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A year after the 29-year-old's death after a fall from a 24th-floor balcony, the family says police still have her cell phone
Two people have been charged with obstructing police after a march on Sunday to mark the first anniversary of the police custody death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet. One of the individuals was also charged with assaulting police, according to Toronto police’s manager of media relations Connie Osborne.
Video on social media following the arrests shows marchers forming a circle around the police van in which the two men were being kept and preventing the vehicle from leaving the scene. The two men were released after a 45-minute standoff between police and marchers.
Osborne says in an email response to questions from NOW that “officers used their discretion at the time, taking into account the safety of everyone including those arrested, and released the men.”
It’s not clear what led to the arrests. Police have yet to release details in a public statement.
But some participants at the march reported Toronto police trying to intimidate marchers and create a confrontation. Among officers dispatched to the scene were police on horseback from the force’s crowd control unit.
Not Another Black Life, the organizers of the march, released a statement prior to the event stating that Toronto police still have the cell phone Korchinski-Paquet was carrying in the moments before her death but are refusing to release it to the family. Lawyers for the family could not be reached by NOW. The statement claims the cell phone has “revealing evidence on it.”
On that, Osborne says, Toronto police have no comment “at this time” since the circumstances surrounding Korchinski-Paquet’s death “are currently subject to an OIPRD investigation.” OIPRD is the Office of the Independent Police Review Director.
Korchinski-Paquet fell from the 24th floor of her mother’s High Park apartment after an incident involving police on May 27, 2020.
The province’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) found that Korchinski-Paquet fell to her death while allegedly trying to scale the balcony to a neighbour’s apartment. Police told the SIU she made a beeline for the balcony. There were three officers in the apartment at the time she plunged to her death. A total of six officers responded to a 911 call to her apartment from her mother.
Korchinski-Paquet was said to have been experiencing a mental health crisis before police arrived on the scene, but was calm when they arrived. The family’s lawyers at the time suggested there was enough evidence to charge police with negligence and failing to provide the necessaries of life.
Her death, which occurred just days after George Floyd’s choking death at the hands of Minneapolis police that touched off worldwide protests, led to calls here to defund Toronto police and redirect money being spent on Mobile Crisis Intervention Teams (MCIT) to community groups to deal with individuals experiencing mental health issues.
City council responded by unanimously passing a motion in June 2020 recommending Toronto police no longer respond to calls involving those in a mental health crisis and that the task be turned over to community groups.
But the Toronto Police Services Board voted in April to expand MCITs across the city and keep officers on the units.
Police staff told the Board at the time that the department is filling the gap until community agencies are prepared to take over. The city has hired Denise Campbell to develop programs on that front, but she is not expected to report on what those programs will look like until at least January 2022.
Since the death of Korchinski-Paquet, which was followed by the departure of Mark Saunders as chief, it’s been a year to recalibrate for the Toronto force under interim chief James Ramer.
But the promises of transparency and change aren’t necessarily showing up in the street.
It’s not just communities of colour that feel over-policed and under-protected. Homeless people continue to be a target of aggressive policing, as evidenced by the recent eviction of encampment residents at Lamport Stadium.
The force’s frayed relationship with Toronto’s LGBTQ communities, as outlined in Justice Gloria Epstein’s report released in early April into the force’s mishandling of the serial murders committed by Bruce McArthur, has also raised questions about how deeply entrenched police culture is and whether changes required in how the force as an institution relates to the public will be enough to deal with issues of mistrust.
In that light, cries of defund police are only bound to grow louder.