Toronto police chief Mark Saunders is appealing for calm in the wake of allegations police pushed a 29-year-old Toronto woman from the 24th-storey of a High Park apartment building.
In a press conference called this afternoon ahead of a protest scheduled for Saturday at Christie Pits over the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Saunders took the highly unusual step of releasing information about the events surrounding her death.
While the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the province’s police watchdog charged with investigating serious incidents involving police, is conducting its probe, Saunders revealed this afternoon that police received three separate 911 calls about an alleged “assault” at Korchinski-Paquet’s High Park address involving knives.
Under normal circumstances, police are unable by law to make public any information related to an investigation being carried out by the SIU.
But allegations the officers involved in the incident pushed the woman off a balcony has set off a firestorm on social media and Saunders says he felt compelled as a result to fill the information “vacuum.”
The allegations surrounding the death have also prompted responses from the Toronto police union and the Toronto Police Services Board this afternoon.
The SIU released its own statement today as well, its third in as many days on its investigation, saying that four of five officers involved in the incident have provided a statement.
Saunders says the fifth officer, the “subject officer” in the case, is scheduled to provide a statement to the SIU this afternoon. He says the delay in that officer speaking to the SIU has nothing to do with police “trying to hide anything.”
Saunders was asked if concerns Saturday’s scheduled protest at Christie Pits over Korchinski-Paquet’s death may get out of hand had anything to do with his release of information. Her death is being compared on social media to the police custody death of Minneapolis man George Floyd over which riots and fires continue to rage stateside.
The chief did not answer the question directly but made clear his concerns about what he called the “outrageous lies and mistruths” on social media on the circumstances surrounding Korchinski-Paquet’s death.
Saunders says that he wanted protestors who may be attending the event to “know the truth” and for organizers not “to use this death as an opportunity to showcase [police grievances] and be a distraction for everything that’s going on right now.”
Saunders says “the trust of the community and the public is of paramount importance to the police.” That trust has been challenged in recent years over a number of incidents, including the police shooting death of Andrew Loku, which led to coroner’s inquest and a number of recommendations related to police conduct in dealing with people who are mentally ill.
Mental health issues seem to have played a part in Korchinski-Paquet’s death as well, but it’s still unclear to what extent. Other reports have already stated that the woman’s mother called police to take her to CAMH. All Saunders would say is that police “had heard talk of seizures” – Korchinski-Paquet reportedly suffers from epilepsy – and that Toronto paramedics were also called to the scene.
Knia Singh, the lawyer representing the family, raised the Loku case during a press conference yesterday. But Saunders suggests the Korchinski-Paquet incident is more a “textbook case” of the need for police to wear body cameras.
Those were supposed to start being used by the force this year, but legal and privacy issues raised by the police union have stalled their deployment. Saunders says it won’t be until the end of the year before that equipment starts being rolled out and then not to every member of the force. He described cameras as “another opportunity for police to tell their stories.”
Saunders added that he is “very comfortable” with the number of officers who attended the scene. One report puts the number of police in the apartment at the time Korchinski-Paquet’s death at eight. Saunders says that he does not know if footage from security cameras in the building has been seized.