Anti-racism group calls for release of video in connection with Montreal jail death

Alain Babineau, centre, director of racial profiling for the Red Coalition, and professor David Austin, right, look on as Joel DeBellefeuille, executive director of the anti-racism group, speaks during a news conference on behalf of the family of Nicous D'Andre Spring in Montreal on Saturday. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Alain Babineau, centre, director of racial profiling for the Red Coalition, and professor David Austin, right, look on as Joel DeBellefeuille, executive director of the anti-racism group, speaks during a news conference on behalf of the family of Nicous D'Andre Spring in Montreal on Saturday. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press - image credit)

A Montreal-based anti-racism group is calling for the immediate release of any existing video evidence of a physical altercation that took place in a city jail and led to the death of an illegally detained man just before Christmas.

Nicous D'Andre Spring, 21, died at Montreal's Bordeaux jail on Dec. 24 when guards fitted his head with a spit hood and pepper-sprayed him twice. A judge had ordered Spring be released from the detention centre the day before, but he and two other inmates were still in custody a day later.

The Red Coalition, a non-profit lobbying organization assisting Spring's family, held a news conference Saturday morning. They said authorities have left the family in the dark concerning their son's death.

Alain Babineau, Red Coalition spokesperson and former RCMP officer, said it would "only make sense" to have any relevant detention centre video footage released directly to the family so they can get some of their questions answered "once and for all."

"There are versions of the people at the scene, but the family doesn't believe it, the community doesn't believe it, and what better than a video to understand what happened, like during the police intervention?" said Babineau.

The group made several other demands, including an investigation by Quebec's ombudsman into whether systemic discrimination played a role in Spring's death, a public coroner's inquiry, an independent autopsy and the creation of a citizens' committee to oversee the Quebec correctional system.

"The idea here is a question of trust," said Babineau. "When the community has lost faith in government institutions, including those that work for the government institutions ... by having this independent inquiry ... as well as an independent autopsy, then we'll give some reprieve and solace to the family."

Spring's relatives were initially expected to speak at the news conference, but elected not to do so on the advice of their legal council.

More proof of systemic racism, says group

Since Spring's death, a manager and a prison guard have been suspended pending the results of several investigations, including from the provincial police and the coroner's office.

According to the Red Coalition, Spring's death is further proof of systemic racism in Quebec's correctional institutions — something Premier François Legault and the Coalition Avenir Québec government have repeatedly refused to recognize.

David Austin, a humanities professor at John Abbott College and a member of the group, says this case is part of a pattern of systemic racism that has spanned decades. That's why, he said, the group is asking the Quebec ombudsman to look into alleged systemic discrimination linked to this case and others like it.

"We know that Black folks are disproportionately arrested and detained and incarcerated, right? All of this is factually true," he said. "And it's absolutely true that the absence of recognition that there's a systematic, systemic, ongoing structural problem to do with race in this country contributes to and facilitates the kind of actions that we've seen."

Yk Lyrical/Facebook
Yk Lyrical/Facebook

Spring appeared in court on Dec. 23 on charges of assaulting a peace officer, criminal harassment and possessing a weapon for a dangerous purpose. He was also facing two counts of failing to comply with a condition of release. He had pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Quebec's Public Security Ministry has described Spring's detention as "illegal" because he was ordered by a judge to be released on Dec. 23 but was still behind bars the next day when he suffered injuries leading to his death.

Joël DeBellefeuille, founder of the Red Coalition, said this negligence, along with inexperienced correctional officers at the Bordeaux prison facility, is largely to blame for Spring's life being cut short.

"A young Black man lost his life because of clerical flaws and poor judgment," he said.

"How are we, as a community, going to ensure that nothing — I said nothing — like this happens again to any of our loved ones?"

The Public Security Ministry has said it will conduct an administrative investigation into the events that occurred, "including, in particular, the illegal detentions."

In a statement to CBC Montreal Saturday, the ministry said it not ruling out any future options, including a public inquiry, but it said it must wait on the results of the criminal investigation.

Quebec's ombudsman said it does not comment on specific situations as its procedures are carried out privately.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

CBC
CBC