Last week an independent review cleared six Toronto police officers of wrongdoing in the case of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, the 29-year-old woman of Black, Indigenous and Ukrainian background who fell to her death from a 24th-floor balcony after police were called to a dispute at her apartment building.
So what did Jagmeet Singh do? He pointed a finger at the police. “Regis Korchinski-Paquet died because of police intervention. She needed help and her life was taken instead. The SIU’s decision brings no justice to the family and it won’t prevent this from happening again,” wrote the New Democrat on Twitter.
That was an astonishing thing for the head of a national political party to say. The review by Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit was meticulous and impartial. Four investigators and two forensic experts combed through all the evidence, from witness statements and 911 calls to security-camera footage and an autopsy report. This is what they found.
Shortly after 5 on the afternoon of May 27, police got a series of emergency calls about a domestic disturbance at 100 High Park Ave. According to her mother, Ms. Korchinski-Paquet had been fighting with her brother. Bottles and punches had been thrown. The brother said Ms. Korchinski-Paquet, who had epilepsy, had been behaving erratically since suffering seizures earlier that day. He said his sister had come at him with two knives. The dispute was continuing in the apartment hallway when police arrived.
In the midst of it, Ms. Korchinski-Paquet said she needed to go to the bathroom and went into the apartment. Police followed. They asked her to talk to paramedics, who had brought a stretcher. Ms. Korchinski-Paquet refused. She went out onto the balcony instead, holding the screen door shut so no one could follow. She scaled the railing and tried to make her way onto a neighbour’s balcony. Moments later she fell to the ground below.
Her death came shortly after police in Minneapolis killed George Floyd, setting off protests around the globe against racism and police brutality. Protesters in Canada suggested that what happened to Ms. Korchinski-Paquet was another example of how police mistreat people of colour. There were even suggestions that police pushed her to her death.
“The evidence establishes that this did not occur,” says the analysis by SIU director Joseph Martino. “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.”
He found no evidence of bullying or peremptory behaviour by the police that might have worsened the situation. To the contrary. “Though (the officers’) efforts were unsuccessful, they tried to de-escalate tensions by bringing in a non-police emergency responder to speak with Ms. Korchinski-Paquet. There is no suggestion of an undue show of force by the officers or unnecessarily aggressive behaviour in tone or movement.”
What makes Mr. Singh think he knows better? When he says Ms. Korchinski-Paquet died because of police intervention, and that “her life was taken,” he is making a very serious charge indeed. Worse, he is making it not in the heat of the moment, but after a painstaking report by skilled independent investigators explicitly concluded otherwise. He did not just jump to conclusions; he looked, saw, then jumped, the evidence be damned.
His response betrayed poor judgment for someone with ambitions of becoming prime minister. It also underlined the spreading tendency to pass over inconvenient truths when they get in the way. Mr. Singh wished to show that he was behind the movement to combat racism and scrutinize the police. The facts in this case did not fit the mould. So he simply ignored them and fired off his tweet. In doing so, he spread misinformation, deepened divisions and sowed distrust of the police.
Remember that the cops here did not go charging in unsummoned. They came because of 911 calls from the family itself that indicated a violent altercation involving knives and broken bottles. The option of bringing in a mental-health unit trained in dealing with emotionally disturbed people was not open to them; for safety reasons, that is not allowed if weapons might be involved.
Mr. Singh is right to say that, in general, policing in Canada needs to change. Police need to be much better at dealing with people in mental distress; far too many die or are injured at their hands. They need to look hard at their encounters with Black and Indigenous Canadians; it is a good thing that policing of people of colour is coming under new scrutiny, here and around the world. The SIU’s Mr. Martino himself was at pains to say that he is not denying there is such a thing as systemic racism in Canada and that it “continues to challenge the relationship between racialized communities and the institutions of our justice system.”
But, as he notes, diving into that debate was not what he was called upon to do here. His job was to determine what really happened on that sad day in May, based solely on the evidence before him. That, surely, is what we want: Justice that doesn’t generalize about people and make assumptions about how they behave but treats them equally regardless of their background, judging their actions in light of the facts and the facts alone. That is just what the SIU did in this tragic case. What a shame Mr. Singh can’t see that.
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