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SIU gives update on balcony death probe as lawyer calls for change

TORONTO — Ontario's police watchdog said Monday its investigators had spoken with all six officers who were at the home of a young Toronto woman before she fell off the balcony to her death.

TORONTO — Ontario's police watchdog said Monday its investigators had spoken with all six officers who were at the home of a young Toronto woman before she fell off the balcony to her death.

A spokeswoman for the Special Investigations Unit said its team also found video security footage at the west-end building where Regis Korchinski-Paquet died last week.

Investigators have interviewed four other witnesses and are also set to interview Korchinski-Paquet's family this week, Monica Hudon said.

Korchinski-Paquet, 29, fell from a 24th-floor balcony last Wednesday while police were in her home. Her family has questioned the role of officers in her death.

Korchinski-Paquet's mother said last week she called police to the apartment and asked them to take her daughter to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. 

"And my daughter ended up dead. So I don't understand," Claudette Beals-Clayton said.

It's not the first time the Toronto force's interaction with a person in the midst of a mental health crisis has ended in tragedy.

Kiké Roach, a Toronto lawyer and social justice lecturer, said despite several inquests into such incidents over the past several decades, nothing has changed.

"As an activist, as a lawyer, as a person who's represented grieving families, as a person whose own family members have confronted police violence, we're tired and we need radical change," said Roach.

Roach said inquests have shown repeatedly that police are poorly trained handling those in a mental health crisis.

She points to numerous cases where Toronto police have killed those dealing with mental health issues over the last decade, from Andrew Loku to Michael Eligon to Sammy Yatim.

Police shot and killed Loku in 2015 while he held a hammer in his hands. The jury at a coroner's inquest found the death to be a homicide, but inquests carry no criminal or civil liability.

The jury's 39 recommendations included several aimed at dealing with people like Loku, who was experiencing mental health issues when he was shot.

Roach said police have not followed through on that aspect.

"We have to face the fact right now that on a societal and systemic level, police are not the appropriate body to turn to," she said.

"People need an alternative entity and other specialized people to deal with these mental health crises."

Toronto police spokeswoman Meaghan Gray acknowledged that often, issues of mental health do not need officer response.

"However, we also know that when other resources are not available there is no other option but for police to respond," she said. 

"It is why we have implemented mental health training in the annual curriculum received by every single police officer. This training includes communication and de-escalation techniques.

Gray also noted that mobile crisis intervention teams attend calls for service involving a person in crisis. Those teams involve a mental health nurse who partners with a trained officer to try to defuse a situation. But those teams do not respond to calls where a weapon may be involved.

Chief Mark Saunders said last week police receive extensive training when dealing with those in a mental health crisis, including de-escalation techniques.

He said police received three 911 calls about Korchinski-Paquet, two of which where the caller said a knife was involved.

"There's no way I'd put a nurse in the middle of a knife fight," Saunders said last week. But the family's lawyer said there is no evidence a knife was involved.

The family, Saunders and Mayor John Tory have called on the SIU to expedite its investigation, a process that often takes months to complete. 

"The SIU appreciates the public interest in this case and is doing what it can to get answers to the public as quickly as possible while ensuring that the integrity of the investigation is not compromised," Hudon said in a statement. 

"We ask for the public's continued patience, and to avoid making any premature conclusions."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2020.

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press





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