Thousands rally in Toronto to protest racism in wake of the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet

Thousands of people took part in a rally downtown on Saturday to protest racism around the world and to demand answers in the death of 29-year-old Toronto resident Regis Korchinski-Paquet.

Protest comes on the heels of high-profile, police-involved deaths in both Canada and the U.S.

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

Thousands of people took part in a rally downtown on Saturday to protest racism around the world and to demand answers in the death of 29-year-old Toronto resident Regis Korchinski-Paquet.

"It's important for me to be here because if I'm not here then who else is?" Sore Sanni, 17, told CBC Toronto at the rally. 

"All lives will not matter until black ones do." 

The peaceful rally, organized by a group dubbed Not Another Black Life, comes on the heels of high-profile, police-involved deaths in both Canada and the United States. Some of the ensuing protests in the U.S. turned violent.

Some thousands of people marched along downtown Toronto streets on Saturday afternoon. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

A Minnesota police officer is now facing a murder charge in the death of George Floyd, a black man caught on film pleading for air as an officer knelt on his neck.

Meanwhile, the family of Regis Korchinski-Paquet said what began as a 911 call for help ended in her death. Korchinski-Paquet fell from the balcony of a 24th-floor Toronto apartment while police were in the home on Wednesday. 

Korchinski-Paquet's death has drawn widespread community reaction and online attention after her cousin and mother took to social media following her death, initially claiming she was pushed off a balcony by police.

In a statement released on Saturday, Knia Singh, the family's lawyer, said family members are now "waiting on evidence from the investigation before any further conclusions can be made," adding that statements made prior to May 28 are not part of the official Korchinski-Paquet statement.

In Toronto, people chanted "not another black life," "abolish the police," and "no justice, no peace" as they wound through the downtown streets clad in face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"We've been protesting and now everyone is watching and now people are mobilizing. We can see the power we have in numbers so this won't stop any time soon," said Cara McArthur, who is black, Cree and Sioux. 

Later on Saturday, as the rally turned into a march, others chanted "stop killing black women." 

Police estimated the crowd to be between 3,500 and 4,000 and said there was no violence.

Sanni said the protest was not just about Korchinski-Paquet, but about "every person that has been killed unjustly and treated unfairly by police and our judicial system." 

"As a person of colour and as a black person I am treated differently every day ... It's so sad that I have to come out here in a pandemic to protest black lives." 

Protesters hold signs in front of Queen's Park on Saturday. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

Brampton North MPP Kevin Yarde, a member of the Ontario NDP Black Caucus, told CBC Toronto that he participated in Saturday's event in Toronto to "show support for Regis." 

"She can't speak and we are here to speak on her behalf." 

Yarde says "too many black lives have been lost over the years," adding that he will continue to push to "make sure justice is served." 

Meanwhile, police said hundreds attended a similar protest in Halifax on Saturday. No arrests were made.

"We respect the public's right to a peaceful protest," Staff Sgt. R. Scott MacDonald said.

"Police were on hand simply to ensure the safety of the participants and the public. We appreciate that attendees conducted themselves in a peaceful manner."

A rally also is scheduled for Montreal on Sunday.

Racism a 'fact in our society,' Toronto mayor says 

A lawyer representing Korchinski-Paquet's family says her relatives do not want to see violence, only answers as to how and why she died.

In a statement released Saturday, lawyer Knia Singh says the family did not organize or plan the protest. The family says it thanks organizers for bringing attention to a "very serious matter."

Ontario's Special Investigations Unit is looking into the death of Korchinski-Paquet, as questions swirl around exactly what happened in the moments leading up to her death. 

Toronto's police chief said Friday said police received three 911 calls for an assault, with at least two of the calls saying a knife was involved.

In the statement released Saturday, however, Singh said when police arrived and spoke with Korchinski-Paquet, her brother and mother, there was no knife present and no assault taking place.

"The family strongly believes that Regis' death could have been prevented," the statement reads in part.

Korchinski-Paquet was described as an active member of her church, a talented gymnast and proud of her Ukrainian and Nova Scotian roots. 

What happened in the moments leading up to Regis Korchinski-Paquet’s death remains unclear. (Regis Paquet/Facebook)

On Friday, Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders urged calm in the wake the incident, warning of an information "vacuum" faced by police that risks being filled by "opportunists."

Toronto Mayor John Tory called the community's anger over her death understandable, describing anti-black racism as "a fact in our society" and encouraging protesters to practise physical distancing in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, a petition on demanding "justice" for Korchinski-Paquet has drawn over 50,000 signatures. 

Thousands march in Toronto against anti-black, anti-Indigenous racism

2 years ago
Duration 8:03
Thousands of people are taking part in a rally on downtown Toronto streets on Saturday in protest of what organizers describe as anti-black and anti-Indigenous racism around the world.

With files from The Canadian Press, Lorenda Reddekopp, Julia Knope