Day 6·Q&A

SIU investigation into Regis Korshinski-Paquet's death will have far-reaching implications, says researcher

Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit closed its investigation into the death of Toronto woman Regis Korchinski-Paquet, clearing the five police officers who were present when she fell from her apartment balcony of any wrongdoing. Researcher Erick Laming says that this case will have reverberations throughout the country.

Police officers were present when Korshinski-Paquet's fell from her apartment balcony to her death

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

Ontario's police watchdog unit cleared five police officers of any wrongdoing in the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet this week.

The 29-year-old Black and Indigenous woman fell from her balcony on May 27, while she was alone in the apartment with police, who had been called for help by her family.

Her death spurred anti-police protests in streets across the country, demanding justice for her and others who'd died during interactions with police. It also sparked concerns over their ability to deal with mental health crises, particularly involving people of colour.

The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) report on her death was made public — a relatively new practice by the agency. Director Joseph Martino also acknowledged the existence of systemic racism in a way previous reports have not. But Korchinski-Paquet's family said the investigation ignored crucial evidence. 

While the announcement was met with outrage, many say the outcome wasn't surprising at all. Thirteen out of 363 cases — about five per cent — investigated in 2019 resulted in charges against police.

Erick Laming, a Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nation PhD candidate in criminology at the University of Toronto, has been researching police use of force, oversight and accountability in Canada. He says the province's SIU — now the oldest agency of its kind in the country — has worked as a blueprint for other oversight agencies.

Laming spoke with Day 6 guest host Saroja Coelho about how the outcome of the SIU's investigation will have implications across the country and on future cases. Here is part of their conversation.

In one sense, this ruling was very different from past rulings. It concluded more quickly, it spoke to a range of issues it wasn't strictly mandated to have to speak to. It mentioned systemic racism, specifically. 

And yet the end result was no charges against police, which is very consistent with the last 30 years of rulings. What should we make of that?

Well, there's a lot of issues at play here. This case is massive. It's in the public sphere. Coming out with everything that's been going on this summer, if [they] didn't talk about systemic racism, then they would be doing a disservice. 

Now, they also included that that was not kind of what was part of the investigation, that's not what they're looking at. They're just looking at the actions of the officer and the other officers involved. And, we have the report, we can read it, we can look through it, we can debate upon it and it's pretty comprehensive. It's pretty thorough. The family's going to be upset, and they don't have justice at the end of it. 

So it's really hard. We have to empathize with the family in that sense, but, looking at everything else that's involved, we have this report. In years past, we wouldn't have that report. And we can, as the public, debate upon it.

Ontario's Special Investigations Unit investigates incidents involving police in which death or serious injury occurs. (The Canadian Press)

People have criticized the SIU over the years. What are the most common criticisms raised about it?

I can give you three main criticisms. Probably the most pressing concern is that a lot of the investigators are former police officers. So currently, there's 51 investigators that the SIU employs. And of those, there are roughly 35 who have police backgrounds. So that's a huge issue with getting public confidence. Is it really independent? How [good] is the objectivity?

Another issue is lack of transparency. Now, for the last few years, the SIU has been releasing the reports. So they've increased transparency in that sense. 

And then another major issue has been how long it takes for investigations to be completed. And this has been a chronic issue with the SIU in the past. They've improved in that sense. They're mandated now to try and get the event investigation completed within 120 days. And their current rate is about 128, on average.

Do you think that there's a connection between those issues and the overwhelming proportion of investigations that are concluded in favour of the police?

Yeah, there's always connections in some way to that. But the hardest thing is, this is consistent across Canada. We have many oversight agencies that look at serious cases involving police and the public, and the charge rates are quite low. And there's a lot of reasons for that. 

But at the end of the day, if we have this quote-unquote independent investigative team that go in there and do a proper investigation and they're finding no criminal wrongdoing, and they're following all the procedures, laws, policies that they have to abide by, then we have to have a little bit of confidence in that system, that the officers involved in those cases are at least being properly investigated. 

Peter Korchinski, the father of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, said he felt the SIU was not fully transparent with his family. He said their decision disgusts him. (Andy Hincenbergs/CBC)

There will be other investigations concluding in the near future [of] Ejaz Choudry, Chantel Moore and D'Andre Campbell.

Each of them are Black, Indigenous or people of colour who were killed by the police.  What do you expect the impact of those rulings to be?

The implications are going to be far reaching and it's too early to really know what the verdicts or the end result of those cases will be, but they come from different areas too. So in New Brunswick, they don't have an oversight agency, so they have to ... get the Quebec oversight agency to be looking at cases there, when they shouldn't have to do that. 

Policing aside ... you have issues with the investigations within some of those jurisdictions. And a lot of it comes back to how qualified are these people doing the investigations? And are they properly represented doing the investigations? 

Because if you have a whole bunch of white individuals who are investigating Indigenous shooting victims, that's not really giving confidence to those communities. And the same thing goes with the Black communities who are victims of these instances as well.

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

Meanwhile, the SIU has been something of a blueprint for other provinces and territories in the country. How do you think the outcome of the Regis Korchinski-Paquet ruling will be felt across the country?

I think most of the oversight agencies that exist in the other provinces, they watch these cases intently. They all communicate with each other to talk about best practices.

The SIU, in a way, is leading in the sense that they've been around the longest, they investigate the most cases than any other province. So they have a lot of experience in that sense. 

And now, they're releasing reports. So we have a couple years now where they release reports that don't end up in charges. They're pretty thorough, and they're pretty extensive compared to some of the other provinces that release reports. So there's a lot of work to be done across Canada in that sense.

Written and produced by Samraweet Yohannes. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

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