Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders has called for calm and to wait for all the facts in the case to emerge following the death of a 29-year-old woman who fell from a balcony while officers were in her home.
Saunders says police received three 9-1-1 calls about an alleged assault at the apartment that involved knives.
“The call was for assaults and knives were involved,” said Saunders. “Knives were stated by at least two of the three people that called.”
Saunders also said this is a textbook case for the importance of body-worn cameras, which Toronto police do not currently wear.
“It’s not as easy as strapping a camera on and hitting play,” Saunders explained, pointing out that there are a magnitude of personnel and systems involved that need to be considered.
“The body-worn cameras is not the end-all but what it is is an added tool that can give an objective account of what occurred during those moments.”
Toronto police have been examining the use of body-worn cameras for years. The force conducted a year-long pilot project that ended in 2016 with the recommendation to move forward.
But rolling it out would be expensive – upwards of $80 million over 10 years, the force said at the time. Police told The Canadian Press then that much of the costs related to data storage fees.
Saunders says he hopes to have body-worn cameras rolled out sometime in the fall of this year and he has asked to expedite the process.
The Special Investigations Unit has interviewed four of the five officers identified in the case and was hoping to conduct an interview with the fifth officer on Friday.
Saunders said his officers are “anxious” to give their testimony, noting the delay in speaking to everyone was purely a logistical one.
“These officers want an opportunity for the public to understand exactly what happened, for the family to understand exactly what happened and for everybody to understand exactly what happened.”
The death of 29-year-old Regis Korchinski-Paquet has sparked questions from the woman’s family, local politicians and on social media about the role of officers in the incident.
Saunders says he’s seen some of those comments and he is concerned about what he called “misinformation” and “lies” currently being spread.
“I’ve watched some of the social media and I’ve watched some of these things that is just outrageous lies and people are feeding into it,” said Saunders. “And that is very unfortunate.”
“There’s a lot that I want to say – there’s a whole lot that I want to say. …I’m just handcuffed because I don’t have the ability to provide as much information as I could right now and I’m hoping in the near future there is an opportunity. The more lagging in time of getting this information out, of getting the facts out, the more it causes people that may have different opportunities or different agendas to really look somewhat credible. I don’t want them to be credible because they’re not credible.”
Toronto’s police union expressed its concerns Friday about what it called unfounded allegations that officers pushed the woman off her balcony.
“The comments posted on social media are opportunistic and sensationalize this tragic event with blatant disregard for evidence or fact,” read a statement from the Toronto Police Association.
“Comments made without facts are a disservice to the community and the police.”
The association and Toronto’s police board have asked that the SIU move as quickly as possible in their investigation and provide updates so that the public can be presented with the facts.
“The truth is out there,” said Saunders. “This organization is not hiding behind law. This organization wants this story to be told. And we want to be challenged with exactly what happened. I want to know what happened and the community wants to know what happened and more importantly the family wants to know what happened.”
However, Toronto Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam has questioned the SIU’s ability to investigate the incident.
“Every time the SIU gets involved, the same concerns always come to mind. How can families and the public be assured accountability and transparency,” the councillor said in a Twitter post on Thursday.
On Wednesday, the family alleged that the police had pushed Korchinski-Paquet off the balcony. Today, lawyer Knia Singh clarified those allegations.
“Some concerns are being raised about the mother saying that police threw her daughter off the balcony. I can verify on behalf of the family that this was not witnessed by the mother. However, at the time of the statement that is what the mother believed,” said Singh.
“At this point the family wants the community to understand they want a fulsome investigation, they want to get to the bottom of the truth and they want understanding as to how this occurred when a call for help ended up in death. The family strongly believes that if the police had handled this in a different manner that their daughter would still be alive today.”