“Missing from the Village” by Justin Ling: A Book Review

by Ashley Reid

In any given year, 70 000 to 80 000 people are reported missing to Canadian police. Between 2010 and 2012, three people specifically from Toronto’s LGBTQ+ community disappeared: Skandaraj “Skanda” Navaratnam, Abdulbasir “Basir” Faizi, and Majeed “Hamid” Kayhan. All three were middle-aged men with brown skin and facial hair. The community feared that a serial killer was targeting Toronto’s LGBTQ+ community. It wasn’t until 2013 that Toronto Police announced that these three disappearances might be linked.

Justin Ling is the author of Missing from the Village. He was also an investigative journalist who followed the initial three missing persons cases, even after police leads dried up, the search was shut down, and police had labelled the cases “open but suspended”. In his book, Ling describes how he retraced investigators’ steps, convinced that there was evidence of a serial killer. Men continued to go missing from Toronto’s LGBTQ+ community, despite the police’s continuing denial of any threat to the community. Finally, in 2018, Bruce McArthur was arrested for the murders of eight men. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2019.

Ling’s skills lie in switching between personal and societal perspectives, which he does powerfully in Missing from the Village. He paints an intimate portrait of the lives of each of the men, and how they fit into the local LGBTQ+ community. Most of the missing men were people of colour who had immigrated to Canada. Ling describes how, having arrived in a new foreign country, Skanda, Basir and Hamid went in search of new friends, and sometimes new family in Toronto’s “gay village”.

Ling then expands to explore the role of the Village in broader Toronto. In particular, he focuses on the relationship between the LGBTQ+ community and police before, during, and after the disappearances of Skanda, Basir and Hamid. He explains the rise of “homosexual murders” reported by newspapers, and of police repression of the community that occurred in the 1970s. Ling describes the constant presence of the police in LGBTQ+ bars and bathhouses in the Village, which led to a feeling that the community wasn’t safe from police. Police arrested queer individuals for a variety of homophobic offences. These passages shed a light on a past that Canadians and Torontonians— which I personally thought were the most diverse urbanites in Canada —try to forget.

This negative surveillance relationship led to failures by the police in apprehending Bruce McArthur in 2013, when he was initially interviewed in relation to the disappearances of Skanda, Basir and Hamid. In bringing the focus back down to a magnified scale, Ling shows how the societal attitudes of police affected the investigations of missing queer men. Their cases would not have been solved if not for the community that advocated resolutely for the cause.

Missing from the Village is a worthy read for those looking to understand the way that societal biases, such as homophobia, affect the investigation of serious crimes. Bruce McArthur was caught because the community refused to give up on their missing friends and family members. Though the friends and families of Skanda, Basir and Hamid received closure in this case, Ling notes that there are many more people missing from the LGBTQ+ community who have yet to be found.

The focus of this book was not on the life and actions of Bruce McArthur. I would suggest that to those readers looking for a sensationalized account of crime, this book likely won’t get your adrenaline pumping to such a terrifying degree. I am not much of a true crime reader, so I appreciated the way that Ling included only light details of the crimes themselves. However, the book is excellent for describing how such cases are investigated and provides valuable insight into how they can continue to go unsolved.

Rating: 4/5

Already read it?

If you like the true crime aspect of this book, I recommend reading Befriend and Betray: Infiltrating the Hells Angels, Bandidos and Other Criminal Brotherhoods by Alex Caine, which also gives great insight into how police investigate serious (organized) crime. If you were more interested in the lives of queer people of colour in Canada, try Samra Habib’s We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir. It was on the Canada Reads List for 2020.

Banner image courtesy of The Wanderer Online Visual Editor Gracie Safranovich.