One year after a highly anticipated independent review into Toronto police’s handling of missing persons’ cases found “serious flaws” and “systemic discrimination” in the force’s investigation of numerous disappearances — including by the victims of serial killer Bruce McArthur — not one of the report’s 151 recommendations has been implemented.
That’s according to a report by Police Chief James Ramer presented at a Toronto Police Services Board meeting Monday. According to the report, just 60 of the recommendations are currently in progress, while work on the other 91 has not yet started.
The recommendations stem from an in-depth review titled “Missing and Missed” by former judge Gloria Epstein that was released in April 2021, which identified a lack of communication within the police service, as well as between the force and the board and with the community. It also found some police officers held stereotypes about the LGBTQ community and a lack of public trust.
In the aftermath, Ramer said police would implement Epstein’s recommendations “as quickly as possible.”
But a year on, the work has largely been preparatory, with the focus on working out timelines for each recommendation, as well as who — the force or the police board — will ultimately be accountable for implementing each one.
“Missing and Missed did not suggest that any recommendations needed to be implemented by the one-year anniversary,” Ramer’s report to the board indicates.
Epstein present but didn’t speak
Epstein attended Monday’s meeting. The chief and other members thanked her for her review, however the former judge did not speak.
Speaking to the board Monday, Ramer called the process of acting on the review “one unlike anything we have participated in before.”
Missing and Missed Implementation Team (MMIT) co-chair Haran Vijayanathan told the board that the COVID-19 pandemic and some community members’ hurdles in accessing technology have been among the reasons for delays. Consultations with the community form a large part of the implementation process, the board heard.
One of the initiatives that is in progress is a missing persons’ app, being piloted in 51 Division.
The app allows police officers to quickly and easily enter details about a missing person, and then have that entry available to every other officer on the road within minutes.
“This means that as soon as the officer inputs the data, which is less than 10 minutes after arriving on scene, the search can begin in earnest,” said MMIT community representative Desmond Ryan.
Mobile missing persons’ app pilot
Bulletins can also be sent to community agencies to assist with the search, such as the TTC, local BIAs, schools, shelters and other groups.
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Historically, Ryan said, missing persons searches have relied primarily on police and ad hoc community efforts, with the success of a search depending on a myriad of factors including experience of the police officers assigned, their availability, the willingness of community members to get involved and other variables.
“Rather than having one or two pairs of eyes looking, an entire community is now engaged,” Ryan said.
Among the 151 recommendations, seven required the board engage the provincial government where the scope of the recommendations went beyond the municipal level — for example on records management and communication between police forces.
Last Thursday, a letter was sent to Ontario’s solicitor general on behalf of the board to address all seven, meaning the status of those could soon change to “implemented.”
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