More than 100 family and friends of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, and community members, gathered to fondly remember the 29-year-old during a public memorial on Saturday and to continue their calls for change.
“Regis was such a loving and kind person … she was wonderful to have as a niece,” Latania Willis, Korchinski-Paquet’s aunt, told Global News, while also recalling how her niece taught gymnastics in the summer and was a scholar in school.
“You don’t meet good people all the time and she was one of the good ones.”
The memorial Saturday afternoon began at the family’s apartment building at High Park Avenue and the first annual Regis Korchinski-Paquet Walk for Justice followed. Those in attendance made their way through High Park.
Willis said she was overwhelmed by, and appreciative of, all those who came out to show their support.
“This is our land. This is our home. Let’s try and make it safe,” she said.
“You call them for help, for assistance – to serve and protect – and then my niece is dead. So who do I have faith in? Who do I trust? How do I trust my country?”
Korchinski-Paquet died on May 27. Knia Singh, a lawyer for her family, said Korchinski-Paquet’s mother, Claudette Beals-Clayton, had called 911 because her daughter was in distress over a family conflict and the call was made out of “safety” and “concern.”
Singh said Korchinski-Paquet, her mother and brother all met police in the hallway leading to their 24th-floor apartment. He said the mother 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. She later fell from the balcony.
Thousands have marched in the days and weeks after Korchinski-Paquet’s death while also raising awareness of as well as the wider issues of anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism.
Black Lives Matter Toronto helped organize Saturday’s walk. Co-founder Rodney Diverlus said there was something “magical” about coming together as a community “to mourn, to grieve and to heal.”
“She lost her life in this context of a police interaction just two months ago and we know this is similar to many cases and many experiences families have to go through,” he told Global News.
“When we talk about police violence, when we talk about anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism, all of that impacts us all and it’s all of our responsibility to challenge it and to find justice.
“It’s important in this sort of context to not only have the Black and Indigenous community come together, but all communities — for all of us — to unite our voices to demand change and to call for justice.”
The incident is the subject of an ongoing probe by Ontario’s independent police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU). Singh’s office said the SIU is now in the closing stages of its investigation.
He said a second autopsy is currently being conducted outside Ontario. Korchinski-Paquet’s relatives said they want answers to what they believe are shortcomings in the SIU process.
The SIU said it has spoken to three of Regis Korchinski-Paquet’s family members about the incident and received a statement from a fourth. Its investigators have also interviewed 14 additional witnesses, including seven police officers.
However, the agency said it’s been made aware of another witness who was at the apartment at the time of Korchinski-Paquet’s death, and is trying to speak to that person.
The SIU said it has asked the family’s legal team, which is conducting its own investigation, to identify any additional witnesses and provide any information about the case as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, Diverlus said Korchinski-Paquet was loved by many and the work to remember her will continue.
“All of us here won’t stop until we find justice for Regis Korchinski-Paquet until there are no more victims of police violence,” he said.
“She was 29 years old, she had a life ahead of her, she had a vibrant family, vibrant community, and it’s just heartbreaking to see her life end that way.”
— With files from The Canadian Press