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Why did Bruce McArthur plead guilty? Police hint answers are coming

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Why Bruce McArthur chose to plead guilty to eight charges of first-degree murder was not explained on Tuesday morning, although police hinted that answers still may come.

McArthur’s admission in a Toronto courthouse that he killed eight men wasn’t entirely surprising — police had said earlier a “significant development” was coming. But guilty pleas can be rare in big trials because, during the lead up, the defence can determine the strength of the Crown’s case, according to B.C. criminal lawyer Marilyn Sandford.

“The first question is always: Can they prove their case?” Sandford, who was part of the legal team that represented serial killer Robert Pickton, said in an interview with CBC News earlier this month.

“You want to be able to give [your client] that opinion before you rush into negotiating a plea agreement because you need to be able to tell them the strengths and weaknesses of the case so that they can make an informed decision about what to do.”

McArthur’s trial was expected to take three to four months and the trial date had been set for Jan. 6, 2020, meaning his team had almost another year to search for weaknesses.

Outside the courthouse, Det. David Dickinson, one of the lead investigators in the case, indicated he would comment on McArthur’s reasons for pleading guilty at a later time. Insp. Hank Idsinga, the head of the investigation, also suggested that more information about McArthur’s motivation to plead guilty may be forthcoming.

“We’ll see what else comes out in court next week,” he told CBC News.

Instead, Ontario Superior Court Justice John McMahon opened proceedings by asking McArthur if he understood exactly what it meant to plead guilty, and warning that he could not plead guilty to things he didn’t do just to get the case over.

Did McArthur understand, McMahon asked, that he was giving up his right to a trial?

McArthur simply replied: “Yes.”

McMahon also asked if the former landscaper was pressured by family, friends, lawyers or police officers involved in his case. McArthur said he was not. 

McMahon said the guilty plea meant he had to sentence McArthur to life imprisonment. Whether he will serve his sentences concurrently or consecutively will be decided next week.

Insp. Hank Idsinga, the lead detective in the case, said he felt ‘a little emotional, a little bit surreal,’ following McArthur’s guilty plea. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

“So, you understand you’ll have to serve at least until you’re 91 before you could be eligible to apply for parole,” McMahon said. “Do you understand that? Do you understand that, sir?”

“Yes, your honour,” McArthur said.

McArthur made his plea 11 days after the one-year anniversary of his arrest, and a year to the day after police first used the label “serial killer” to describe the perpetrator of the eight murders he is now convicted of.

He was brought into court handcuffed, head shaved, wearing a blue sweater — one he has worn at numerous court appearances — with a plaid shirt underneath, and jeans.

It was a different image from that of a smiling and stocky man with a goatee, seen in Facebook pictures that have circulated in the media.

“This man is much older, stooped, lost a lot of weight,” said Karen Fraser, who had hired McArthur as a landscaper, and whose property he had used to bury his victims.

Karen Fraser had hired McArthur as a landscaper. He used her property to bury his victims. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

“I knew a man who was always energetic, enthusiastic, eager to get on to the next thing. And this is just a shuffling broken man, as he should be.”

​The courtroom was full, packed mostly with journalists, police officers and friends and family of the victims. The latter expressed little emotion, sitting grim-faced as McArthur’s crimes and his pleas were said in court.

McArthur stood hunched, his fingertips resting on the wooden banner in front, his eyes off to the side, staring blankly, looking at no one, not the judge, not the court clerk who read aloud each murder charge, naming each murder victim: Andrew Kinsman, 49, Selim Esen, 44, Skandaraj Navaratnam, 40, Abdulbasir Faizi, 44, Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, 37, Dean Lisowick, 47, Soroush Mahmudi, 50, and Majeed Kayhan, 58.

Of the eight victims, seven had ties to Toronto’s LGBT community.

When the clerk was finished reading the charges, McArthur was asked for a plea after each count.

“Guilty,” he repeated eight times.

Several Toronto Police Service officers sat in the front row of the courtroom facing McArthur’s back. Those officers included Dickinson and Idsinga, who has become the face of this investigation that has drawn international attention.

McArthur confessed to killing these eight men. Top row, from left to right, Skandaraj Navaratnam, 40, Andrew Kinsman, 49, Selim Esen, 44, and Abdulbasir Faizi, 44. Bottom row, from left to right: Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, 37, Dean Lisowick, 47, Soroush Mahmudi, 50, and Majeed Kayhan, 58. (Toronto Police Service/CBC)

“A little emotional, a little bit surreal” Idsinga said he felt afterward. “Absolutely it’s closure. It’s not happiness, it’s not something to celebrate. It’s good to get it done.”

It is still not known how McArthur killed his victims. But what the court did hear Tuesday, in an abridged version of an agreed statement of facts, was that all eight murders were planned and deliberate, that six were sexual in nature, that McArthur had kept some of his victims’ items as souvenirs and “staged” some of them, although what that meant was not clarified.

