From police shootings to protests over anti-Black racism: Toronto’s last three decades of racial controversy

The falling death of Afro-Indigenous woman Regis Korchinski-Paquet in the presence of police officers is sparking outrage and protest in Toronto as cities across the U.S. have meanwhile erupted in several days of anger over the shocking death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer.

Floyd’s death is, of course, the latest in a long string of police killings that have sparked protest against anti-Black racism by U.S. police.

Closer to home, Toronto has its own long history of deaths, incidents and investigations that have sparked outrage and accusations of racism.

A timeline of the last three decades of racial controversies in Toronto:

  • August 1988 — The death of Lester Donaldson: The 44-year-old Black man was shot at point-blank range in a Toronto rooming house. Metro police said they were responding to a call of a man holding hostages, but found Donaldson alone in his room. They said he had lunged at them with a knife. In 1990, the outcry from Donaldson’s death helped establish Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the civilian police oversight agency that is investigating Korchinski-Paquet’s death.
  • December 1988 — The death of Michael Wade Lawson: The 17-year-old Black teen was reportedly shot in the back of the head while driving a stolen car in Mississauga. Two white Peel police officers were charged in his death, and were acquitted by a Brampton jury in April 1992
  • May 1992 — The death of Raymond Lawrence: The 22-year-old Black man was shot in a west-end backyard after police said he wouldn’t drop a knife. Two days later, the Lawson verdict, Lawrence’s death and outrage over the acquittal of four Los Angeles police officers in the videotaped beating of Rodney King spark a riot on Yonge Street.
A mounted Metro police officer engages with protestors during the Yonge Street Riot of May 5, 1992.

  • October 2002: The Star publishes “Race & Crime,” the first series in what became a more than decade-long investigation into Toronto police practices. The first analysis of crime data finds Black people are treated more harshly than white people by Toronto police.
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  • June 2004 — The death of O’Brien Christopher-Reid: The 26-year-old Black man was shot dead by Toronto police in June 2004, after reportedly advancing toward them with a knife. He had been diagnosed with paranoid delusional disorder.
  • July 2004: A report on low-income women of colour documents stories of racialized women being refused boarding on TTC vehicles, leading to calls for an inquiry into discrimination on the transit system
  • June 2006 — The death of Duane Christian: The 15-year-old Black teen was shot dead by police while at the wheel of a stolen van in the parking lot of his Scarborough apartment building. Two months later, the SIU cleared Const. Steve Darnley, saying he was justified in shooting Christian to prevent his partner from being deliberately run down.
  • 2010-2012: Two Star series, “Race Matters” in 2010 and “Known to Police” in 2012, reveal people of colour are far more likely than white people to be stopped by police in a “carding” stop, which involves an officer stopping and questioning someone who is not a suspect of crime. The Star finds cards for Black people make up 25 per cent of the data in a city with a Black population of 8.3 per cent.
  • November 2011 — The Neptune Four incident: Four Black boys, ages 15 and 16, were on their way to an after-school learning program in a Lawrence Heights public housing complex on Neptune Drive when they were stopped by two Toronto police officers with the controversial and now-disbanded Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) unit. When one of the boys asked why they were being stopped, the incident escalated, one of the officers drew his gun and the teens were charged. The controversial incident was a source of division between police and the Lawrence Heights community and is still the subject of an ongoing police misconduct hearing, nearly nine years later.
  • February 2012 — The death of Michael Eligon: The 29-year-old Black man was shot by Toronto police in the middle of an East York street while carrying two pairs of scissors. Although the officers were cleared of wrongdoing in Eligon’s death, the SIU director at the time said the tragedy raised legitimate questions about how police are trained to deal with mentally ill people.

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  • November 2013 — The death of Ian Pryce: The 30-year-old Black man was shot by two Toronto police officers after an hour-long standoff. Police believed Pryce, who had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, was about to shoot a weapon they believed was a handgun. It was later revealed to be a pellet gun that appeared almost identical to a handgun.
  • April 2014-2015: The police board passes a policy dealing with carding, with new rules allowing carding only around specific offences. A standoff ensues between then-chief Bill Blair and the board as the chief delays implementing the policy.
  • June 2015: Mayor John Tory calls for a permanent end to carding, citing ‘eroded public trust’ in police.
  • July 2015 — The death of Andrew Loku: The 45-year-old South Sudanese man who was experiencing a mental health crisis at the time he was shot dead by a Toronto police officer while he was wielding a small hammer. His death prompted protests and a review of police oversight by Ontario Court of Appeal judge Michael Tulloch.
Andrew Loku's casket is carried out of a funeral home.
  • December 2016 — The beating of Dafonte Miller: The then-19-year old Black Whitby man was severely beaten during an encounter with off-duty Toronto police officer Michael Theriault and his brother, Christian Theriault. He sustained serious damage to his eye, which required surgical removal. The brothers were charged with aggravated assault; the trial was completed earlier this year but the verdict has been delayed by COVID-19 court closures.
Dafonte Miller arrives at an Oshawa courthouse for the trial of Const. Michael Theriault and his brother, Christian Theriault, both on trail for aggravated assault in the incident that cost Miller his left eye.
  • July 2016: Activists with Black Lives Matter Toronto brings the Toronto Pride parade to a halt. The group demands, among other things, that police no longer be allowed to march and that organizers apologize for historic “anti-Blackness” — both of which happen as a result.
Members of the Black Lives Matters movement stand in smoke from smoke grenades at the 2016 Pride parade.

  • July 2017: A Star analysis finds that between 2003 to 2013 Black people with no history of criminal convictions were three times more likely to be arrested by Toronto police for possession of small amounts of marijuana than white people with similar backgrounds.
  • February 2018: A Black teen named Reece Maxwell-Crawford is shoved and then pinned to the ground outside a streetcar stop by TTC fare inspectors. Maxwell-Crawford sues the TTC for alleged racial profiling, and the agency settles after the city ombudsman concludes it mishandled its investigation into the incident
  • December 2018: A report by the Ontario Human Rights Commission finds Black people are “grossly overrepresented” in cases in which Toronto police have used force, including in seven of 10 fatal shootings by police between 2012 and 2017.
  • March 2019: A Star investigation into 40,000 records of personal information collected by TTC officers from riders who weren’t charged with an offence suggests Black passengers were stopped at a disproportionately high rate, prompting comparisons to the police carding controversy.
  • July 2019: CEO Rick Leary acknowledges there is public concern about racial bias at the TTC as the agency launches an anti-racism strategy “aimed directly at preventing racial profiling, and covering all aspects of the TTC’s operation.”
  • October 2019: Research based on Statistics Canada data finds Black families are twice as likely to go hungry as white households, even accounting for income and education.

  • May 2020 — The death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet: The 29-year-old fell 24 storeys to her death from her apartment balcony after police say they were summoned to the apartment for multiple calls for an assault in progress, at least two of which mentioned knives. Her family says there were no weapons by the time police arrived and that Korchinski-Paquet needed mental health support. Her death prompted thousands of protestors to take to the streets in Toronto demanding justice and decrying excessive use of force against members of the Black community.
Activists and protesters rally in Toronto over the death of 29-year-old Regis Korchinski-Paquet.

With files from Ben Spurr, Laurie Monsebraaten, Jim Rankin, Alyshah Hasham and Star Staff

Wendy Gillis
Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing for the Star. Reach her by email at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis

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