Thousands of protesters took to the streets of downtown Toronto on Saturday, chanting “justice for Regis” as they rallied in the aftermath of high-profile, police-involved deaths in both Canada and the United States.
The protest follows the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet in Toronto on Tuesday, which is currently being probed by the province’s police watchdog. The 29-year-old fell from the balcony of a 24th-floor Toronto apartment while police were in the home.
“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.
The peaceful rally, organized by a group dubbed Not Another Black Life, also came on the heels of an incident in Minnesota that has triggered protests in the United States, some of which have turned violent.
A 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.
In Toronto, protesters chanted 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.
Police estimated the crowd to be between 3,500 and 4,000 and said there was no violence.
A heavy police presence followed the rally, which ended at Toronto police headquarters instead of its scheduled finish at Queen’s Park.
A small group protesting COVID-19 lockdowns was gathered there on Saturday, and Not Another Black Life explained the change in plans on Instagram.
“We are not going to Queen’s Park due to white supremacy,” they wrote.
A lawyer representing Korchinski-Paquet’s family said 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.”
Earlier in the week, Korchinski-Paquet’s mother said that she called officers to the apartment asking them to take her daughter to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. She said she never thought her daughter could have ended up dead.
At the protest, McArthur said that was incomprehensible.
“A mother shouldn’t call the police for help and the result of the call is her being taken away in a body bag,” she said. “It shouldn’t happen when someone calls the police. They’re supposedly here to help.”
Mayor John Tory called the community’s anger over Korchinski-Paquet’s 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, 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.
— With files from Kevin Bissett.
The Canadian Press
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