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Allison Hanes: Montreal prison death demands urgent answers

Maximum transparency is needed to determine what happened to Nicous D'Andre Spring at Bordeaux jail on Christmas Eve.
Allison Hanes  •  Montreal Gazette Published Jan 11, 2023  •  3 minute read

Most Montrealers will never set foot behind the thick stone walls of Bordeaux jail, the imposing domed structure on Gouin Blvd. in the city’s north end.
Built more than a century ago, the sprawling prison feels out of place in the vibrant neighbourhood that has since sprung up around it. Aside from a handful of high-profile mega-trials held in a special courtroom built on site in the early 2000s, most nearby residents probably have little clue what goes on inside.
But after the shocking death on Christmas Eve of a man, who it turns out was being illegally detained there, it’s time to take a good, hard look at an opaque corrections institution long hidden in plain view.
The more details that emerge about how Nicous D’Andre Spring died, the more disturbing they become — and the more serious the questions that arise.
There are familiar issues at stake — such as whether systemic racism played a role in Spring’s arrest in the first place. But there are new and unusual matters that concern the functioning of the jail as well as the administration of justice.
Spring had had a bail hearing and was supposed to have been released from Bordeaux the day before he died. What was this man — innocent until proven guilty, charged with a crime but not yet convicted — still doing behind bars? The union for guards suggested communications breakdowns, archaic technology, and staff shortages are increasingly hampering the liberation of prisoners and that such delays are becoming more common with the rise of virtual hearings. Spring was apparently one of multiple inmates overdue for release that day.
There are no excuses for violating the most basic constitutional rights or undermining fundamental principals of justice. But in Spring’s case the foul-up was not only unacceptable but tragic.
Although information about the incident that resulted in Spring’s death on Dec. 24 has emerged in dribs and drabs, Radio-Canada this week offered the most fulsome account yet.
According to documents, a ruckus broke out among prisoners on their way to lunch. As guards intervened, Spring was identified by the other inmates as the instigator. He allegedly became combative as corrections officers attempted to subdue him.
A “spit hood” — a mesh face covering to prevent spitting — was placed on Spring. A supervisor ordered that he be pepper sprayed. Another guard grabbed the can and put some on his gloves to apply it directly to the struggling Spring’s face. Reinforcements showed up to move him to an isolation cell. On the way, they attempted to give him a decontamination shower, but they couldn’t get the door shut.
Pepper spray was deployed again, even though Spring was handcuffed. The agents asked him to stand up and co-operate, but his body became limp. Thinking he was faking it, a supervisor ordered that he be dragged to his cell, where staff finally remarked he was suffering respiratory difficulties and had no pulse.
Defibrillators were used and paramedics summoned. But by then it was too late. Spring was pronounced dead in hospital. He died of cardiac arrest.
No one is under the illusion Bordeaux is a luxury hotel, but the level of violence described is extreme. Experts have remarked that resorting to either the spit hood or the pepper spray each carries its own risk, but employing them both together is downright dangerous. The failure to take Spring’s distress seriously shows a lack of humanity. Two employees, a manager and a guard, have been suspended, but a closer look at intervention protocols is warranted.
Several investigations are underway: an internal review by the Ministry of Public Security; an examination by the coroner; and a criminal probe by police. There’s no guarantee a full airing of the facts will see the light of day.
The Red Coalition, a civil rights and anti-racism group, has demanded a full public inquiry, as well as the release of all videotape evidence. Maximum transparency is needed to determine what happened at Bordeaux.
At the very least, a coroner’s inquest is in order. These have proven effective at connecting the dots in some of Quebec’s most shameful systemic failures of recent years, including the neglect that left many elderly patients to die in squalid conditions in nursing homes during the first wave of the pandemic, and the extent of the racism that Atikamekw mother Joyce Echaquan exposed by livestreaming her final moments being verbally abused in a Joliette hospital.
The revolting evidence so far uncovered in Spring’s death urgently demands that light be shone behind those ominous prison walls.



Family of Montreal man killed while unlawfully jailed wants systemic racism inquiryLa famille de l’homme demande une enquête sur le racisme systémiqueSystemic racism inquiry called for by family of man who died after being pepper-sprayed at Bordeaux prisonDétenu mort à la prison de Bordeaux: une coalition exige plus de transparence sur le milieu carcéralUN GROUPE ANTIRACISTE RÉCLAME UNE ENQUÊTE PUBLIQUE SUR LA MORT DU DÉTENU DE BORDEAUXRights group seeks public inquiry into death of man in Montreal jailLobby group seeks public inquiry in Montreal man's jail deathAnti-racism group calls for release of video in connection with Montreal jail deathCivil rights group calls for inquiry into death of illegally jailed 21-year-old black manUne coalition réclame la publication de la vidéo de l’interventionLobby group seeks public inquiry, release of video in Montreal man’s jail deathAnti-racism group claims Quebec told Longueuil police to ignore court order on racial profilingAllison Hanes: Montreal prison death demands urgent answersRed Coalition: Quebec ministry told Longueuil police force to defy court order on racial profilingQuebec told Longueuil police to disregard court order on racial profiling, says anti-racism groupCivil rights group accuses Quebec of covering up race-based police dataQue s’est-il passé à Bordeaux ?Public inquiry ordered into jail death of illegally detained Montreal manPublic inquest to be held into death of man in Montreal jailChief coroner orders public inquiry into death of 21-year-old illegally detained at Bordeaux jailCoroner orders public inquiry into Montreal man's jail deathIl y aura une enquête publique du coroner sur la mort de Nicous SpringRed Coalition calling for investigation into systemic racism in Quebec jailsChief Coroner orders public inquiry into death of Nicous SpringPolice union head tells Montreal's new chief: staffing shortages 1st, community policing 2ndPROFILAGE RACIAL: UNE PLAINTE OFFICIELLE DÉPOSÉE CONTRE LA VILLE DE LONGUEUILCoalition alleges contempt of court against LongueuilPROFILAGE RACIAL: «LA CAQ DOIT TENIR SES PROMESSES», ESTIME LA COALITION ROUGEGroups to kick off Black History Month with measures to fight racism
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