TORONTO — Thousands of people made their way to Toronto police headquarters, to decry anti-Black racism and police violence, and to demand answers in the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who fell off the balcony of her apartment in the presence of officers.
“We’re tired of sitting around and letting them treat us any type of way they want to treat us,” said Mutsa, who asked that her last name be withheld for safety reasons.
She had been marching her way through the city for several hours with the crowd on Saturday afternoon. “We’re going to bring action now, because that’s how they hear us,” she told HuffPost Canada.
The rally ― which started at the west-end Christie Pits park, and made its way peacefully through major city streets and ended at police headquarters downtown ― was organized by a group called Not Another Black Life.
Protesters echoed the rallying cries — “No justice, no peace” — of their counterparts in the U.S., where many in numerous cities are protesting the death of George Floyd, a Black man from Minneapolis who was recorded pleading for air as a white police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes. Floyd later died in hospital and the autopsy report said it was due to his “underlying health conditions and any potential intoxicants,” combined with him being pinned down by the officer, Derek Chauvin.
“We’re here for the injustice of the police when it comes to Regis,” said another protester named Kemora. “We want answers, we want clarity.”
The group set up a stage on a car in front of the headquarters, where speakers used a microphone to demand answers from Toronto police.
The crowd chanted “not another Black life” and speeches were followed by calls for “justice for Regis.”
Korchinski-Paquet’s family disputed the police account of events soon after she had fallen from her 24th-floor apartment balcony on Wednesday evening. Police said they responded to a domestic incident call and found Korchinski-Paquet on the balcony while they were inside the suite. In a news release, they said the 29-year-old fell a “short time later” and was pronounced dead at the scene.
Here is a timeline of developments in coverage of Korchinski-Paquet’s case.
Her death is being investigated by Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit, the agency that investigates police actions resulting in serious injury, death, or allegations of sexual assault.
“We cannot afford to lose anymore Black lives,” a speaker told the crowd Saturday. “It feels like we’re not going forward, only backwards — we’re tired of being a walking target.”
Protesters told HuffPost Canada that this was just the beginning in a push for justice. Several had protested against police brutality many times before, but Korchinski-Paquet’s death reignited a long-ignored call for police accountability.
“We’ve been protesting and now everyone is watching and now people are mobilizing. We can see the power we have in numbers so this won’t stop any time soon,” said Cara McArthur, who is black, Cree and Sioux.
“We have next steps ready,” said Mutsa. “If they’re not going to make any changes, we have next steps ready.”
Police had lined the streets of Toronto, starting at Christie Pits. Barricades surrounded the police headquarters as protesters on the other side held up signs and expressed their disappointment at officers.
Toronto police chief Mark Saunders made an appearance during the demonstration, asking for as “peaceful protest as possible.”
“When we look around and see the things that are happening, ideally we hope that there’s an opportunity that people take the time to hear everything and base their actions on the truth and then figure out how collectively as a city we can move forward,” he said.
In Halifax, police said hundreds attended a similar protest.
Korchinski-Paquet’s family did not plan the protest, but released a statement calling for those attending to “observe social distancing by-laws to ensure those attending are safe and remain peaceful in honour of Regis.”
The family said it thanks organizers for bringing attention to a “very serious matter.”
People had set up booths throughout the protest offering masks and sanitizer. Reminders circulated on social media asking people to maintain physical distancing practices as best they could. At the end of the protest, organizers thanked people for coming and urged everyone to disperse safely.
For their safety, protesters were also urged to avoid Queen’s Park, the area around Toronto’s City Hall, where anti-lockdown protesters were holding their own demonstration.
With a file from The Canadian Press