Just over a month before accused serial killer Bruce McArthur was arrested, Toronto police secretly entered the 66-year-old landscaper’s Thorncliffe Park apartment and obtained files from his computer, the Star has learned.
According to a police source with knowledge of the investigation, the clandestine operation to clone McArthur’s hard drive came shortly after police were granted a general warrant by a provincial court judge on Dec. 4, 2017 that targeted the alleged killer’s 19th-floor corner apartment at 1915 Thorncliffe Park Dr.
A sealing order for that warrant is among nearly 100 court applications filed by police in their years-long investigation into the disappearances of men from Toronto’s Gay Village, a search that ultimately led them to McArthur.
New details about the ongoing investigation into McArthur have been released to the public following a recent decision by a judge to unseal some information contained in documents police filed in court during the probe.
The ruling comes after an application by the Star and other media to unseal “information to obtain (ITO)” documents — which are filed when investigators are asking for the court’s authorization to perform certain tasks, such as obtain a search warrant or track an individual.
The newly released information shows Toronto police filed at least 88 applications for judicial authorizations for search warrants. Their investigation, which began in 2012, ultimately led them to McArthur in the fall of 2017.
The documents reveal police targeted vehicles, telecommunications providers, airlines and Google, searched various addresses, and more. Early in the investigation, they used an undercover officer and a confidential informant.
McArthur is first named in the documents in a production order to Bell Canada on Sept. 8, 2017. Police have previously said McArthur was identified as a person of interest in the disappearance of Andrew Kinsman in September, 2017.
Two months later, police obtained a tracking warrant for an unknown subject. In asking the court for the details of the warrant to be sealed from the public, police said the investigation into the disappearance of “Kinsman and the other four males from the (Gay) Village has generated media and community interest.”
“The disclosure of the facts involved in this inquiry up to this point would jeopardize the conduct of this investigation … through the public disclosure of the investigation into Bruce McArthur,” wrote Det.-Const. Joel Manherz.
The documents then show that police obtained the general warrant for McArthur’s address on Dec. 4, 2017. A general warrant gives police the right to use any device, investigative technique or procedure, to search and seize a person’s property, among other things.
The reasons police provided when seeking the warrants or production orders have not been made public.
The court documents also provide insight into past efforts police made to probe the disappearances of men McArthur is now accused of killing.
Starting in Dec. 2012, Toronto police began investigating Peterborough man James Alex Brunton, after receiving a tip that potentially linked him to the disappearance of Skandaraj Navaratnam — the first of McArthur’s alleged victims to go missing from Toronto’s Gay Village.
The tip suggested that Navaratnam’s death was linked to an online cannibalism ring, and the investigation led them to Brunton, the documents show. Police obtained warrants to search Brunton’s Peterborough home, to track a vehicle registered to his address, and got permission to intercept communications within the home. They also show a confidential informant and an undercover officer were involved in the investigation.
But six months in, Brunton was cleared in Navaratnam’s death, though he was arrested in May 2013 and later convicted on child pornography charges.
Toronto police Det.-Sgt. Hank Idsinga, the lead homicide detective on the McArthur case, has previously acknowledged that police investigated the possibility that Navaratnam’s death was connected to a cannibalism ring, but that theory was later disproven.
Earlier this year, the Star and other media outlets brought forward an application to obtain the ITOs, the majority of which were sealed by the courts and not public documents. On Friday, Ontario Court Justice Cathy Mocha released some basic information about the orders, including the dates, locations and types of orders made.
“The presumption is that the public should have access,” Mocha said, referring to the so-called open court principle, which deems that the workings of the court should be public, barring special circumstances including legitimate concerns about an accused person’s fair trial rights.
McArthur’s lawyers fought the media’s application, saying the release of even basic information about police ITOs in connection to McArthur and the missing men could be detrimental to their client. Among the concerns raised by lawyer James Miglin was that releasing information about the ITOs could allow the media to reconstruct the investigation, including when the police focus shifted to McArthur.
Mocha found there was no “real or substantial” risk to McArthur’s fair trial rights, noting that his lawyer’s concerns were “for the most part conjecture.”
The released information shows the many of the ITOs connected to the case are “production orders,” which direct a person or an organization to provide documents and records to police.
Among the organizations from which police, over the course of the years-long investigation, requested documents or information are: Canadian Tire, Porter Airlines, Rogers, Air Canada, Yahoo! Canada, Google, Pink Triangle Press, Bell Canada, the Ministry of Transportation and banks.
The locations investigators searched include Toronto police properties. Days after McArthur’s Jan. 18 arrest, police obtained search warrants for the intelligence building of the Toronto police, Forensic Identification Services on Jane St., 51 division police station on Parliament St. and 33 division on Upjohn Rd.
It is not unusual for police to conduct a search warrant on their own premises if evidence they have already collected needs to gathered quickly, Idsinga told the Star on Monday.
Last month, police forensic investigators completed a four-month search of McArthur’s two-bedroom apartment in Thorncliffe Park. The intensive search resulted in the seizure of 1,800 exhibits and the taking of more than 18,000 photographs. The search began a day after police raided McArthur’s 19th-floor apartment at 95 Thorncliffe Park Dr. on Jan. 18 and arrested the 66-year-old self-employed landscaper.
At that time, McArthur was charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of two men who went missing in 2017, Andrew Kinsman, 49, and Selim Esen, 44. As the police investigation progressed over the following months, McArthur was charged with the murders of six more men: Majeed Kayhan, 59, Soroush Mahmudi, 50, Dean Lisowick, 47, Skandaraj (Skanda) Navaratnam, 40, Abdulbasir Faizi, 42, and Kirushnakumar Kanagaratnam, 37.
Kayhan, Navaratnam, and Faizi were previously the subjects of a special police probe, dubbed “Project Houston,” looking into the disappearances of the three men from Toronto’s Gay Village between 2010 and 2012. That investigation ended in 2014.
As previously reported by the Star and other media, McArthur was later questioned by police in 2016 regarding an allegation that he was physically abusive to someone, but was let go. Homicide detectives who are now probing McArthur did not know about the 2016 questioning until after McArthur’s arrest in January, according to sources familiar with the incident.
In March, Idsinga confirmed he initiated a complaint into “concerning” behaviour of officers who “potentially did not do what they were supposed to have done,” but has not provided any detail. That internal investigation is ongoing, and the search of police properties immediately after McArthur’s arrest — revealed in the newly released documents — is not connected to that probe.
With Star files