Ontario’s police watchdog says it is aware of the allegations being made online about Toronto police and the circumstances surrounding a 29-year-old woman falling to her death from an apartment building balcony.
As of Thursday, officials didn’t name the woman. However, family members and neighbours identified her to Global News as Regis Korchinski-Paquet.
According to a statement issued by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), Toronto police officers were called to an apartment building on High Park Avenue north of Bloor Street West at around 5:15 p.m. on Wednesday with reports of a “domestic incident.”
“While officers were inside an apartment unit on the 24th floor, they observed a woman on the balcony,” a statement issued by the SIU Wednesday evening said.
“A short time later, the woman fell from the balcony to the ground below. She was pronounced deceased at the scene.”
A memorial was setup at the apartment building. A “RIP. Rest In Power” sign along with multiple bouquets of flowers were placed at the scene.
Knia Singh, principal lawyer with Ma’at Legal Services, read a statement on behalf of Korchinski-Paquet’s late Thursday afternoon. He said Korchinski-Paquet, Claudette Beals-Clayton, called 911 because her daughter was in distress over a family conflict and was made out of “safety” and “concern.”
Singh said the two, along with her brother, met police in the hallway. He said she pleaded with officers to take Korchinski-Paquet to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health for mental health support. Singh said Beals-Clayton didn’t want the situation to escalate.
When Korchinski-Paquet told officers she needed to use the bathroom, Singh said officers followed her into the apartment unit and that when her brother tried to get her he was stopped.
After a couple of minutes, Singh said Korchinski-Paquet called out a couple of minutes later, “Mom, help. Mom, help. Mom, help.” He said there was silence before an officer came out of the unit, “knocked on the neighbour’s door and stated to the family that she is over at the neighbour’s house or in the unit below.”
Singh said Beals-Clayton asked a few moments later if her daughter was on the ground below.
“An officer went into the unit then came back out and told her mother, ‘Yes, she is on the ground,'” he said, calling for the preservation of surveillance video camera footage from the hallway by the SIU.
“The family is distraught over the senseless loss of life and wants justice for Regis.
“How can a call for assistance turn into a loss a life?”
Beals-Clayton said she had to call the police before as her daughter had bad seizures because “things tend to get a little out of hand,” but there weren’t as many officers as there were on Wednesday (estimated to be between five and eight officers).
“I asked the police yesterday if they could take my daughter to CAMH and my daughter ended up dead, so I don’t understand,” she said as she broke down into tears.
Singh said Korchinski-Paquet was a talented gymnast and volunteered at her church.
Korchinski-Paquet’s uncle Sam Renda told reporters Thursday that the whole situation just does not make sense to him.
“I just want them to get to the bottom of this. I think it’s just something that makes zero sense to me,” he said.
“She would never do this. She’s the sweetest girl in the world and it kills me inside that something like this happened.”
Renda reiterated police were called because Korchinski-Paquet was having a seizure and her mom needed help to calm her down.
“She was sweet, she was so sweet, she would never hurt nobody, she would never hurt herself.”
He said he does not understand how she could have gone over the balcony.
“Something just doesn’t add up,” Renda said.
In an update Thursday, the SIU said it has begun its interviewing process.
The agency also said it is “aware of allegations made by certain family members of the deceased and will be looking to speak to anyone with information about these allegations.”
Shortly after the incident, videos began to circulate online from people who said they are Korchinski-Paquet’s family, alleging that police pushed her off the balcony.
In a number of videos posted to social media from user @rocaworld, who says he is Korchinski-Paquet’s cousin, appears to be at the scene of the incident and alleges police “threw my female cousin off the building.”
An orange tarp which appears to be covering a body with police tape cordoning off the area is shown behind the man in the videos.
In another clip posted to Twitter by user @fairyvivis, a woman who identifies herself as the Korchinski-Paquet’s mother says, “The police killed my daughter. Came into my apartment and shoved her off the balcony.”
“My condolences go out to the family in regards to this particular incident,” he said.
“There was some spin on it before that said that Toronto police chose not to answer, which is just not the case. By law we can’t and that is the reason.”
Saunders said he “wishes” he could give information on what occurred.
“My fear is that misinformation when you don’t have an opportunity to speak can lead to negative consequences. So I mean I’ll urge the public to please wait for the facts to come out,” he said, adding he’s “anxiously” waiting for evidence, fingerprints, statements and DNA “to tell the story, to tell the truth.”
“I support my men and women based on the limited information that I have right now and I do hope that the public has the opportunity to hear the absolute truth because we know the concerns and we agree the case should be resolved as quick as possible so we can figure out how to move forward.”
He said police were called about an assault and that he listened to the call, noting it sounded “rather frantic.”
Saunders said officers were dispatched within 20 seconds and they arrived on scene four minutes later.
“Every member of the Toronto Police Service is 100 per cent ready to be part of the solution, to testify, to give whatever evidence is necessary and we will give it ASAP,” he said.
“I do understand the emotion behind this. People want answers and I know if people had the answers, the truthful answers by the way, then I think that would change the thermostat considerably, especially in the city of Toronto.”
Saunders said he hopes the independent investigation by the SIU will happen “in a speedy sense” and that it’s “fair” and “thorough.”
Mayor John Tory issued a statement on Thursday and extended his condolences to Korchinski-Paquet’s friends and family.
“I know her family have raised questions about her death and want answers about what has happened.
“We all want and need answers when a tragic death happens in our community.”
He said he fully supports the SIU investigation and encouraged anyone with information to contact the agency.
When asked if he has confidence in the SIU investigation and process, Singh said he is concerned based on SIU-investigated incident clearance rates. He said he will be interested to see what comes of their report.
“I have faith in the justice system, but at the end of the day statistics prove and show how effective certain measures are and the SIU has a responsibility to the people of Ontario to uphold accountability toward police officers,” he said, calling for the officers involved to be named and available for questioning.
“If we see statistically, there is a higher proportion of violence against people of colour. When you intersect mental health and colour, then you get an even higher percentage and that is a major concern.
“There is no reason why this family should be standing here grieving for a young lady who had her whole life ahead of her and her mother just wanted to resolve a family dispute.”
The SIU said a post-mortem will be conducted Thursday afternoon.
The SIU is an independent agency that investigates the conduct of officers responding to calls that have resulted in death, serious injury, or alleged sexual assault.
Anyone with information was asked to call the SIU at 1-800-787-8529.
Meanwhile, a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign was launched to help Korchinski-Paquet’s family with funeral and legal expenses.