With their voices rising to the sky in unison, hundreds of people chanted “Justice for Regis!” and “no justice, no peace” as they marched through downtown Halifax streets.
The solidarity rally and march was in response to the death of 29-year-old Regis Korchinski-Paquet, as well as wider issues of anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism.
“I think that what was really beautiful was how many people came,” said Kate MacDonald, who spoke at the rally, which was organized by the Justice for Regis Nova Scotia Coalition.
Despite the frustration and pain that could be felt throughout the crowd, MacDonald expressed hope that the hundreds of people who showed up for support were there because they recognize the call for action to be taken over racial injustice at the hands of police.
“Sometimes it feels like you’re yelling down an echo chamber, you’re not sure that anyone is picking up what you’re saying and it felt like we put out a message, today. People picked that up, and lots of white folks picked that up, and lots of allies picked that up, and it wasn’t just Black people here today,” MacDonald said.
The family of Regis Korchinski-Paquet is demanding answers from the Toronto Police Service over how their daughter fell to her death from the balcony of their 24th-floor apartment building on May 27.
Korchinski-Paquet’s mother said she called 911 because her daughter was distressed over a family conflict. Claudette Beals-Clayton said the call to 911 was made out of safety and concern and that she ultimately wanted her daughter to receive mental health support — specifically from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) for mental health support.
According to the lawyer representing the family, officers were alone in the apartment with the 29-year-old woman when she fell.
According to Knia Singh, a lawyer representing Korchinski-Paquet’s family, 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.
“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,” Singh said on behalf of the family.
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.
Ontario’s independent police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), launched a probe into the incident.
Regis Korchinski-Paquet has Nova Scotia roots and members of her family attended the Halifax march in her honour.
“Regis’s family has roots out here and one of the things that we always want to show, when we show presence, is that if one of us is in pain, or harmed, or murdered, all of us are going to stand up and show presence, and let people know that our lives matter,” El Jones said, a Black poet and activist.
Jones says while the novel coronavirus pandemic has come with strict public health directives, it is vital to acknowledge and discuss the disproportionate harms against Black and Indigenous communities when discussing how society as a whole can move forward in a way that’s inclusive and safe for everyone.
“We need to show this care for each other and we need to build these worlds together — are Black people being left behind there? We refuse to be left behind, we refuse to be part of a world that says our bodies need to die for some kind of social safety,” Jones said.
She went on to add that racism and discrimination exist regardless of whether there’s a pandemic and that those issues need to be front and centre when it comes to discussions around moving society forward.
“We stand here to say that our lives mattered before this pandemic, they matter during this pandemic and we will continue to build a world where they will matter after this pandemic,” Jones said.
Her words were echoed by OmiSoore Dryden, another Justice for Regis organizer.
“It’s time for White people to say ‘not in my name’. It’s time for White people to put their bodies and themselves on the line to say ‘you are not doing this on my behalf,'” Dyrden said.
With files from Nick Westoll and The Canadian Press.