Thousands of people held a rally in Toronto Saturday afternoon in response to the death of 29-year-old Regis Korchinski-Paquet.
The protest, shared on social media under the hashtag #JusticeForRegis and organized by the group Not Another Black Life, began around 2 p.m. at Christie Pits park near Bloor Street West and Christie Street. The march was scheduled to finish at Queen’s Park, but protesters instead made their way to Toronto Police Headquarters.
The rally was a response to Korchinski-Paquet’s death as well as the wider issues of anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism.
“The violence we are experiencing globally is not OK and will never be OK,” a protester said.
“If you are tired of reading all these posts and the news surrounding anti-Black racism, guess what, we are tired too — tired of being a walking target and dying every single day.”
Police said roads were blocked due to the large crowds as protesters made their way through the downtown core. Officers estimated there were 3,500 to 4,000 people in attendance.
The protest remained largely peaceful into the evening on Saturday, which is when demonstrators began to disperse.
“We respect people’s right to lawful and peaceful protest,” police said in a tweet.
“Our officers will be on-site to ensure the safety of everyone involved.”
Protesters chanted “justice for Regis,” “not another Black life,” “abolish the police,” and “no justice, no peace.”
A similar rally was held in Halifax on Saturday with hundreds in attendance.
The march comes three days after officers were called to Korchinski-Paquet’s apartment on High Park Avenue.
Knia Singh, a lawyer representing Korchinski-Paquet’s family, said her mother, Claudette Beals-Clayton, called 911 because her daughter was in distress over a family conflict and the call was made out of “safety” and “concern.”
Singh said the two, along with her brother, met police in the hallway leading to their 24th-floor apartment. He said she pleaded with officers to take Korchinski-Paquet to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) for mental health support. Family members said she was also having an epileptic seizure.
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. The family was not in the unit while Korchinski-Paquet and police were in the apartment unit.
After a couple of minutes, Singh said Korchinski-Paquet called out saying, “Mom, help. Mom, help. Mom, help.” A short time later, he said the family found out Korchinski-Paquet was on the ground.
“I asked the police yesterday if they could take my daughter to CAMH and my daughter ended up dead, so I don’t understand,” Beals-Clayton told reporters on Thursday.
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said on Friday that Toronto police received three calls to 911 Wednesday afternoon from three different people. He said the calls indicated there was an assault and that weapons were present. Saunders said officers and paramedics were dispatched to the scene and that police were there within four minutes.
Singh told Global News he didn’t hear the 911 calls referenced by Saunders, but added there were no weapons present when officers arrived and there was no dispute at the time.
Soon after Korchinski-Paquet died on Wednesday, Beals-Clayton claimed in a video posted on Instagram that police officers “shoved” Korchinski-Paquet off the apartment balcony. The Toronto Police Association, the union representing officers, later called the allegation of Korchinski-Paquet being shoved “unfounded.”
Singh told reporters on Friday the family “had a lot of emotion and grief” when the video was filmed. He noted the family was not in the apartment at the time the officers were inside the unit.
“They called for police assistance and their daughter ended up dead. Some concerns are being raised about the mother saying that the police threw her daughter off the balcony,” Singh said.
“I can verify on behalf of the family that this was not witnessed by the mother. However, at the time of the statement, that is what the mother believed.”
Singh said the family was aware of Saturday’s march and wanted to clarify their remarks.
“The mother understands that there’s some concern that that statement carrying on would fuel protests in a different manner,” he said, adding the family hasn’t been involved with the organization of the protest.
“The mother and the family do not want protests in the vein of anger. They do not want protests in the vein of violence.
“People with mental health issues when approached by police should be approached with respect and caution, and in this circumstance they believe that their daughter was not met with that action by police and if police had acted differently she could still be alive today.”
In a statement issued Saturday, the family’s lawyer continued to clarify remarks regarding their concerns about the police interaction.
“Any statement made by family members prior to the press conference on May 28, 2020 are not part of the official Korchinski-Paquet statement,” it read.
“There are beliefs that the family still hold to be true, however they are waiting on evidence from the investigation before any further conclusions can be made.”
The statement also commented on Saunders’ reference to reports of a weapon having been present at the apartment.
The statement asked for calm and for people to observe social distancing bylaws at the protest.
When asked about Saturday’s march, Saunders said he supports a lawful protest but doesn’t want “people’s behaviour to be manifested on lies.”
The details of the interaction in the apartment remained unclear as of Saturday.
Ontario’s independent police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), launched a probe into the incident. The SIU investigates the conduct of the responding officers in instances where there has been death, serious injury or alleged sexual assault.
According to a statement from the SIU on Friday, a subject officer and five witness officers were identified and in the process of being interviewed. The agency said interviews with witnesses were conducted and there was a canvass for video. Singh called for the preservation of hallway surveillance video footage that could show the moments leading up to Toronto police entering the unit.
Singh reiterated the family’s call for a “fulsome” investigation and wants “to get to the bottom of the truth.”
“The mother believes that if police had acted differently, that her daughter would still be alive,” Singh said.
Saunders, Mayor John Tory, the Toronto Police Services Board and police union officials echoed the calls for a transparent and complete investigation by the SIU, and for the results to be shared as soon as possible.
“The Toronto Police Service shares the same concerns of the community and we all want the facts as much as everybody. The trust of the community and of the public is of paramount importance to the Toronto Police Service as well as myself as the chief,” Saunders said.
A GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign launched to help Korchinski-Paquet’s family with funeral and legal expenses received more than $104,000 in donations as of early Saturday evening.
— With files from The Canadian Press