Public inquiry ordered into jail death of illegally detained Montreal man

Quebec’s chief coroner has ordered a public inquiry into the death of Nicous D’Andre Spring last month at the Bordeaux jail, a provincial detention centre.

The 21-year-old Black man died on Dec. 24, after being fitted with a spit hood and pepper-sprayed twice by jail guards.

His detention was deemed illegal, as a judge had ordered him to be released the day before his death.

Coroner Kim Godin was tasked Tuesday with shedding light on the cause and circumstances of Spring’s death.

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In a press release, the coroner’s office noted that the role of the investigating coroner is not to determine liability but to propose possible solutions aimed at better protecting human life.

Dates for public hearings have yet to be announced.

The inquiry is one of several probes looking into Spring’s illegal detention and death.

Quebec’s Public Security Ministry announced an internal audit and the jail is conducting an administrative investigation. The Sûreté du Québec has launched its own criminal investigation.

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Since Spring’s death, a manager and a prison guard have been suspended.

The Red Coalition, a prominent anti-racism advocacy group, applauded news of an inquiry.

“We’re very pleased,” said Alain Babineau, the coalition’s director of racial profiling and public safety. “That’s what we’ve been asking for and we’re happy it came relatively fast.”

Babineau said the public needs to know what happened to Spring. Of particular concern to Babineau is what he described as the “use of excessive force” on the night he died.

Babineau intimated, however, that a public inquiry is only a first step.

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“We are looking for a much wider investigation into systemic racism and discrimination within the Quebec correctional system,” he said.

The Red Coalition is planning on making an official request with Quebec’s Ombudsperson on Wednesday.

Spring’s family also reacted to Tuesday’s announcement via a statement issued by the law firm of Arsenault Dufresne Wee avocats.

While also pleased with the prospect of a public inquiry, the family says the grieving process has been made more difficult due many unanswered questions.

“…Mr. Spring’s family deplores the lack of transparency,” the statement reads. “In particular the family is demanding access to the camera footage as well as the reports of the officers who took part in the use of force incident, none of which have been released to them yet.”

Spring’s sister Sarafina Dennie said it’s important that her brother’s memory be honoured.

She spoke of her brother’s love of music and recalled how in one of his songs he said he was the voice of the streets — a reference to people who come from nothing and manage to build something.

“This dream never came true,” she said. “Nicous was robbed from all of his potential at only 21 years old. This is devastating.”

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— with files from The Canadian Press

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