Defund the police protests held in Toronto as demonstrators point to government inaction

In Toronto and across the country, marches are being held to call for the defunding of police forces nationwide. Protests in the city come just days after the SIU cleared officers following an investigation into the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet.

Marches are being held nationwide as protesters call for defunding, end to police brutality

Protesters march in a demonstration in downtown Toronto on Aug 29. calling for the defunding of police. (Kelda Yuen/CBC News)

Protests are being held in Toronto on Saturday to continue calls to defund the police, just days after the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) cleared police officers of wrongdoing in the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet. 

The marches are among several demonstrations nationwide, including rallies in Montreal, Calgary, and Moncton, planned by organizations Not Another Black Life and the Coalition for BIPOC Liberation. 

"We demand our basic human right to live peacefully with the equitable opportunity to live our best lives, take care of our families and support our communities," said the coalition in a public statement ahead of the demonstrations. 

The first Toronto march began at Downsview Park Saturday morning. A second protest was planned for this afternoon at Christie Pits Park.

Crowds wearing masks and holding up signs stating, "Abolish the Police" filled the park. 

Demonstrator Shaela Nathan-Turner told CBC News that funding for police should be funnelled into community associations that are better equipped to address issues like mental health, addiction and people experiencing homelessness and do not rely on violence — which has been at the crux of the defund the police movements. 

Protesters are pictured here in Downsview Park during a demonstration calling for the defunding of police. The Toronto rally was one of several across the country. (Kelda Yuen/CBC News)

"The police, there's so much that's on them. They have so many roles and things they aren't specialized in that they are expected to do. That money could be much better spent in training other people to do a lot of the things that they are doing," said Nathan-Turner. 

As a Black woman, she emphasized how she and many Black people associate the police with brutality. 

"In a lot of people's eyes, especially people in the Black community, they are a fear tactic, and they aren't anything more than that. I don't look at the police as being safe, that's fear in my eyes. I don't think that's a way for anyone to live," she said. 

Investing in groups that can approach the communities they serve with kindness and compassion should be a priority for governments, said Anushay Sheikh, who also attended the rally.

"Give people access to resources to rehabilitate themselves," she said. 

Sheikh points to a report published this month by the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC)  that found Black people only make up 8.8 per cent of Toronto's population, but represent almost 32 per cent of people charged by Toronto police. 

That report echoed a 2018 analysis by the OHRC that found Black residents in Toronto are 20 times more likely to be killed by police than white people.

Recent actions to move forward new reforms for the Toronto Police ring hollow as communities haven't seen change come to fruition — and the province spending $25 million to hire 200 additional Ontario Provincial Police officers shows where government priorities are, said Sheikh.

"Everyone's tired of it. We're all tired of reports reaffirming the same things again and again. We haven't seen that change on the city level, we haven't seen that in the province," she said. 

Family 'disgusted' that officers cleared following woman's death

The Canada-wide protest initiative comes as the family of Korchinski-Paquet say that police should have faced criminal charges in her death on May 27. 

The 29-year-old died after falling from her 24th-floor apartment balcony while police were inside her home. 

On the day of her death, the woman's mother Claudette Beals Clayton posted a video online, stating that she believed officers pushed her daughter to her death.

Police cleared of wrongdoing in death of of Regis Korchinski-Paquet

3 years ago
Duration 1:59
Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit has cleared police of wrongdoing in the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet. The Toronto woman fell to her death from her 24th floor apartment balcony on May 27 while police were in her home, sparking nationwide protests.

Korchinski-Paquet's death sparked anti-police and anti-racism protests across the country, occurring the same week George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer. 

The SIU ruled Wednesday that the investigation into her death is closed and officers are cleared. 

They did find that Korchinski-Paquet's mother had asked officers to take her to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, as she had suffered from seizures earlier that day. 

Her sister Renee Korchinski Beals told CBC News that the family is "absolutely disgusted with the outcome."

"Justice wasn't served today, but that doesn't mean we're going to stop fighting for my sister. They're wrong for their decision; they're absolutely wrong," she said. 

The wave of protests across Canada today are also coupled with ongoing calls to abolish the police in the United States, following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, which has left him paralyzed.

With files from Kelda Yuen