The family of a Black Toronto woman who died by falling from her 24th-floor balcony say they called police for help and don’t understand how she ended up dead.
Regis Korchinski-Paquet died on Wednesday evening, after police were called to her home. Her family has said it was not a suicide and they want answers about the police’s actions leading up to her fall. At the time she fell, Korchinski-Paquet was alone in her apartment unit with several police officers, her family said.
The Special Investigations Unit, an agency that probes police incidents involving death or serious injury, is investigating.
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders has urged the public to “wait for the facts” to emerge, and expressed concern about the spread of “misinformation,” though he said he was unable to comment on any of those facts because of the SIU’s involvement.
Toronto criminal lawyer Knia Singh is representing Korchinski-Paquet’s family.
In a press conference Thursday, Singh said Korchinski-Paquet was in distress over a family conflict when her mother, Claudette Korchinski-Beals called police “to bring calm to the situation.”
According to Singh, once police arrived, Korchinski-Beals “pleaded with police to provide assistance to her daughter and take her to (Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) to provide mental health support as Claudette did not want the problem to escalate, where it became unsafe.”
Singh said “words were exchanged between Regis and the police officers” before she said she was going into her apartment to use the bathroom. He said multiple officers went in after her and stopped her brother from trying to go in after her.
After a couple of minutes, Singh said “the mother and the brother heard a commotion in the apartment and then heard Regis cry out ‘Mom help, mom help, mom help.’”
According to Singh, Korchinski-Paquet’s mother and brother then heard silence before an officer came out, knocked on the neighbour’s door and stated that “she is over at the neighbour's house or in the unit below.”
A few minutes later, Singh said Korchinski-Beales asked the officers if her daughter was “on the ground.”
“An officer went into the unit then came back out and told her mother, ‘yes, she is on the ground,’” Singh said.
Singh said the family doesn’t understand how their call for assistance resulted in Korchinski-Paquet’s death. They want footage from the apartment’s hallway to be secured by the SIU.
During a press conference Thursday, Saunders was asked if the responding officers were wearing body cameras. He didn’t answer directly, but said “this might be a textbook case in why body cameras should be provided.”
On Friday, CBC reporter Kamil Karamali tweeted that Saunders said there were three 911 calls to the building where Korchinski-Paquet died, including two about weapons or knives, and that “outrageous lies” are circulating about the case.
VICE has reached out to Toronto police for comment but has not heard back.
Parkdale-High Park MPP Bhutila Karpoche released a statement Thursday calling for a “full transparent, public, and independent investigation” into Korchinski-Paquet’s death.
“Regis Korchinski-Paquet’s death is not an isolated incident, but part of a pattern of Black deaths in our province that includes D’Andre Campbell and countless others,” Karpoche said. Campbell, who is Black, was shot and killed by Peel police in April. His family said he was dealing with mental illness and had called police for help.
“Black Ontarians must be able to call for help without fear for their lives. Your government must show that Black lives matter,” Karpoche wrote.
Between 2013-2017, Black people were 20 times more likely than white people to be shot dead by Toronto police, according to a 2018 report from the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
Singh said Korchinski-Paquet was a talented gymnast who volunteered at her church. A protest in her honour is scheduled for Saturday and a crowdfunding campaign has been set up to assist with legal fees and funeral costs.
“She was loved and will be missed,” Singh said.