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The social unrest spurred by police mistreatment of black citizens spilled across the American border into Canada on the weekend.
Some 700 people turned out for a Justice for Regis rally at Victoria Park in Halifax on Saturday and marched through city streets in a search for answers and accountability in the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year-old Toronto woman with Nova Scotia roots who died Wednesday in a fall from a Toronto highrise.
“There’s been an onslaught of black lives being lost at the hands of the police in the United States and also here,” said Kate Macdonald, a community activist and educator who helped plan the Halifax rally.
“There’s been a long history of brutality against Indigenious people as well in Canada,” Macdonald said. “All of these things kind of piled on top of each other and made it necessary for an action to take place.”
That action attracted marchers carrying signs reading Black lives matter, justice for Regis and Black lives over property. As much as possible, participants stood at markers spaced two metres apart in deference to the province’s social distancing requirements and were divided into smaller groups by marshalls while marching, Macdonald said.
In Toronto, thousands of people took to the streets Saturday demanding answers about Korchinski-Paquet’s death, which is now being investigated by Ontario’s civilian police watchdog.
“This is what we call solidarity,” a woman identified as a member of Korchinski-Paquet’s family said in addressing the large Toronto crowd, the Toronto Star reported.
“It’s good to know black people can come out and protest peacefully,” the woman said. “We don’t need any violence but we want answers.”
Korchinski-Paquet’s mother said at an earlier news conference that she called police on Wednesday because her daughter was in distress over a family conflict and needed to be taken to a mental health addiction centre.
While officers were inside the 24th-floor apartment unit, Korchinski-Paquet fell to her death from a balcony to the ground below.
Knia Singgh, a Toronto human rights lawyer and family spokesperson, said at a news conference Thursday that the family is “distraught over this senseless loss of life and wants justice.”
The Toronto incident followed the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died last week after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as he begged for air and struggled for his life.
"For me, the thing that’s really devastating about Regis is that she was alone in her apartment with the police whereas most of the things that have happened in the U.S. have been publicly displayed, out in the open for everyone to see."
- Community activist Kate Macdonald
Derek Chauvin, the officer in that case, was charged Friday with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter but Floyd’s death has led to protests and rallies in dozens of American cities, several of which have erupted in arsons, vandalism, looting and a spate of arrests.
“We’re all in this super social media over-saturation space where we’re all on our phones, we’re all plugged in, we’re all watching the news to find out what’s happening, you can’t really miss anything right now,” Macdonald said of Saturday’s rally in Halifax. “I think there is an over-saturation of pain and death and violence that really moved people to come through.”
Even though the circumstances of the two deaths in Minneapolis and Toronto vary significantly, Macdonald said there is an obvious link.
“For me, the thing that’s really devastating about Regis is that she was alone in her apartment with the police whereas most of the things that have happened in the U.S. have been publicly displayed, out in the open for everyone to see,” Macdonald said. “That’s really devastating that she would have been alone. I echo the same sentiments as her family. They feel as though she never would have committed suicide and I stand beside them. If something ever happened where I was in an apartment alone with the police and I died, 100 per cent it wouldn’t be suicide.”
Dan Kinsella, chief of Halifax Regional Police, said in a tweet that there is no place for racism anywhere in the world.
“Many unanswered questions and a long road ahead,” Kinsella wrote Saturday. “The commitment must not waver. Today, hundreds gathered to have their voices heard in Victoria Park. Thank you for attending and participating peacefully.”
Macdonald was impressed by the number of people that attended the weekend call for answers.
Most people are wearing masks and keeping a distance. pic.twitter.com/ALV88XfU4T— Nebal Snan (@nebalsnan) May 30, 2020
“To have that many folks come out kind of was like mesmerizing and magical because they have heard the cry and also felt moved enough to leave their homes during a pandemic,” Macdonald said.
“No one wants to have to rally on behalf of dead young black women or (any) black people, that’s not something that feels like a want, it’s a must, it’s a necessity to react when state violence shows up like that.
“But in the same breath, black people have always been able to share spaces with joy and pain. There is some sort of joy that exists in those spaces and that’s to honour the folks that have lost their lives.”
Macdonald said the next move after a really big rally or march like Saturday’s turnout is always very important.
“Now that we had all of these people show up, show face, now what do we do, now that we know that we’ve got 700 people that are listening and that are invested. That’s a good question. The morning after the march, I don’t know.”
But Macdonald does feel change is on its way.
“We’re feeling a wave of change. We can see this big tidal wave of change coming on the horizon. What that looks like, I don’t know, what does that mean, I’m not entirely sure but I think that we can start to feel the rumblings of it.”