CBC’s The Fifth Estate examines Bruce McArthur and some still “unsolved” killings that took place in Toronto’s gay community as far back as the 1970s.
If you think the Seventies were a “swinging” time, you probably got that (largely false) impression from the media. If you actually remember it being that way for you personally, you might just be straight…or exceptionally well-connected and lucky. The victims of these murders were not so privileged. Public sentiment at the time was extremely homophobic; gay men were often beaten up or pelted with rocks in the streets, and police did little to stop it. Cops could and did arrest you if they caught you in the act of being openly and consensually gay; it was the law. Even just holding hands while walking with a same-sex partner was grounds for arrest. Bathhouse raids were commonplace up into the 1980s, as the AIDS crisis, which grew in the shadows of the closet (and its flipside, the de rigueur promiscuity of the clubs), fueled the hatred and resentment that gays were feeling already. It’s a little better now, but a strong undercurrent of hate still remains, often openly tapped by the likes of Ontario provincial premiership candidate Doug Ford, a very right-wing former Toronto city council member. The recent provincial Tory leadership race, in fact, was rife with ill-disguised homophobia; at least two of the candidates jockeying for the post made no efforts to hide theirs. And yes, the Toronto police are still arresting queers for queering it up where they can be too easily seen, such as certain public parks — a frequent “cruising” area for the closeted.
Which brings us current. Many of McArthur’s known victims were closeted themselves — married to women and even fathering children by them, but frequenting gay establishments on the sly. So were some of the gay murder victims of the 1970s, who have not yet been linked to any known perpetrator. And serial killers tend to start their criminal careers quite young — often starting with “lesser” crimes such as sexual assaults and/or animal torture and killings in their teens through mid-twenties, then “graduating” to human serial killing by their early thirties. Bruce McArthur is in his late sixties now, and has been living in and around the Toronto area for the past four decades at least. So, if he followed the typical serial killer pattern, that means he could have begun killing as early as 40-some years ago…and that means that a lot of these old “cold” cases could suddenly grow very hot indeed.