Ontario's police watchdog has called for "immediate steps" to prevent leaks about what happened prior to the death of a Toronto woman — who fell 24 storeys from a balcony — after details of her final moments appeared in the Toronto Sun.
The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) says it wrote to the Toronto Police Service after the Sun's story prompted the family to hold off on speaking to its investigators.
"Leaks of this nature detract from the public's confidence, and the family's confidence, in the integrity of the SIU investigation," the civilian oversight agency said in a news release Wednesday. "It is imperative that the public have confidence in the SIU's investigations."
The move comes after lawyer for the family of Regis Korchinski-Paquet told CBC News on Wednesday that he and the family believe details reported by the Sun are an effort to sway public opinion.
The report — published late Tuesday and updated Wednesday — describes what police may have seen before the 29-year-old fell to her death. It cites "sources." CBC News has not verified those details and is not including them in its reporting.
The family's lawyer, Knia Singh, told CBC News his main concern with the story was that it suggested "nobody could have done anything differently in this circumstance."
"The fact of the matter is, a call was made for assistance and Regis ended up dead," he said.
Singh suggested the leak undermined trust in the investigative process — especially given that the SIU has, historically, cleared the vast majority of officers of alleged wrongdoing.
The SIU is an arm's length agency that investigates deaths, serious injuries or allegations of sexual assault involving police.
A police spokesperson said an internal investigation will probe whether any officers were involved in the leak.
Spokesperson Meaghan Gray said in a statement the Toronto Police Service does not comment on the validity of information from unnamed sources but added "unauthorized release of information is taken seriously."
"It is unclear from this article as to whether or not the 'source' is a member of the TPS," she said.
Police Chief Mark Saunders said last week that officers are legally prohibited from sharing details about the case during the SIU's investigation.
So far, the SIU says it has reviewed security footage from the Toronto highrise where Korchinski-Paquet died, interviewed all six officers involved and six civilian witnesses. The agency had planned to interview the woman's family sometime this week.
Those interviews are now on hold, Singh told CBC News.
Called for police help before
Korchinski-Paquet was an active member of her church, a talented gymnast and proud of her Ukrainian and Nova Scotian roots, Singh said. In the past five years, however, she began experiencing epileptic seizures, with the family saying it sometimes required help from police.
Korchinski-Paquet's mother has said she called police on May 27 after a family conflict — but that once officers arrived, things went terribly wrong.
Claudette Korchinski-Beals said she hoped police could take her daughter to Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health to get her help.
Since her death, questions have swirled around exactly what happened once Korchinski-Paquet, who was black, was alone inside her family's apartment with police.
Through their lawyer, the family has raised concerns that race may have played in her death.
On Saturday, thousands of people took to the streets of Toronto to demand answers in the case, and to protest the deaths of unarmed black people at the hands of police
A CBC News investigation found black people made up 36.5 per cent of fatalities involving Toronto police, despite accounting for just 8.3 per cent of the city's population, in the period from 2000-17.
WATCH | Protests held across Canada against racism:
Toronto's police chief has said police were called to the apartment by multiple reports of an assault.
Two of those calls stated that a knife was involved, according to Saunders, but the family has said there was no assault underway or knife present when police arrived.
Korchinski-Paquet's mother and brother have said they were not allowed into the apartment and that the last words they heard her say were, "Mom help. Mom help. Mom help."
They heard a commotion inside, then silence. Minutes later, officers confirmed she was dead.