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.
As the demonstration moved through the city’s downtown, people shouted in support from their balconies and protesters held signs proclaiming “Blue Lives Batter, Black Lives Matter” and “We Want Answers.”
“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 “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.
Their chants could be heard from several blocks away during what was a passionate but organized march.
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 of plans on Instagram.
“We are not going to Queen’s Park due to white supremacy,” they wrote.
The majority of people in the crowd were wearing face masks and appeared to be attempting to practice social distancing.
Speakers during the march said they understood people’s anger, and tried to get those marching to do breathing exercises when the march stopped due to the detour.
Organizers asked the crowd to disperse shortly after arriving at police headquarters, but a small group of protesters stayed and continued chanting slogans at officers.
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.”
She added that the support of non-black demonstrators was vital to their cause. McArthur said it was good that some white people attended, but she wanted to see more people in future protests.
“I just hope that we can continue to do this and it’s not forgotten after today,” she said.
Following the rally, Toronto Mayor John Tory said he shares in the protesters’ rejection of anti-black racism and desire for answers in Korchinski-Paquet’s death.
“An independent investigation is being conducted by the Special Investigations Unit and I repeat my urgent request for this investigation to be conducted on an expedited basis,” he said on Twitter.
“The investigation itself must be thorough and transparent and must include frequent public updates, not usually a feature of SIU investigations. The results of that investigation will tell us exactly what happened.”
Tory said it’s time to renew efforts to combat racism and descrimination.
Statement From The Toronto Raptors: pic.twitter.com/almbXwi005
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) May 31, 2020
Police Chief Mark Saunders said during a press conference Friday he hoped any protest in Toronto is one that is legal and peaceful.
“Democracy, lawful protest is healthy and I’m fully respectful of that. With this type of protest, what I don’t want is people’s behaviour to be manifested on lies or mistruths. That is my concern,” said Saunders. “And the only people that have that truth right now are the ones who are conducting that investigation. Once that investigation is done, then its time to have that discussion on what the go-forward looks like.”
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.”