After a three-month investigation, Ontario’s police watchdog has determined there are no reasonable grounds to criminally charge any of the six Toronto Police officers who were present for the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a conclusion the family said they were disgusted with.
Ms. Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year-old Ukrainian-Afro-Indigenous woman, died after falling from her 24th-floor balcony on May 27, after police had arrived at the family’s apartment to respond to calls about a domestic disturbance.
She had scaled the railing and was attempting to climb from her balcony onto a neighbour’s when she lost her balance and fell, the province’s Special Investigations Unit concluded in its report released Wednesday. But while there were six police officers in and around the apartment at the time that she fell, SIU Director Joseph Martino concluded that none of them were criminally culpable.
“We’re totally disgusted with the outcome,” Ms. Korchinski-Paquet’s sister, Renee Korchinski, said Wednesday at a press conference held by the family and lawyer Knia Singh. “We’re not okay with the way that the system works. What happened to my sister shouldn’t have happened to her. But it did. So people need to be held accountable for their actions. But they’re not.”
Ms. Korchinski-Paquet’s death, which came two days after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, sparked protests against anti-Black racism and police conduct across the country. The case has also raised questions about whether police services are the right agency to respond to calls related to mental-health issues.
In his report, Mr. Martino acknowledged that the high-profile case has “raised important issues of social consequence.”
“I accept that systemic racism exists and continues to challenge the relationship between racialized communities and the institutions of our justice system, just as it does in other sectors of society,” Mr. Martino wrote in his decision.
But he stressed that his unit’s mandate is a narrow one: to determine whether any of the police officers committed a criminal offence in connection with her death. “It was not to conduct a broad inquiry into systemic discrimination on the part of the police service,” he wrote. “There are other forums with the institutional mandates and expertise to conduct those inquiries.”
According to the SIU report, police had received multiple 911 calls about a domestic disturbance, possibly involving knives – including from Ms. Korchinski-Paquet herself, as well as her brother and mother – when they arrived at the family’s apartment around 5:15 p.m.
A fight had started after Ms. Korchinski-Paquet, who had epilepsy and had suffered seizures earlier in the day, began arguing with her brother over the volume of the television. When police arrived, they separated the siblings and their mother in the hallway. Ms. Korchinski-Paquet’s mother asked police to take her daughter, who was distressed, to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
Ms. Korchinski-Paquet said she had to go to the bathroom and was escorted back into the apartment by a police officer.
When she came out, an officer asked her to speak with a paramedic, given her seizures earlier in the day. She refused and headed to the balcony. The officer told her to come back inside, the report said, and attempted to open the door, but Ms. Korchinski-Paquet held it shut.
“Very quickly,” the report says, “Ms. Korchinski-Paquet scaled the balcony railing and the [officer] lost sight of her. At about this time, [her mother] asked, “What is she doing?” An officer responded that she was “jumping balconies.”
Two police officers went to knock on the apartment next door, but nobody answered. They returned and, when they looked down from Ms. Korchinski-Paquet’s balcony, saw that she had fallen to the ground below. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
According to the SIU report, an autopsy conducted the following day ruled that the cause of her death was “multiple blunt impact trauma.” A second autopsy, conducted at the request of Ms. Korchinski-Paquet’s family, concluded the same.
Although there were allegations in the days after Ms. Korchinski-Paquet’s death that she was pushed off the balcony by police, Mr. Martino said that “the evidence establishes that this did not occur. Instead, the evidence indicates that no one other than Ms. Korchinski-Paquet was on the balcony when she scaled over the railing and attempted to sidestep along the outer ledge over to her neighbour’s balcony, lost her balance, and fell.”
At a press conference Wednesday, Toronto Police interim chief James Ramer said this was a “profound event” for the officers who were present and he expressed his condolences to Ms. Korchinski-Paquet’s family, stressing that there is “no win in this tragic situation for anyone.”
While Mr. Martino said the investigation “turned up no indications of overt racism being brought to bear by any of the involved officers,” he added that “this is not to suggest that questions of race were entirely absent in the encounter.”
For example, he said that there was evidence that Mr. Korchinski-Paquet “attempted to court favour with the police at one point by informing them that her father was coming and he was white. “The officers, it must be noted, indicated that they did not hear any such words,” Mr. Martino wrote. “Needless to say, if true, the utterance is a testament to the importance of efforts to build and nurture trust in the relationship between the police and members of the Black and Indigenous communities.”
At the family’s press conference, Mr. Singh, the lawyer, outlined concerns with the SIU’s report, including about discrepancies between the two autopsies that were not detailed. He also expressed concerns about the SIU’s application of the law when determining criminal charges were not warranted.
Howard Morton, who was SIU director from 1992 to 1995, is working with Mr. Singh on an independent investigation on behalf of the family, and said they plan to release an interim report of their own next week.
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