As community members prepare to mark one year since 29-year-old Regis Korchinski-Paquet died following the arrival of Toronto police officers in response to a 911 call for help, a memorial march is being held in an effort to continue pushing for action to be taken.
At Queen’s Park Monday afternoon, it was estimated hundreds of people attended the memorial before leaving to march through downtown Toronto as officers watched on. At one point, attendees stopped at Yonge and Gerrard streets for a sit-in. The crowd could be heard chanting Korchinski-Paquet’s name along with the phrase, “Say her name!”
“It’s critical for us to defund the police and redistribute that money back to communities to create sustainable supports around care. Police should not be the first responders in situations where there is mental health or a situation where someone is in crisis,” Beverly Bain, a representative with No Pride in Policing Coalition, told reporters Monday afternoon.
“Regis’s family has not had any justice, Regis has not had any justice, and it’s really critical for people to be gathering today to remember Regis, but also to mark that after one year, there has not been any accountability, any responsibility taken by the Toronto Police Service.”
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It was on May 27 when Korchinski-Paquet’s 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,” a lawyer who previously represented the family told reporters.
Knia Singh previously 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 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.
In 2020, Toronto city council approved a suite of measures aimed at reforming the police service, including anti-racism measures and the implementation of body-worn cameras. A multi-year, civilian mental health crisis response service pilot project was also approved.
In August, a lengthy report from the Special Investigations Unit, Ontario’s police watchdog, found Korchinski-Paquet fell to her death while trying to sidestep onto a neighbour’s balcony on the evening of May 27, clearing the responding officers of wrongdoing.
SIU Director Joseph Martino said the officers tried to deescalate the situation and “though their efforts were unsuccessful,” none of them broke the law.
Martino, in his report, noted that the 29-year-old died just days after George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, was killed when an officer pressed a knee against his neck for nearly nine minutes, at a time when there was increased scrutiny over the relationship between police and racialized people.
The SIU report noted that Korchinski-Paquet’s death sparked “important conversations” about the ways in which police interact with Black and Indigenous people, but says there was no evidence of police wrongdoing or “overt” racism in the incident itself.
Martino said race may have been a factor in the events leading up to the death of Korchinski-Paquet, who was both Indigenous and Black, but that examining systemic issues in policing is not his purview.
In March, it was announced Ontario’s Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), which handles complaints about police from members of the public, would be investigating the case. It’s believed the probe is still ongoing.
Jason Bogle, who now represents Korchinski-Paquet’s family, said the family believes the SIU probe failed to investigate all information available to them. He has said several people approached the family to say the information they provided was not used in the agency’s investigation, including a witness who reportedly said she was on a video call with Korchinski-Paquet while officers were in the room with her.
It was alleged the witness saw Korchinski-Paquet being “jostled” by police before the call was terminated. The witness said she attempted to call back numerous times but each call was cancelled.
Bogle previously provided a list of the call log which shows the record of the 23-second video call followed by four subsequent cancelled calls in quick succession. He said the four cancelled calls were after Korchinsi-Paquet’s fell off the balcony and the phone was in the apartment with police officers at the time.
During the march, Bogle said the cellphone still hasn’t been returned to the family.
“There has been an unprecedented response from the community contacting my office as well as other persons inside the family saying the answers that were produced publicly was not consistent with what they know, and now we are seeing a visceral response by the community whether it’s by marching or by letter or by writing saying there is no justice here because there is no truth about what happened,” he said.
“Now they (Korchinski-Paquet’s family) find themselves marching up and down Toronto trying to send a signal to the authorities change has to come, and now is the time.”
Meanwhile, when asked about the memorial march, a spokesperson for Toronto police issued a brief statement calling Korchinski-Paquet’s death a “tragic case” and noting the OIPRD probe means they are limited in what they can say.
“The Service fully co-operated with the SIU investigation which concluded that the officers acted lawfully throughout their engagement with Ms. Korchinski-Paquet and her family,” Connie Osborne said in a statement Monday afternoon.
“The circumstances are currently subject to an OIPRD investigation and as such we cannot comment any further at this time.”
Global News contacted the SIU to ask for comment, but a response wasn’t received by the time of publication.
— With files from The Canadian Press and Jessica Patton