A former director of the police oversight agency responsible for investigating the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet says he’s seen evidence to support a criminal charge against the officers involved. The 29-year-old Ukrainian-Afro-Indigenous woman fell from her apartment balcony in May during an interaction with Toronto police.
Howard Morton, who helmed the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) from 1992 to 1995 and is now investigating the death for the family, declined to divulge what evidence led him to that conclusion. He said he did not want to prejudice the SIU, which takes the lead investigative role in police incidents involving serious injury, death or sexual assault.
Knia Singh, lead counsel for the family, said he believes Ms. Korchinski-Paquet had been legally detained by police prior to her death, and that officers held some responsibility for her well-being.
“Once you’re not free to move, you’re in detention,” he said after a Wednesday afternoon press conference. “They definitely would have owed her a duty of care, absolutely.”
Ms. Korchinski-Paquet died on May 27, just two days after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, touching off weeks of international protest against racism and police brutality. She has since become synonymous with that movement, her name and image ubiquitous at anti-racism protests across Canada.
The legal team has yet to see the results of a second, independent autopsy being conducted at the family’s request outside the province, nor have they had access to the continuing SIU investigation, including video footage and interviews with one subject officer and five witness officers.
Toronto Police Service and the SIU declined to comment on Wednesday. Both agencies are bound by law to withhold case specifics until the investigation is complete. Police Chief Mark Saunders has warned the public against jumping to conclusions based on “lies” and “misinformation” that have cropped up.
On Wednesday, the family announced that a public memorial would be held on July 25, followed by the inaugural Regis Korchinski-Paquet Walk for Justice, organized with Black Lives Matter TO.
The precise details around her death remain elusive. Chief Saunders has said that police responded after three calls came in reporting an assault involving knives. Ms. Korchinski-Paquet had been diagnosed with epilepsy a few years earlier, the family said, and often became agitated during the onset of a seizure.
When officers arrived, Ms. Korchinski-Paquet, her mother and her brother met them in the hallway. Her mother asked them to take her daughter to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health for treatment.
At some point, Ms. Korchinski-Paquet returned to the apartment with officers. She fell to her death a short time later.
“She was the nucleus of our family,” said Ms. Korchinski-Paquet’s father, Peter. “I hope everybody comes out on July 25 to support us and put an end to this system of racism in Canada and all over the world.”
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