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Open this photo in gallery: When he turned up missing, community activists took up the cause for Andrew Kinsman, including posting flyers in Toronto’s Gay Village. Other cases tied to suspect Bruce McArthur, however, went nowhere. If you were to type in the names of the seven men who have disappeared from Toronto’s Gay Village over the past eight years into the RCMP public database for Canada’s missing people, there would be only one hit: Skandaraj Navaratnam.

Mr. Navaratnam disappeared in September, 2010. Homicide detectives are now investigating if his disappearance is connected to Bruce McArthur, who has been charged with the deaths of five of the missing men.

Amid criticism from the city’s LGBTQ community that the men’s disappearances weren’t properly investigated, Toronto Police Service has defended its handling of the cases. But for years, the service failed to make use of the federal registry that was born out of failures into the investigations of both Vancouver serial killer Robert Pickton and the continuing issue of missing Indigenous women.

Toronto Police also haven’t created a central missing-persons unit, or dedicated any full-time staff just to missing-persons cases, despite overseeing thousands of cases. It’s a gap the service is considering filling, acknowledging it may have allowed police to identify a pattern of mysterious disappearances in the Village sooner.

"I think we definitely need a missing-persons co-ordinator," said Detective Sergeant Hank Idsinga, the homicide detective leading the investigation into Mr. McArthur. A single set of eyes watching all missing-persons cases "might have picked up on that pattern" when three men disappeared several years ago from the Village.

The RCMP created the public registry,, in 2013 as a tool to focus the attention of investigators, coroners and the public together onto outstanding missing-persons cases. The site now contains a searchable database of 1,200 cases, but it remains an opt-in system, leaving the decision on whether to publish a specific case to the lead investigator.

Toronto Police have listed just 18 open cases dating as far back as 1978 – including Navaratnam. That number does not account for missing-persons cases that may have been solved and removed from the site. The RCMP, meanwhile, have added more than 350 cases. Montreal police list nearly 100 cases and Vancouver has dozens.

The scope of the problem is wide. A 2012 study, conducted for the Pickton inquiry, found that more than 100,000 Canadians are reported missing annually, with nearly 5,000 of those remaining unsolved for more than a year. The study found that 270 of those cases involve long-term missing persons.

Det. Sgt. Idsinga said investigators trying to find the missing men years ago were operating on the best information they had at the time.

"Skanda [Navaratnam] was put on there because there was some evidence of foul play in 2013," he said.

While Toronto Police would not get into specifics about what that evidence was, the lead appears to have been ultimately fruitless. A friend of Mr. Navaratnam told The Globe and Mail that, as police investigated, they homed in on the idea that his past in Sri Lanka, which was locked in a bloody civil war when he left, played a role in his disappearance.

Two other men who went missing in the years after Mr. Navaratnam’s disappearance, Majeed Kayhan and Abdulbasir Faizi, were not added to that public database either. Asked why, Det. Sgt. Idsinga said that "Faizi and Kayhan were different situations." While he declined to comment on the specifics of either case, he said the prevailing theory at the time was that both men had simply taken off. "That’s exactly what the families thought," he said, and that they had […]

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