Toronto’s police chief has called on the province’s Special Investigations Unit to expedite its investigation into the death of a woman who fell from a high-rise balcony while in the presence of officers.
The call by Chief Mark Saunders comes amid mounting public pressure, with protests planned across Canada on Saturday in support of the family of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who have raised questions about the role police played in the 29-year-old’s death.
At a news conference on Friday, Chief Saunders said police, like the community, are “anxiously awaiting” the results of the probe. “We are hoping that there is an opportunity that this investigation is expedited.”
Chief Saunders confirmed that police received three 911 calls around 5:15 p.m. on Wednesday about an assault at an apartment building on High Park Avenue, at least two of which mentioned knives.
Lawyer Knia Singh, who represents the family, previously told The Globe that Ms. Korchinski-Paquet’s mother, Claudette Beals-Clayton, had called police to defuse an argument between her daughter, who was in mental distress, and her son.
Asked whether the service’s Mobile Crisis Intervention Team – a mental-health nurse and a police officer who respond to cases involving people in crisis – was dispatched, the chief said the team would not respond in “real time.”
“In a case like this, when we’re talking about assaults occurring, and knives being present and being used, front-line police officers … have to restore calm, investigate, and then proceed in accordance to the law,” he said. “There’s no way that I would put a nurse in the middle of a knife fight.”
When officers arrived, Ms. Beals-Clayton pleaded that her daughter be escorted to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Mr. Singh said. Ms. Korchinski-Paquet asked to go to the bathroom and was escorted back into the apartment by several officers, Mr. Singh said, and her brother and mother stayed in the hallway and were blocked from following her.
After a few minutes, Mr. Singh said, Ms. Korchinski-Paquet called out, “Mom, help! Mom, help! Mom, help!”
Minutes later, she was on the ground, having fallen 24 floors, and pronounced dead.
According to the SIU, four out of five witness officers and one subject officer have been interviewed. Investigators have also spoken to several civilian witnesses.
Chief Saunders said this case is a “textbook” example of the need for body-worn cameras, which he said he plans to begin allocating within the next few months.
Ms. Korchinski-Paquet died 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 – Derek Chauvin, who was charged on Friday with third-degree murder – kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck for several minutes before he died.
Anger over Mr. Floyd’s death has prompted violent protests in Minneapolis.
John River, a Toronto rapper, said Ms. Korchinski-Paquet’s death coming so soon after Mr. Floyd’s has sparked similar outrage in Canada. He says sometimes the only response is to take to the streets.
“The white person’s fear is that we’re going to kill you, but ‘I don’t want you breaking anything. I don’t want you making any noise. I’m going to hit you and you sit there and you take it,’ ” he said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, from the front steps of Rideau Cottage in his daily COVID-19 update, addressed the situation in Minneapolis and its parallels to what’s happening in Canada.
“Anti-black racism … is in the United States, but it’s also in Canada,“ Mr. Trudeau said. “We know people are facing discrimination, unconscious bias and anti-black racism every single day.”
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