Here’s Why #JusticeForRegis Is Trending

Life & Love

A 29-year-old Black woman died while Toronto police were in her home. And people are understandably outraged—and asking questions

Trigger warning: This article contains references to Black grief, death and police violence.

In a week that has already been rife with death and police brutality, there’s yet another hashtag trending on Twitter. Overnight on May 27, #JusticeForRegis began picking up steam after the suspicious death of a 29-year-old Black woman in the High Park area of Toronto. (The young woman has been identified on social media by family members as Regis Korchinski-Paquet.) In a series of videos posted to Instagram and Instagram stories, user @rocawrld—who identified himself as the woman’s cousin—said that his cousin had been murdered by police officers, having been pushed from her balcony. [FLARE has chosen not to share the aforementioned videos, but have linked to them for any reader who has the emotional and mental capacity to view them.]

“They killed my female cousin today a black woman,” @rocawrld captioned one of the videos. “The police [threw] her off the balcony at 100 high park Toronto, Ontario.” In the video, @rocawrld is seen standing outside of the building, cordoned off with police tape and a few officers. Visible in the background is an orange tarp, covering the victim’s body. “Look at this, there’s no news here,” @rocawrld said. “My cousin has been on the floor [for] over an hour. The police murdered my cousin.” Later in the video he repeated: “They killed my cousin. No remorse.”

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Another video, shared to Instagram stories, featured a woman who identified herself as the victim’s mother, stating: “The police killed my daughter, came in my apartment and shoved her off the balcony.”

The SIU (Special Investigations Unit), a self-described “arms-length agency” that investigates any death, serious injury or allegation of sexual assault involving police, issued a news release around 9:45 p.m. the same day announcing that they are investigating the circumstances surrounding Korchinski-Paquet’s death (Toronto police and the Special Investigations Unit have not released the woman’s name), stating that Toronto Police Service officers responded to a domestic incident call at around 5:15 p.m. on May 27 at the aforementioned apartment building. According to the news release, “while officers were inside an apartment unit on the 24th floor, they observed a woman on the balcony.” And,  “a short time later,” per the release, “the woman fell from the balcony to the ground below.”

In a follow-up news release issued on May 28, the SIU revealed that interviews with witnesses had begun and will be ongoing for the next few days. Addressing the comments made by the victim’s family members, the statement reads: “The SIU is aware of allegations made by certain family members of the deceased and will be looking to speak to anyone with information about these allegations.  As the investigation is in the early stages, it would be inappropriate for the SIU to make any further comment at this time with respect to what transpired.”

As many people, like journalist Sadiya Ansari, have pointed out, this is hardly the first inconsistent account around the death of a Black person involving police. In the United States, the 2015 death of Sandra Bland comes to mind. Bland, who was pulled over by police for failing to signal a lane change, was arrested on a charge of assaulting a public servant. In jail awaiting her bail, Bland allegedly committed suicide. Days after her suicide, state trooper Brian C. Encina told investigators for the Department of Public Safety’s Office of Inspector General of Bland’s arrest: “My safety was in jeopardy at more than one time.” But in May 2019, footage of the encounter, filmed by Bland, was released to the public, and showed a very different exchange between Bland and the officer.

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And this also isn’t the first the SIU has been called to investigate the killing of a Black person with police involvement—to varying degrees of justice. In July 2015, the agency failed to charge a Peel region police officer for the shooting death of then-33-year-old Jermaine Carby. Carby allegedly refused to put down a knife when he was pulled over by three officers who claimed they feared for their lives. (It’s important to note that said knife was not initially found at the scene. A kitchen knife was turned over several hours later by a Peel sergeant who said an officer had bagged it after removing it from Carby’s hand as he lay on the ground after the shooting.)

In a statement provided to FLARE by Toronto Police Service, Chief Mark Saunders said that the Toronto Police Service is “fully co-operating with the Special Investigations Unit,” stating: “Let me be very clear that we want the facts as much as anyone.” Saunders also stated that TPS is legally not permitted to discuss the incident at this time.

Shortly after the most recent video was posted to social media, users on Instagram and Twitter responded in outrage, tagging Canadian news outlets and American activist Shaun King, upset over the lack of coverage of the incident by Canadian news media (an issue that may contribute to the inaccurate perception many people have that racism is not an issue in Canada, as opposed to sensationalized coverage in the United States), and the passivity of many initial news reports, which didn’t name the victim.

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It’s an exhausting time to be online and in tune with the news for anybody, but especially for Black people. Coming on the heels of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, false reporting by a white woman against a Black man to police in New York City’s Central Park, the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery in February, and the over-policing of Black people and their health during the COVID-19 pandemic, Korchinski-Paquet’s death is yet another tragedy for a community that has been—and continues to be—targeted, subjected to excessive force by law enforcement and killed at higher rates than other Canadians.

FLARE has reached out to the SIU, CP24 and @rocawrld for comment. The article will be updated with their responses.

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