Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia's Black community rallies around mother of Regis Korchinski-Paquet

The mother of Regis Korchinski-Paquet was home in North Preston, N.S., when she heard five Toronto police officers were cleared of wrongdoing in her daughter's death. A friend and community advocate says the Black community is rallying around the family.

A celebration of life for Regis Korchinski-Paquet is set for Saturday in Africville

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

Seeing all five Toronto police officers cleared in Regis Korchinski-Paquet's death was a "slap in the face" for some in her mother's home community of North Preston, N.S.

Miranda Cain, a North Preston resident and community advocate, was with Korchinski-Paquet's mother, Claudette Beals-Clayton, and other family members in a local restaurant when they heard the news.

Ontario's Special Investigations Unit (SIU) announced Wednesday no criminal charges would be laid against the officers in the death of the 29-year-old. She fell to her death from her 24th-floor apartment balcony on May 27 while police were in her home, after her family called police to get her proper help.

"We shed a couple of tears. A lot of frustration, anger," Cain said Thursday.

"I was just there to comfort her and to lend her my support. She anticipated this."

Cain said Beals-Clayton is originally from North and East Preston, historic Black communities just outside Halifax. Korchinski-Paquet lived in the province until she was a teenager. 

Sore Sanni, 17, holds a sign at a rally in Toronto in May following the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who fell to her death from an apartment balcony in Toronto's High Park neighbourhood. (Lorenda Reddekopp/CBC)

It was important for Beals-Clayton to leave Ontario and come back to Nova Scotia to be with family right now, Cain said. 

Korchinski-Paquet's death has raised many questions around how police respond to wellness checks, especially involving people of colour.

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.

In a statement, SIU director Joseph Martino said their evidence shows that no one other than Korchinski-Paquet was on the balcony when she scaled over the railing, tried to move along the ledge to her neighbour's balcony, lost her balance and fell.

The director said he found no grounds for criminal liability over the police's decision to leave Korchinski-Paquet alone on the balcony.

Although the officers might have acted more proactively by trying to reach Korchinski-Paquet on the balcony, Martino said police didn't want to startle her further.

Unanswered questions

Cain said the report leaves unanswered questions, like how five officers in a small apartment allowed Korchinski-Paquet to access the balcony.

"I'm stunned. To have zero charges, it's a slap in the face," Cain said.

Miranda Cain, a North Preston, N.S., resident and community advocate, says the Ontario SIU report was upsetting, but not surprising. (Submitted by Miranda Cain)

The SIU report shows that it's vital to pay attention to what's going on and keep pushing for police accountability, Cain said, especially given the results of the outside investigation.

"We're not going to just sit back," Cain said.

The family's team of lawyers, including former SIU director Howard Morton, believe the evidence supported criminal charges for the officers "who burst into the apartment."

Morton said Wednesday he believes one or more officers could have been charged with failure to provide the necessaries of life, or criminal negligence causing death.

Cain said the reality is police officers get the benefit of the doubt in such a situation, while Black families are left to "fight for what we need, and what's right."

Halifax's Kate Macdonald, a Black activist and educator, told CBC's Information Morning in Halifax on Friday she objected to Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders's statement that he would have never sent a nurse to the apartment because of phone calls that said a knife was involved.

"What's really interesting is that he didn't want to send a nurse, but he did want to send eight fully strapped cops to deal with a young woman in possible mental distress," she said.

Macdonald called for non-police mental health crisis units, a reallocation of funding from police forces to community initiatives, and a hard look at organizations like the SIU.

"What's the point of SIU? If not to be a community advocate, if not to provide an impartial account of what happened, then what is the point?" she said.

A CBC News analysis of 461 police deaths in Canada between 2000 and 2017 revealed 70 per cent of people who died during encounters with police suffered from mental health or substance abuse problems. It also found Black and Indigenous people were over-represented in these deaths.

A family lawyer said that Korchinski-Paquet did not have mental illness, but suffered from seizures that caused erratic behaviour. He said that by the time police arrived, she had calmed down.

Claudette Beals-Clayton, far right, and other family members of Regis Korchinski-Paquet speak to reporters in July. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Cain said while the conversations and rallies brought about after Korchinski-Paquet's death are important, a key piece that many are glossing over is a "life has been lost."

Beals-Clayton has lost a daughter, and Cain said nobody could relate to the pain and anguish she's going through unless they'd also lost a child.

Celebration of life

The community is holding a celebration of life this Saturday for Korchinski-Paquet.

"[Her mom] doesn't want anything angry, she doesn't want anything [with] frustration. She just wants to celebrate her daughter," Cain said.

MacDonald said she never met Korchinski-Paquet, but that her death hit home for her.

"I'm the same age as Regis, and I think that I would be remiss to believe that this couldn't have been me," she said. "This very well could have been me. Regis is me, is you, is us, is our family."

All are welcome to the memorial on Saturday, which will be held in Africville from 5-8 p.m.

The Black community was expropriated and demolished by the city of Halifax in the 1960s, forcing hundreds from their homes.

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 ofYou can read more stories here.

(CBC)

With files from Halifax's Information Morning

now