Last Saturday, May 30 2020, thousands of peaceful protesters took to the streets of Toronto to honour the life of 29-year-old Regis Korchinski-Paquet. The protestors demanded justice and answers as Korchinski-Paquet died after falling 24 storeys from a High Park highrise during an encounter with police.
The crowd was asked to #SayHerName, a movement to bring urgency and ensure Black women are not left out of the narrative. Black women and Black LGBTQ+ women face the same police violence and brutality however their stories are commonly overlooked.
The protest in Toronto took place amidst a week of protests in the United States, sparked by the murder of George Floyd by the police in Minnesota. This was following the high-profile murders of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, within the chaos and uncertainty of a global pandemic.
There’s a long history of police violence against black and indigenous people in Canada. Given the explosive nature of the protests in America, and the lasting scars from police response during the G20 protests in Toronto in 2010, there were very legitimate concerns the protest might spiral into civil unrest.
#Notanotherblacklife held the rally at Christie Pits, to gather everyone, distribute PPE if required, and outline the cause and the rules.
Artist, educator and activist Keosha Love addressed the awaiting crowd with a rallying cry, “The systems we live in put you at the top, do you understand? So I ask you what are you going to do with this power and privilege? How will you empathize with others who have multiple intersections of oppression like being trans, black and queer or being a woman, disabled and indigenous? How are you willing to show up for people who do not look like you?”
For many, it was the first social event in months. A first foray into the “new normal” of masks and gloves. COVID-19 wasn’t going to stop us, our choice to risk illness, the point of solidarity. We were exhorted after the march to self-isolate for 14 days.
A family member spoke, “When we come together for a cause, this is what happens. It’s good to know Black people can come out and protest peacefully. We don’t need any violence … but we want answers.” The family of Regis Korchinski-Paquet led the march down Bloor Street, a slow, mournful, haunting march. But a march for change, and a march for hope.
As we rounded on Bay Street – diverted from the planned destination by a group of white supremacists waiting in Queens Park to hopefully kick something off – the mood shifted again, and a brass band struck up a tune. We now had Toronto Metropolitan Police Headquarters in our sights, and we danced our way down. Show me what democracy looks like. THIS is what democracy looks like. The old worker cries of solidarity ringing through the crowd, slowly realizing the true solidarity at play.
A week later, the whole world still marches and protests. No longer simply asking, but demanding systemic change, justice for all Black and Indigenous People, and defunding of the police.
Photographed by Michael Thai Nguyen
The fight for Regis Korchinski-Paquet is still ongoing. Steps you can take are signing the petition, donating what you can, and contacting elected government officals, Gord Perks and Bhutila Karpoche, to demand a transparent investigation into her death.