that ...” McArthur said.

“K, things have never gotten violent?” Gauthier asked.

“No,” McArthur replied.

Gauthier proceeded to question McArthur for a few more minutes, asking him specifics about where the incident happened and whether anyone could see what had happened in the van. McArthur said no — they were lying flat on the floor of the van.

“What was your reason for bringing your hands up to his neck? What was your understanding?” Gauthier asked.

“I thought he liked it rough. He was getting off on it,” McArthur said.

McArthur then told police he wasn’t injured and didn’t believe the man would be, either.

Bruce McArthur's victims (from left to right (top): Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, Majeed Kayhan, Skandaraj Navaratnam and Abdulbasir Faizi. From left to right (bottom): Selim Esen, Soroush Mahmudi, Dean Lisowick and Andrew Kinsman.

The video interview was completed at 10:28 p.m., after 11 minutes. Following the interview, McArthur was released with no charges.

In his interview with the Star, the victim said he believed McArthur was going to kill him that night.

“The look of anger and determination, like he was looking at a piece of garbage, like he was going to try to kill an animal … he had that look. I remember looking up in his eyes for a couple of seconds and I thought, ‘This guy isn’t joking around.’”

Gauthier went on to be charged with professional misconduct under Ontario’s Police Services Act for his handling of the incident, but in August he was found not guilty on all counts, after the hearing officer found he had not broken any police policies.

The media’s challenge grew out of that professional misconduct hearing, held earlier this year. On May 17, the first day of the high-profile proceeding, the video of Gauthier interviewing McArthur was entered into evidence as an exhibit, meaning it would be played during the hearing. However, a publication ban was placed on the video, prohibiting journalists from rebroadcasting the video or reporting on its contents.

When representatives from the media challenged the ban, lawyers representing Toronto police and Gauthier agreed to withdraw the video from evidence altogether. The removal of the video came minutes before representatives from the media were set to make formal arguments against the publication ban, which had been placed on the entirety of the video to protect the privacy of the victim — even though a publication ban was already in place over the victim’s identity.

The media consortium, represented by lawyer Ryder Gilliland, later filed a legal challenge of the video’s removal. During arguments last month, lawyers for Gauthier and the Toronto police said the video had not technically been put on the record and that the publication ban put in place was conditional on the video being entered as an exhibit.

Last month, Ontario Superior Court judges Backhouse, Nishikawa and Tzimas ruled that the video was indeed made an exhibit — and noted in a judgment written by Backhouse that “courts and tribunals are not in the business of making publication bans on hypothetical evidence.”

The panel found that the tribunal hearing officer, retired Peel Regional Police superintendent Dave Andrews, granted a publication ban without applying the legally required tests needed to justify the ban, then incorrectly allowed the video to simply be removed from the record. Both are “errors in principle, plainly wrong and cannot stand,” Backhouse wrote.

In an emailed comment to the Star, Gilliland said the “unfortunate fact” is that the court’s openness principles were “not given proper consideration in this police discipline hearing.”

“A publication ban was imposed over an exhibit on the mere asking and then, when the ban was challenged, the exhibit was withdrawn. This is a shocking affront to openness principles, and as the Divisional Court found, plainly wrong,” Gilliland wrote.

Emma Carver, the Toronto Star’s lawyer, said openness and transparency were especially important in the McArthur case, “which shattered the LGBTQ2+ community’s trust in our institutions,” she said.

“When actions are taken that unjustifiably interfere with the public’s right to know, the courts are not going to tolerate it. It’s a heartening decision that recognizes the important role the media plays in holding institutions to account,” Carver added.

Earlier this year, an independent review of the police handling of the McArthur case found that Toronto police missed important opportunities to identify McArthur as a killer, due to investigative failure, including tunnel vision and stereotyping. But the review stopped short of concluding the killer could have been stopped earlier, noting he “was a true psychopath.”

Led by Ontario Court of Appeal judge Gloria Epstein, the review examined Gauthier’s investigation and called his decision to release McArthur, at best, “premature.” It was “well arguable” that the evidence did not support letting McArthur go because there was nothing to suggest the victim had consented to being choked, Epstein wrote, questioning why Gauthier hadn’t tried to speak to the victim himself.

McArthur admitted to killing: Andrew Kinsman, 49; Selim Esen, 44; Majeed Kayhan, 58; Soroush Mahmudi, 50; Dean Lisowick, 47; Skandaraj (Skanda) Navaratnam, 40, Abdulbasir Faizi, 42, and Kirushnakumar Kanagaratnam, 37. Many of the victims had ties to the Gay Village and were of South Asian or Middle Eastern descent.

Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing for the Star. Reach her by email at wgillis@thestar.ca or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis
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