Dozens of Torontonians arrived bundled in layers of clothing Tuesday night at Barbara Hall Park in the heart of the city’s gay district for a vigil of solidarity with the city’s LGBTQ community, and to remember the lives taken by an alleged serial killer.
Many participants sported white kerchiefs tied around their arms with the words: love, heal, resist and rise. The vigil included a spoken word performance by Rolli and Amica McFarlane-Scott, belly dancing organized by Habeeba’s Dance Studio, and a song by the Forte Men’s Chorus.
The event was held in light of the recent discoveries of six bodies found dismembered in planters at a Leaside property in January. A Toronto landscaper, Bruce McArthur, 66, has been charged with five counts of murder. He is in custody and Toronto police have said further charges will be laid.
The vigil was organized by The 519, a community centre located near Church and Wellesley.
“Lives have been lost in violent and targeted ways,” said Haran Vijayanathan, the executive director for the group known as Alliance for South Asian Aids Prevention.
“Tonight is an important opportunity for us to affirm and support one another in our sorrow and anger, confusion healing and resistance,” he said.
Vijayanathan, an openly gay Sri Lankan Tamil man, attended along with many groups who long contended that a serial killer was preying on men in the neighbourhood, a concern that Toronto police initially dismissed.
Det.- Sgt. Hank Idsinga of the Toronto police said Lisowick didn’t fit the profile of the suspect’s usual victims, who were mainly gay and South Asian or Middle Eastern. Police also believe Lisowick was homeless and never reported missing.
Carol, who wishes to keep her last name private, said she knew one of the victims, Dean Lisowick, to be a “kind gentlemen.” She knew him as “Laser.”
“He was a gentle and kind soul,” she said. Carol used to work in the Church Street area and recalled Lisowick always asking her if she needed help and handing her little gifts.
“He used to always just say ‘Hi, Miss! How are you, Miss?’” Carol said. “Its heart wrenching to see that he is gone.”
Peter Byberg, a resident of the neighbourhood who also came to the vigil, says he feels “safe”, despite the recent tragedies.
“I wouldn’t cut through the park at night, but I’ve lived here for ten years and nothing like this has happened,” Byberg said.
Denise Booth, an Indigenous community worker, told the crowd that the annual Strawberry Ceremony will be held Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. at Toronto police headquarters on College Street. The event calls for justice for murdered and missing Indigenous women. Organizers also seek fair treatment and ask the police to pay more attention.