Ontario’s police watchdog is investigating the death of a black woman who fell from the balcony of a Toronto high-rise apartment in the presence of police.
The family of the woman, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, 29, say they have questions about the role police played in the death.
According to Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit, which investigates all cases involving a police officer that result in serious injury, death or allegations of sexual assault, Toronto police responded to a call about a “domestic incident” at an apartment building on High Park Avenue around 5:15 p.m. Wednesday.
The SIU says that “while officers were inside an apartment unit on the 24th floor, they observed a woman on the balcony. A short time later, the woman fell from the balcony to the ground below. She was pronounced deceased at the scene.”
Knia Singh, a lawyer representing the family, told The Globe that Claudette Beals-Clayton, Ms. Korchinski-Paquet’s mother, called police to defuse an argument between her daughter, who was in a state of mental distress, and her son, Reece Korchinski-Beals.
Mr. Singh said five to eight officers arrived and spoke to the three in the hallway, where Ms. Beals-Clayton pleaded that her daughter be escorted to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Ms. Korchinski-Paquet asked to go to the bathroom and was escorted back into the apartment by several officers, but her brother and mother were blocked from following her.
After a few minutes, Ms. Korchinski-Paquet called out, “Mom, help! Mom, help! Mom, help!” When officers came out, they said Ms. Korchinski-Paquet was either on the neighbour’s balcony or one below. Later, they confirmed she was on the ground, having fallen 24 floors.
In a video posted to social media Wednesday, Ms. Beals-Clayton said, “The police killed my daughter. Came in my apartment and shoved her off the balcony. And told CP24 not to come here, that it’s a suicide. But the police killed her.”
A man who identified himself as Ms. Korchinski-Paquet’s cousin said in the same video, “They killed my cousin. They said COVID-19′s killing us. Naw … you killing us."
Mr. Singh told The Globe Ms. Beals-Clayton had not shared this version of events with him, but that "[the family] wants answers. They want justice for Regis.”
In a statement Thursday, the SIU said that its investigators are “aware of allegations made by certain family members of the deceased and will be looking to speak to anyone with information about these allegations.”
Toronto Police Service Chief Mark Saunders shared a hope that the SIU’s investigation would be “fair and thorough” but also “speedy."
“It would be harmful and sad if we have unrest that is based on absolute misinformation,” he said.
A 2018 report from the Ontario Human Rights Commission, which stemmed from an inquiry into allegations of anti-black discrimination and racial profiling by Toronto police, found that black people are more likely than white people to be injured or killed by TPS officers.
The report, which analyzed hundreds of reports from completed SIU investigations since 2000, found that while black people made up only 8.8 per cent of Toronto’s population in 2016, they were involved in seven out of 10 cases of fatal shootings by police between 2013 and 2017. It found that black people (and specifically black men) were overrepresented in everything from investigations into use of force by police to unjustified charges.
Ms. Korchinski-Paquet died just two days after George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis, died in police custody. A video filmed by a bystander captured a white police officer kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck for several minutes as Mr. Floyd said he couldn’t breathe. Mr. Floyd became unresponsive and was pronounced dead shortly after.
Anger over his death has prompted protests in Minneapolis, which have turned violent. Protesters set fire to storefronts and police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.
A protest in response to Ms. Korchinski-Paquet’s death – with physical distancing, masks and hand sanitizer – has been organized for Saturday.
Sam Tecle, a black community worker in Toronto’s Jane and Finch neighbourhood, says he will attend.
“It’s not just this incident but it’s understanding that there’s something structurally wrong with how policing is done, with how policing oversight is done in this city.”
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