Ontario’s police watchdog says it has reviewed security camera footage and interviewed the officers who responded to the Toronto highrise where 29-year-old Regis Korchinski Paquet apparently fell to her death — after what her family says was a 911 call that went terribly wrong.
The Special Investigations Unit, an arm’s-length civilian oversight agency that investigates reports where there has been death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault involving police, said Monday it has now interviewed a subject officer, all five witness officers and four civilian witnesses.
“While the investigation is ongoing, the details of the interviews and the video footage will not be released in an effort to ensure the memories of other potential witnesses are not tainted,” the agency said in a news release Monday.
The update comes after thousands of people took to the streets of Toronto Saturday to demand answers about Korchinski-Paquet’s death, and to protest against racism after the death of an unarmed black man at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minn. George Floyd died soon after pleading for air as an officer pressed his knee into his neck while he was was already in handcuffs and on the ground, prompting widespread outcry against police brutality and protests in many U.S. cities.
Questions and controversy have swirled in the days following Korchinski-Paquet’s death with her family, community advocates and various politicians asking exactly what happened in the moments leading up to her 24-storey fall from the balcony of her family’s apartment.
Korchinski-Paquet’s relatives have said they worry race played a role in her death too, citing the case of Andrew Loku in 2015 and of D’Andre Campbell who was fatally shot by Peel police in Brampton, Ont., in April, after what the SIU called a “domestic situation.” Campbell’s family said he suffered from mental illness.
Concens about role of race in Korchinski-Paquet’s death
“The family is extremely concerned that in recent times people with mental health distress issues across North America are ending up dead after interactions with the police,” their lawyer Knia Singh said last week.
Police were called to the apartment where Korchinksi-Paquet lived with her family on May 27 for multiple reports of an assault, Toronto police chief Mark Saunders has said. Two of those calls stated that a knife was involved, the chief said —the family has said there was no assault underway or knife present at the time that police arrived.
“Words were exchanged” between her and police. Not long afterward, she said she asked to enter the apartment unit to use the bathroom. Police followed her inside, but did not allow her mother or brother to enter, the family has said.
Within a minute or two, Singh said, the family heard a commotion inside the apartment.
“Mom help, Mom help,” were the final words her mother would hear her say before they heard silence. Police officers confirmed minutes later Korchinski-Paquet was dead.
In the immediate aftermath of her death, Korchinski-Paquet’s mother and cousin took to social media in a series of emotional video statements pointing fingers at police, saying they believed she had been pushed.
In the days that followed, Singh said those accusations would not be part of the family’s official statement, but that they would instead wait for the evidence before coming to any further conclusions.
Active member of her church, talented gymnast
No family members were inside the unit at the time of Korchinski-Paquet’s death, with their lawyer saying they were prevented from entering the unit, meaning the 29-year old was alone with officers before she died.
Korchinski-Paquet was an active member of her church, present at every church cookout, a talented gymnast and proud of her Ukrainian and Nova Scotian roots, her family’s lawyer said.
In the past five years, however, she began experiencing epilepsy, with the family sometimes requiring help from police, he said.
Meanwhile, Saunders has urged calm in the wake of Korchinski-Paquet’s death, warning of an information “vacuum” faced by police that risks being filled by “opportunists.”
Saunders said police are not “legally permitted to discuss the incident” because of the SIU investigation underway.
“I’ll urge the public to please wait for the facts to come out,” he said late last week.