Advocates demand answers as police watchdog probes death of Black trans woman in Toronto

Advocates from LGBTQ2 community are demanding answers from Toronto police and Ontario’s police watchdog following the death of a 30-year-old Black trans woman in the city’s east end after officers were called to her home.

“This is now another senseless loss of life while there has been an interaction with police and how long is it until once again we are in a similar position where The 519 or another grassroots organization … is having to advocate to demand answers,” Justin Khan, director of legal services for The 519, told Global News.

The calls for transparency come after the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) reported officers were called through 911 to an apartment building near Bellamy Road and Eglinton Avenue East at around 7 a.m. on Oct. 26 with reports of a break-in.

The agency said in a statement the woman was barricaded inside an eighth-floor apartment unit. After officers got in the unit, the statement said they spoke with the woman and apprehended her under Ontario’s Mental Health Act.

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The woman was taken to hospital but she “went into medical distress.” The statement said she died a few hours after the initial call, prompting the agency to invoke its mandate of investigating incidents where someone has died after an interaction with police.

The agency said it’s unclear if the two responding officers will provide interviews with investigators. Under Ontario law, officers can’t be legally forced to do so.

The SIU was criticized for misgendering the woman as a man, prompting the agency to issue a revised statement on Wednesday.

“An organization that services LGBTQ2S communities contacted the SIU and informed that the individual identified as a woman,” the statement said.

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“In an abundance of caution, the SIU made attempts to confirm this information with the deceased’s next-of-kin. Investigators were finally able to connect with the family this afternoon and the Unit can now confirm that the deceased in this case is a trans woman.”

The SIU didn’t identify the woman, citing a request of the family.

However, Khan said that correction came too late.

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“I definitely think it’s a step in the right direction. I don’t believe it really changes much. The fact is that is it has taken us over a week to get here,” he said.

“We need to understand what were the circumstances that led that person to the hospital and what happened at the hospital.”

Community members were encouraged to share the calls for accountability on social media with the hashtag #TPSWhatHappened.

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Toronto Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam said the incident highlights the need for a transparent investigation and an “urgency” to change how mental health calls are responded to.

“There is a history of mistrust for the Toronto police in the LGBTQ2S+ community stemming back to the days of bathhouse raids and even much earlier, which is exactly why Toronto police must act swiftly to provide as much information and clarity on this matter forthright,” she wrote in a statement.

“Although, some progress has been made there is much more to do still if we are to amend relationships. Time and time again, members within the LGBTQ2S+ community, particularly BIPOC queer, trans, and two-spirit communities are let down by the organizations that are mandated to serve and protect them.”

— With files from Erica Vella

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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