Toronto

Release evidence in Regis Korchinski-Paquet death or turn it over to outside agency, family lawyer says

The lawyer for the family of Regis Korchinski-Paquet is calling for the police watchdog investigating her fall from a Toronto balcony to either turn over its probe to an outside agency or share the evidence gathered so far, saying the process as it stands now "limits transparency."

Knia Singh's comments come as police watchdog says interviews with family still on hold

Korchinski-Paquet was an active member of her church, a talented gymnast and proud of her Ukrainian and Nova Scotian roots. In the past five years, however, she began experiencing epileptic seizures, with the family saying it sometimes required help from police. (Regis Paquet/Facebook)

The lawyer for the family of Regis Korchinski-Paquet is calling for the provincial police watchdog investigating her fall from a Toronto balcony to either turn over its probe to an outside agency or share the evidence gathered so far, saying the process as it stands now "limits transparency."

Knia Singh's comments come as the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) announced it has yet to complete interviews with Korchinski-Paquet's family. In a news release on Wednesday, the civilian oversight body said it is "waiting on a decision from family counsel regarding their scheduling."

The family, in a statement released on Wednesday night, said it "recognizes the importance of providing a statement to ensure justice for Regis and will be scheduling another interview date with the SIU as soon as possible."

So far, SIU investigators have canvassed the area where the 29-year-old fell from her family's 24th-floor apartment building in Toronto's High Park neighbourhood, after a family conflict that Singh has said left her distressed. The family called Toronto police and officers were in the apartment at the time Korchinski-Paquet fell.

The agency says it has interviewed all six Toronto police officers involved along with seven witnesses. It has also secured and reviewed security footage from the building and received all materials requested from police.

Interviews with the family were expected to take place last week, but that changed after details of Korchinski-Paquet's final moments were published in a story by the Toronto Sun that cited unnamed sources.

After that, the family put its interviews with the SIU on hold, with their lawyer saying he was concerned about an effort to sway public opinion around Korchinski-Paquet's case.

'The process must be fair'

The SIU also expressed concern in a news release last week, calling for "immediate steps" to prevent such leaks, saying they "detract from the public's confidence, and the family's confidence, in the integrity of the SIU investigation."

The Toronto Police Service also launched a professional standards investigation to probe whether any officers were involved in the leak. 

In an email to CBC News Tuesday, Singh said he was in favour of referring the probe into Korchinski-Paquet's death to an outside agency, or having the SIU share the evidence and findings assembled so far with the family. 

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

"The process must be fair, and unfortunately the way [Special Investigations Unit] investigations are conducted now limits transparency and the availability of counsel to test the evidence that the SIU is relying on," Singh said. 

Singh also pointed to the high clearance rate for officers in SIU investigations, arguing the process "is heavily weighted in favour of police officers being cleared of any wrongdoing."

"If 98 per cent of all people in the public were acquitted of the charges laid against them, the public would think something is wrong with the criminal justice system," he said.

In the last two years, the SIU said, it has laid criminal charges in 3.6 per cent of cases. In 2018, criminal charges were laid against 17 officers in 15 out of a total 416 cases closed that year. In 2019, criminal charges were laid against 15 officers in 13 out of 363 cases closed that year.  

In response to Singh's calls for evidence to be released to the family or for the probe to be referred to another agency, SIU spokesperspon Monica Hudon said, "The SIU appreciates the interest in this case, and as such, we will continue to provide updates in an effort to get answers to the public, while ensuring that the integrity of the investigation is not compromised."

"The SIU is working diligently to ensure the investigation is concluded, and its findings released, as expeditiously as possible. We ask for the public's continued patience."

Korchinski-Paquet's family is still "mourning and grieving, and in the process of attending a private viewing and funeral this week," Singh said Wednesday. When that is complete and the family is ready, he added, they will set a meeting with the SIU. 

In the statement, the family said there will be a public memorial for Korchinski-Paquet, with the date, time and location to be announced. Her online obituary can be viewed here, where a live video link will also be posted at 1 p.m. on Thursday, June 11.

"Regis loved her family immensely and they loved her the same. Regis started her day everyday by texting her siblings 'Good Morning, I love you!'" the obituary states.

"An avid gymnast since childhood, Regis continued her passion for dancing, music, and singing throughout her short life. Her beautiful, infectious smile and unique laugh will be missed, and her absence felt in our hearts forever."

911 call gone wrong

Korchinski-Paquet was also an active member of her church and proud of her Ukrainian and Nova Scotian roots, Singh said. In the past five years, however, she began experiencing epileptic seizures, with the family saying it sometimes required help from police.

Korchinski-Paquet's mother has said she called police on May 27 after a family conflict — but that once officers arrived, things went terribly wrong. 

Claudette Korchinski-Beals said she hoped police could take her daughter to Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health to get her help.

Since her death, questions have swirled around exactly what happened once Korchinski-Paquet was alone inside her family's apartment with police. 

Through their lawyer, the family has raised concerns that race may have played a role in her death. 

A vigil for Regis Korchinski-Paquet was held outside her apartment in Toronto's High Park neighbourhood in the days following her death. (Mark Bochsler/CBC)

CBC News investigation found black people made up 36.5 per cent of fatalities involving Toronto police, despite accounting for just 8.3 per cent of the city's population, in the period from 2000 to 2017.

Toronto's police chief Mark Saunders has said officers were called to the apartment after multiple reports of an assault. 

Two of those calls stated that a knife was involved, according to Saunders, but the family has said there was no assault underway or knife present when police arrived.

Korchinski-Paquet's mother and brother have said they were not allowed into the apartment and that the last words they heard her say were, "Mom help. Mom help. Mom help."

They said they heard a commotion inside, then silence. Minutes later, officers confirmed she was dead.

The obituary says: "It broke our hearts to lose you, but you didn't go alone, for part of us went with you, the day God took you home."

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