Activists demand accountability after Toronto Black woman's death in High Park

WATCH ABOVE: As the SIU probes the death of a woman who fell from her balcony, family members and strangers alike are alleging she was pushed. Caryn Lieberman reports.

Calls for accountability are growing louder after a 29-year-old Black woman died falling from a balcony while Toronto police were responding to a call at her home Wednesday night.

The incident occurred in the city’s High Park neighbourhood.

“How did this woman lose her life? How? How are these officers not being held to a higher standard?” asked Todd Amune, who knew the victim, Regis Korchinski-Paquet.

Akiem Morris was another aquaintance of the victim.

“If I say how many people here would want to be a Black person right now, no one would put up their hands because they know the issues that we go through,” Morris said.

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According to a statement issued by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), Toronto police officers were called to an apartment building on High Park Avenue north of Bloor Street West at around 5:15 p.m. on Wednesday with reports of a “domestic incident.”

“While officers were inside an apartment unit on the 24th floor, they observed a woman on the balcony,” a statement issued by the SIU Wednesday evening said.

“A short time later, the woman fell from the balcony to the ground below. She was pronounced deceased at the scene.”

What happened at the apartment building remains unclear, but many, even outside the victim’s family, are adamant in alleging the woman was pushed off the balcony by police officers.

The allegations haven’t been addressed by the SIU and the agency said the investigation is still underway.

“They don’t like us. It’s evident that they don’t like us. No one likes Black people,” said Morris.

On Twitter, the hashtag #JusticeForRegis is trending across Canada.

The incident followed another tragedy involving a person of colour in the United States.

On Monday, in Minneapolis, a 46-year-old Black man named George Floyd died after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for seven minutes.

Surveillance video showed Floyd was unarmed and compliant before the arrest.

“Very often just the presence of a Black person is seen as a threat, so very often you have police officers who are responding to that because Black skin, Black bodies have been demonized and weaponized,” explained Dexter Voisin, dean of the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work.

“America continues to be traumatized and retraumatized and have compounded trauma by these continued examples of police brutality and impunity on the part of police,” added Voisin, who is also the author of America the Beautiful and Violent.

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Robyn Maynard, a podcast producer and author of Policing Black Lives, said Canada isn’t a racial haven.

“This is an ongoing crisis in U.S. society, but I think it’s really important for us not to forget this is very much a reality for us here in Toronto and Canada, as well,” she noted.

“This ongoing comparison that favours Canada to the U.S. really just erases the rampant injustice that black communities continue to face right now — the grief, the fear.”

Also this week, in New York City, a white woman called 911 to say an “African-American man” was threatening her during an encounter involving her unleashed dog.

Christian Cooper was bird-watching in Central Park at the time.

Regarding allegations of police involvement in the death of Korchinski-Paquet, Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders addressed the incident in an unrelated news conference on Thursday.

“We want the answers as eagerly as everybody else. We want the public to hear the very truth — everything that we did or did not do,” he said.

As the SIU continues its investigation, activists said they want more than answers and are demanding accountability.

“You’re given the power to enforce the law so you have to be held at a higher standard to be able to have that job,” Amune said.

A protest is planned for Saturday at 2 p.m. in honour of Korchinski-Paquet by activists online.

“Show your support. Stand in solidarity with BIPOC globally. #nomoreblackbodies #justiceforregis,” they wrote.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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