Since about the 1980’s, the area of Church Street and Wellesley Street East, located in Downtown Toronto, has been home to a mainly LGTB+ community, known as the “Gay Village.” Although Toronto is known for being more tolerant and welcoming than some other cities, the Village still acts as a safe haven for the LGBT+ community; a place where they can be themselves without having to fear persecution or discrimination.
But, this community has been on edge lately because of a string of missing persons cases as well a number of people from the Village being murdered. Selim Esen, 44, went missing back in April 2017 near Church and Wellesley. Esen was described by a close friend as a “kind and helpful person.” Later, another man went missing just a couple blocks away from the Village. Andrew Kinsman, 49, has been missing since June, and his family and friends have been pleading to the public to help them find him. As a response to these disappearances, the Toronto Police launched a task force called Project Prism to investigate the cases. However, after months of investigating, the only link the police have offered is that both men were active on dating apps. These two men are still missing and the police have yet to find, or at least release, any new leads.
Tess Richey, 22, was reported missing on November 25, 2017 and her body was found four days later right near the spot where she went missing. Richey went missing early in the morning after a night out with friends. Although, the police initially ruled out homicide, an autopsy revealed her cause of death to be neck compression.
What is interesting is that it was Richey’s mother that found her body after travelling to that area to look for her daughter. If the police knew where she went missing, and if her body was left right near that spot, how did the police not find it?
Alloura Wells, a transgender woman, went missing in July, and her body was found in August but it was not identified until just last week as she was not reported missing until early November. In fact, Wells’ family stated that when they first reported her missing, they were told she was not high priority due to her homelessness. She was not the first person from that area to go missing, so why on earth would the police not consider her case high priority? Homeless people deserve justice as much as anybody else.
Residents of the Village have expressed fears that there is a serial killer on the loose. They believe that these cases are also connected to the missing cases from a few years back where three men – Abdulbasir Faizi, Majeed Kayhan and Skandaraj Navaratnam – went missing from the same area. “Project Houston” was created to investigate but the cases went cold. But, the police have stated that there is no serial killer. However, it is much more than a coincidence when over 11 queer people, many of whom are non-white, have gone missing or ended up dead in the same area just this year. There must be a connection, even if the police aren’t finding one.
Many people of Toronto’s LGBT+ community have expressed concern and fears over the past few months. One person, Caelan Conrad, told me:
“When the only place a community has to feel safe is targeted, there’s nowhere left to go. And when the only people who were appointed to protect you aren’t doing it, you start to lose hope. So, like always, we need to rely on ourselves, and our allies. When one of us goes missing, when one of us is found dead on our street, we all feel that loss.”
There seems to be a huge lack of police action and results in these cases. The relationship between the LGBT+ community and the police force is anything but trusting, but when an entire community is on edge it should be the job of the police to make them feel as safe as possible. Yet, most of the residents of the Village are still living in fear. No one should feel threatened in the one place that should be safe for them. There is no outcry for these victims like there would be for people from other areas. These victims and their cases deserve attention and justice, and, right now, the city is failing them.
Image Credit: The Toronto Star