Regis Korchinski-Paquet celebration of life held in Halifax

Dozens of people attended the celebration of life for Regis Korchinski-Paquet at Africville Park in Halifax on Saturday. 

The Toronto woman with strong ties to Nova Scotia died in late May after falling from a balcony. Police were at her family’s apartment at the time. Her family believe police played a role in her death and the incident galvanized Black Lives Matter protesters in Toronto and beyond. 

“Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year-old Black woman who was full of life, died after falling 24 storeys. How she managed to fall from her balcony is still unclear,” Pastor Stephen Gough told the crowd.

“… In all certainty, only Regis, the police and almighty God know the real truth and what really happened on that fateful day.”

The celebration of life was held outside the Africville Museum in Halifax at Africville Park. There was a large chalk display out front with messages like, “Justice 4 Regis” and “R.I.P. Regis.” A Black Live Matters sign was posted to the museum’s exterior wall.

Regis Korchinski-Paquet died at age 29 after police were called to her apartment in Toronto. (Newediuk Funeral Home)

There was also music, dancing, food and balloons and people sharing positive memories of Korchinski-Paquet.

“Regis was the same age as me, and I think it would be remiss for me to say that I could never end up in a situation like her. So I’m going as hard for her as I would want people to go for me,” said Kate MacDonald, a community activist and one of the organizers of the memorial.

“And I think it’s all of our responsibilities to fight for each other’s justice. No one is free until we’re all free and our liberation is tied.”

According to Ontario’s Special Investigation Unit (SIU), police had been called to the apartment on the evening of May 27 to respond to a violent family disturbance.

WATCH | Pastor Stephen Gough speak at celebration of life for Regis Korchinski-Paquet:

Pastor Stephen Gough tells the crowd the only people who truly know what happened are Regis, the police and God. 1:26

Korchinski-Paquet’s mother initially said she believed her daughter was shoved off the balcony by police, but the SIU cleared five Toronto police officers of wrongdoing in her death earlier this week.

Claudette Beals-Clayton, Regis’s mother, was at the celebration of life in Halifax but did not want to be interviewed. She is originally from Nova Scoti.

MacDonald has been in contact with Beals-Clayton and said she called her after finding out the police were cleared.

About 50 friends, family and community members came together to remember Korchinski-Paquet. The Toronto woman spent part of her life in Nova Scotia. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

“I don’t think anyone was surprised, unfortunately, but it is still heartbreaking, obviously, that the justice system only serves justice for some people,” MacDonald said.

MacDonald said she has questions about the third-party units that investigate police. She said it’s often ex-officers investigating current officers.

Instead of funding those units, MacDonald said the money should be reinvested into community safety and mental health initiatives.

“Very rarely do we see culturally appropriate or culturally relevant or apt services for racialized and marginalized folks,” MacDonald said.

A Black Lives Matter sign was posted to the exterior wall of the Africville Museum. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

Pastor Gough said Black people have been lied to for a long time. He said now is the time to ask questions.

“Black women, Black men, Black people are dying in the street because there is and has been for many centuries an attitude that Black people are less than the white supremacists who are scrambling to maintain their hold on Black people and the world,” he said.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.


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SIU clears all police officers in the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet

Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit has cleared all police officers of wrongdoing in the death of 29-year-old Regis Korchinski-Paquet, the agency announced Wednesday.

The Toronto woman fell to her death from her 24th-floor apartment balcony on May 27 after police were called to her home.

Her mother, Claudia Clayton-Beals, then posted a video online, stating that she believed police officers pushed Korchinski-Paquet off the balcony.

“The police killed my daughter, came into my apartment and shoved her off the balcony,” Clayton-Beals said the day her daughter died. 

The police oversight agency, known as the SIU, has closed its investigation into her death and cleared the officers. The Fifth Estate asked the SIU for comment but has not heard back.

Korchinski-Paquet’s death triggered large anti-police protests across the country, with thousands taking to the streets demanding justice for Korchinski-Paquet.

Some thousands of people marched along downtown Toronto streets, calling for justice for Korchinski-Paquet. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

Her death came just two days after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, with that timing connecting her death with the worldwide movement against police brutality.

“It was unbelievable when I saw the huge crowds and everyone walking peacefully together in the midst of COVID, in the midst of George Floyd,” the family’s lawyer, Knia Singh, told The Fifth Estate before the investigation’s conclusion.

“It simply means that her death cannot go unanswered.”

Family’s lawyers investigate

The family hired a team of lawyers, including former SIU director Howard Morton, who conducted their own investigation, including ordering a second autopsy.

At a media conference earlier this summer, Morton said that based on the evidence he had seen to that point, he supported criminal charges for the officers involved.

“Our investigation leads us to believe that there is a sound basis for criminal liability against the officers who burst into the apartment,” Morton said on July 15.

Members of Korchinski-Paquet’s family spoke to the media in July. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Shortly after Korchinski-Paquet’s death, Toronto Police Services Chief Mark Saunders, who has since retired, took the unusual step of holding a news conference before the SIU had completed its investigation.

Saunders held the conference two days after she died, and slammed stories circulating online of her being pushed to her death as “lies” spread by “opportunists.”

He emphasized that police are legally forbidden from speaking about cases that were the subject of probes by the Special Investigations Unit, yet the chief proceeded to speak about the case anyway.

Saunders told the news conference that three 911 calls for an assault in the apartment had been made that evening, with two of the calls saying a knife was involved. 

He went on to say that weapons-related calls take the highest priority and that he hadn’t sent a mobile crisis intervention team because “there’s no way I would put a nurse in the middle of a knife fight.”

The Toronto Sun newspaper ran an article with additional details of Korchinski-Paquet’s final moments that were leaked to them from police sources.

The family had become outraged and delayed their interviews with the SIU over their concerns that a police campaign was underway to compromise the integrity of its investigation.

Family says woman yelled, ‘Mom, help’

The family’s lead counsel, Singh, said that when Toronto officers arrived on the building’s 24th floor, they were met by Regis Korchinski-Paquet, her brother and her mother. 

The Korchinski family told The Fifth Estate that her mother asked the police officers to take her daughter to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health for treatment.

Hundreds gathered outside Korchinski-Paquet’s apartment building at 100 High Park Ave. for the memorial on July 25. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

Shortly after, Korchinski-Paquet entered her apartment to use the washroom. She was followed by several police officers.

Minutes later, her family claims they heard her yell, “Mom, help. Mom, help. Mom, help,” three times.

When family members tried to enter the apartment, they said an officer prevented them from entering.

They learned shortly after that Korchinski-Paquet had fallen from the balcony to her death.

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For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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