Tension between police and demonstrators during Yonge St. march for Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who fell to her death last year in presence of police

A march to commemorate the first anniversary of Regis Korchinski-Paquet’s death in the presence of Toronto police officers turned tense Monday after police arrested one of the protest marshals and at least two other people.

Several hundred demonstrators had marched south on Yonge Street following a memorial rally at Queen’s Park for the 29-year-old Afro-Indigenous woman who died May 27, 2020, when she fell from the balcony of her High Park apartment, minutes after police had been called to the unit.

Led by a flatbed truck with a DJ, the crowd — calling for defunding and abolishing the police — took over Yonge’s southbound lanes, as dozens of police on bicycles positioned themselves at the front and back of the crowd and along both sides.

The march had been proceeding peacefully until it approached Gerrard Street around 2:45 p.m., when police arrested a woman wearing a fluorescent vest near the front of the marchers. It was not clear why the woman — who was one of several marshals corralling the marchers — was arrested.

Toronto police did not provide an explanation at press time.

The arrest drew angry reactions from many of the demonstrators and led to some small clashes between demonstrators and police. At least two more people were subsequently arrested and placed in the back of a Toronto Police court services vehicle, while a group of six officers on horseback kept the crowd back from the arresting officers. (Toronto police did not confirm the number of people arrested.)

A group of demonstrators then surrounded the court services vehicle, chanting “Let them go!” and “Free them now!”

After about a half-hour, police individually released the people they had arrested, leading to cheers from the crowd and chants of “We keep us safe,” as the mounted police and the court services vehicle pulled back from the crowd and retreated from the scene.

(The woman who was the first to be arrested declined to speak to the Star after she was released.)

Once those who had been arrested were released the march resumed, continuing south on Yonge and wrapping up at Yonge-Dundas Square. One of the organizers said Korchinski-Paquet’s mother was intending to speak at that point, but she was too upset after being “assaulted” by police during the skirmishes.

“We came here for a memorial,” the organizer — who declined to give her name to the Star — told the crowd at the end of the march, saying she was frustrated with the police’s heavy-handedness. “Only terrorists would smash people up who were trying to grieve.”

Korchinski-Paquet’s death, coming just two days after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, set off protests locally and across Canada, prompting calls for changes to how police respond to people in distress.

Last August, Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit — which conducts criminal investigations into deaths involving police — cleared the unnamed officers involved in the incident, concluding that there was no basis to charge any of the officers present in the moments before Korchinski-Paquet fell.

Police had been summoned to the apartment by multiple 911 calls, some mentioning knives. Soon after police arrived on scene, Korchinski-Paquet plummeted to her death.

In a detailed report, SIU director Joseph Martino said the watchdog’s thorough investigation had established Korchinski-Paquet died after she lost her balance and fell while trying to scale her balcony railing to step onto her neighbour’s balcony.

In March, Korchinski-Paquet’s family announced that the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) — another police watchdog, which investigates allegations of police misconduct — has launched a review of the incident.

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On Monday, the lawyer representing Korchinski-Paquet’s family, Jason Bogle, said the OIPRD will be reviewing both the conduct of the officers who were on the scene when Korchinski-Paquet died, as well as Toronto police’s overall policies.

“There’s no justice unless there is truth, and we’re seeking truth,” Bogle said, prior to the march.

— With files from Wendy Gillis

TORONTO STAR