Thousands rally in Toronto against anti-black racism after woman falls from balcony
TORONTO -- "Justice for Regis" chants echoed throughout the streets of downtown Toronto Saturday afternoon as thousands of protesters demanded answers in the death of 29-year-old Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who fell from her apartment balcony in High Park while police were present.
Demonstrators gathered at Christie Pits Park at 2 p.m. and made their way to Toronto Police Headquarters, in the College and Bay area. The rally was initially planned to conclude at Queen's Park.
"We are not going to Queen's Park due to white supremacy. We will be going to the police station," organizers said in a post on Twitter, explaining the change of plans.
People were carrying signs and chanting "we matter," "black lives matter," "abolish the police," and "no justice, no peace."
“I'm here today because I don't like what I'm seeing in the press. I don't like what I'm seeing in America and Canada. It is our responsibility to make sure that all lives matter and for now, all lives can't matter until black ones do,” one protester told CTV News Toronto.
Approximately 4,000 people attended the rally, police said.
“I do think that we systemically have been neglecting a very significant community within our society,” another protester said. “We can't do that anymore. We need to be listening to their voices.”
Organized by the group "Not Another Black Life," the rally, described as against anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism, comes days after Korchinski-Paquet's death, which is now under investigation by Ontario's Special Investigations Unit (SIU).
The SIU, a civilian police watchdog, investigates any death, serious injury or allegation of sexual assault involving police.
Earlier this week, relatives of Korchinski-Paquet said she was in the midst of a mental health crisis and that they called police on Wednesday to the apartment building near Bloor Street and High Park Avenue to get her help.
There is not much information about what happened next, but at some point, Korchinski-Paquet asked to go to the washroom inside her apartment and was followed in by several officers, according to her mother and brother.
She then fell to her death some time later.
In a series of messages posted to Twitter on Saturday, the organizers said that it is holding the event "for Regis" and "for every known and unknown black and indigenous life lost to police brutality and white supremacy."
Among those who took part the rally were the relatives of Korchinski-Paquet, who asked those attending the rally to remain peaceful and safe.
"The family is thankful for the outpouring of support from the community and to the organizers of today's event for bringing attention to this very serious matter," the statement reads.
"The family asks that anyone attending today's event observe social distancing by-laws to ensure those attending are safe and remain peaceful in honour of Regis."
Police Chief Mark Saunders was also seen in the vicinity of the rally on Saturday and told CP24 that he wanted to ensure it is as "peaceful of a protest as possible."
"I just want to make sure that everything's okay," Saunders said. "When we look around and see the things that are happening, ideally, you'd hope that there's an opportunity that people take the time to hear everything and based their actions on the truth and then figure out where collectively as a city, we can move forward."
On Friday, Saunders said he wants to say more about what occurred but is legally not allowed to do so.
He urged the public to wait until the SIU investigation is complete, saying he has looked on social media, where numerous people have accused police of being involved in Korchinski-Paquet's fatal fall.
On Saturday evening, Toronto Mayor John Tory said the protest represents a total rejection of anti-black and anti-Indigenous racism, which he said exists in the city and the country.
“I want to acknowledge the hurt, frustration, anger and emotional fatigue many people are feeling across North America including in our own city,” Tory said in a statement.
“Those marching today also reflected our shared need for answers in the tragic death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet. The family and all of us need answers on what happened to Regis.”
Tory renewed his call for the investigation to be conducted on an expedited basis.
“The investigation itself must be thorough and transparent and must include frequent public updates, not usually a feature of SIU investigations. The results of that investigation will tell us exactly what happened,” Tory said.
Meanwhile, police said hundreds attended a similar protest in Halifax on Saturday. No arrests were made.
"We respect the public's right to a peaceful protest," Staff Sgt. R. Scott MacDonald said.
"Police were on hand simply to ensure the safety of the participants and the public. We appreciate that attendees conducted themselves in a peaceful manner."
A rally also is scheduled for Montreal on Sunday.
-- With files from Chris Herhalt and The Canadian Press