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Canada Police union slams 'opportunistic' comments about Toronto woman's highrise death, calls grow for transparency

22:41  29 may  2020
22:41  29 may  2020 Source:   cbc.ca

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a person posing for the camera: What happened inside the Regis Korchinski-Paquet's apartment after her family called 911 for help is still unclear. But her family has publicly said they believe she was pushed from her balcony. © Regis Paquet/Facebook What happened inside the Regis Korchinski-Paquet's apartment after her family called 911 for help is still unclear. But her family has publicly said they believe she was pushed from her balcony.

Toronto's police union is raising concerns over "opportunistic" comments posted on social media in the wake of the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet that it says "sensationalize this tragic event with blatant disregard for evidence or fact."

The 29-year-old's death sparked widespread community reaction and online attention when her cousin and mother took to social media after she fell to her death from an apartment balcony Wednesday, claiming she was pushed by police.

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No family members were inside the unit at the time of Korchinski-Paquet's death and it's unclear if anyone witnessed her death. The Special Investigations Unit, Ontario's police watchdog, is looking into investigating the case and has called for anyone with information about the allegations to contact them.

Still, calls for an impartial and independent investigation have quickly gathered steam from community advocates, the family, and from various politicians, including some city councillors. The police union took issue with the councillors' public comments in a statement Friday.

"Unfounded allegations that police officers pushed a woman to her death from a balcony, in the absence of evidence or fact, perpetuate a false narrative that the police are the enemy," the Toronto Police Association said in a statement signed by its president Mike McCormack and its board of directors.

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"We are aware that this narrative, speculating on the events leading to Ms. Regis Korchinski-Paquet's death is circulating on mainstream and social media. We are deeply disturbed by this and disappointed that some of Toronto's elected city councillors choose to participate in the discussion during an active SIU investigation."

The statement goes on to call for citizens to "refrain from a rush to judgment," saying "unfounded rhetoric is damaging to the community and the police."

'I asked the police if they could take my daughter to CAMH'

As controversy around Korchinski-Paquet's story swirled, her family gathered for a news conference Thursday outside the highrise where they say she lay dead for some five hours before her body was retrieved. A growing memorial of flowers and signs reading "Rest in Power" could be seen nearby.

Korchinski-Paquet was an active member of her church, a talented gymnast and proud of her Ukrainian and Nova Scotian roots, her family's lawyer Knia Singh said Thursday.

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But in the last five years, Singh said she began experiencing epilepsy, and the family sometimes required help from police. 

Knia Singh et al. posing for the camera: Lawyer Knia Singh led the news conference on behalf of Korchinski-Paquet's family as her mother, brother and sister stood by. © CBC Lawyer Knia Singh led the news conference on behalf of Korchinski-Paquet's family as her mother, brother and sister stood by.

In a statement through their lawyer, the family said it was Korchinski-Paquet's mother, who called 911 on Wednesday afternoon after a family conflict that left the 29-year-old in a state of "distress."

"I asked the police if they could take my daughter to CAMH, and my daughter ended up dead," said Claudette Korchinski-Beals, referring to Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

Korchinski-Paquet, her brother and mother met police in the hallway of their 24th-floor apartment. "Words were exchanged" between her and police. Not long afterward, she said she had to use the bathroom. Police went into the unit with her but did not allow her mother or brother to enter, Singh said. 

Within a minute or two, Singh said, the family heard commotion. Then, they heard Korchinski-Paquet cry out, "Mom help. Mom help. Mom help."

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Moments later, there was silence.

'Too soon' to confirm or deny claims on social media: SIU

Police emerged from the unit and told the family Korchinski-Paquet had either gone to a neighbouring unit or to a unit below, said Singh. They asked if she was on the ground. Police re-entered the unit and confirmed she was dead.

Toronto police have not disclosed any information about the incident about what happened because the SIU is now involved. Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders on Thursday said police are not "legally permitted to discuss the incident at this time."

The SIU is an arms-length agency that investigates reports involving police where there has been death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault. The oversight body said in what is now its latest news release, issued Friday, that it has interviewed four of the five officers who may have witnessed the incident, with a subject officer also set to be interviewed soon. 

a close up of a woman wearing glasses: What began as a 911 call for help for Korchinski-Paquet ended in her death, her mother Claudette Korchinski-Beals told reporters at a news conference on Thursday. © CBC What began as a 911 call for help for Korchinski-Paquet ended in her death, her mother Claudette Korchinski-Beals told reporters at a news conference on Thursday.

The agency also said it examined the scene, canvassed for video and witnesses and have spoken to "several civilians who were able to shed some light on what happened." A post-mortem examination has also been completed.

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It goes on to say it's "too soon" to confirm or deny any information being circulated in the public domain.The statement does not explicitly state whether any security footage was gathered, such as video footage from a camera in the hallway referenced by the family's lawyer.

In their statement Thursday, family members emphasized its hope that that video be preserved as part of the investigation.

Saunders made a similar plea Thursday, saying, "I'll urge the public to please wait for the facts to come out."

He also said he feared a narrative created out of "misinformation" while the investigation unfolds.

a close up of a flower garden in front of a building: A memorial is growing outside 100 High Park Dr., where Korchinski-Paquet apparently fell to her death. © Grant Linton/CBC A memorial is growing outside 100 High Park Dr., where Korchinski-Paquet apparently fell to her death.

Still, calls are growing to ensure the investigation is in fact independent, with one online petition drawing more than 24,000 signatures so far calling for transparency and accountability for any officers found to be involved.

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam on Twitter commented Thursday, "Every time the SIU gets involved, the same concerns always come to mind. How can families and the public be assured accountability and transparency?"

Coun. Gord Perks, who represents the area where the incident took place, tweeted: "I will be watching the @SIUOntario closely. Her family deserves answers, as do we all."

Woman blockaded balcony door before deadly fall: Sources .
Regis Korchinski-Paquet plunged to her death after using a heavy appliance to blockade a balcony door from Toronto Police officers at her High Park highrise last Wednesday, sources told the Toronto Sun. The 29-year-old woman died while trying unsuccessfully to vault to a neighbouring balcony shortly after she jammed the door with an appliance — possibly an air conditioning unit or a TV — according to sources. The  29-year-old woman died while trying unsuccessfully to vault to a neighbouring balcony shortly after she jammed the door with an appliance — possibly an air conditioning unit or a TV  — according to sources. Korchinski-Paquet was alone on the balcony.

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