The full details of those crimes are expected to be revealed next week at a sentencing hearing where friends and family will deliver victim impact statements. 

McArthur will be at least 91 before he’s eligible for parole. It remains to be seen if he will serve his sentences consecutively or concurrently. (Bruce McArthur/Facebook)

McMahon said he was hoping to read the statements ahead of time, and reminded that there are certain things that can and can’t be included in such statements. Swearing or threats, for example, are not allowed.

“I don’t want to be in a position Monday where I have to reject some of  the… loved ones’ victim impact statements because it doesn’t fit within where we have to be.

“It is important to see the impact it’s had on your lives.”

McMahon said it would be in everybody’s interest for the case to wrap up next week, “to have closure for the family, for Mr. McArthur, for everybody involved.”

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List of Tourist Attractions Open Now in Ottawa

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With Ontario now in Step 3 of 2021 three-step plan for reopening, museums and other indoor attractions are allowed to reopen with capacity limited to not exceed 50 per cent capacity indoors and 75 per cent capacity outdoors.

Here is a list of Ottawa attractions you can visit starting July 16th.

Do remember to wear masks and buy tickets in advance.

Parliament Hill

Parliament’s Centre Block and Peace Tower are closed for renovation.

You can join for tours of the Senate of Canada Building (2 Rideau Street), House of Commons at West Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill, and East Block at East Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill.

When: Grounds open; guided tours of Parliament are suspended through the summer of 2021.
Where: 111 Wellington Street, Downtown Ottawa

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Ottawa performer leapfrogs from gymnastics to Broadway to TV

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A new AppleTV+ series set in a magical town that’s stuck in a neverending 1940s musical includes a pair of Ottawa siblings in the cast. 

Warren Yang and his sister, Ericka Hunter, play two of the singing, dancing residents of the village portrayed in Schmigadoon!, a small-screen series that takes its cues from classic musicals like Brigadoon, Wizard of Oz and Sound of Music, and skewers them with the offbeat comedic mastery of Saturday Night Live. 

In fact, you’ll recognize many of the names from SNL, starting with executive producer Lorne Michaels, creator of the late-night, live-comedy sketch show. Schmigadoon! also stars SNL cast member Cecily Strong and comedian Keegan-Michael Key, who hosted SNL in May. They play a New York couple who get lost on a hike and stumble into a strange town where everyone sings and dances. 

For Yang, a relative newcomer to show-biz, the series marks his television debut. For Hunter, the younger of his two older sisters, it’s the latest in a career path that began with dance lessons as a child more than 30 years ago. She attended Canterbury High School, Ottawa’s arts-focused secondary school. 

“Her dream was always to perform,” said Yang, 34, in an interview. “But that was never the path I thought was an option for me.” 

While his sister studied dance, Yang did gymnastics. He was an elite gymnast throughout his youth, ultimately leaving Merivale High School at 16 to train in Montreal, finishing high school through correspondence courses. He was a member of the Canadian National Team and received a scholarship to study at Penn State, majoring in marketing. 

A few years after graduation, Yang was working at an advertising agency in Toronto when he got a call from a Manhattan number. To his astonishment, they asked if he would be interested in auditioning for a Broadway revival of Miss Saigon.

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COVID-19: uOttawa to require vaccination for students living in residence

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Vaccination will be mandatory for students who want to live in residence at the University of Ottawa this year, with proof of vaccination and at least one dose required before move-in, or within two weeks of doing so if they can’t secure a shot before arriving.

Those who can’t receive a vaccine for “health-related reasons or other grounds protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code” will be able to submit a request for accommodation through the university’s housing portal, according to information on the university’s website.

Students with one dose living in residence will also have to receive their second dose “within the timeframe recommended by Ottawa Public Health.”

People who haven’t been granted an exemption and don’t get vaccinated or submit proof of having done so by the deadlines set out by the school will have their residence agreements terminated, uOttawa warns.

“Medical and health professionals are clear that vaccination is the most (effective) means of protecting people and those around them,” reads a statement provided to this newspaper by uOttawa’s director of strategic communications, Patrick Charette.

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“It is precisely for this reason that the University of Ottawa is requiring all students living in residence for the 2021-2022 academic year to be fully vaccinated. The University recognizes that some students may require accommodations for a variety of reasons and will be treating exceptions appropriately.”

Faculty, staff and students are also strongly encouraged to get vaccinated, the statement notes.

“Ensuring a high vaccine coverage in all communities is critical to ensuring an ongoing decline in cases and ending the pandemic. This will be especially important with the return of students to post-secondary institutions in our region in the fall of 2021.”

Neither Carleton University nor Algonquin College is currently mandating vaccination for students living in residence, according to the websites for both schools. But uOttawa isn’t alone in its policy – Western University, Trent University, Durham College and Fanshawe College have all implemented similar requirements. Seneca College, in the GTA, is going even further, making vaccination mandatory for students and staff to come to campus, in-person, for the fall term.

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