CANADA

Inmate releases video of ‘unprovoked’ by guards at Ontario prison, asks OPP to investigate

A federal inmate is asking police to investigate a group of correctional officers for what he says was an “unprovoked” assault captured on video inside Millhaven prison near Kingston.

Christophe Lewis, 36, released a video of the 2012 incident at a Friday news conference. According to his account, the incident began after he objected to being strip-searched by a female prison guard, and a verbal argument took place.

The five-and-a-half-minute security camera video, which does not have sound, appears to show Lewis being told to stand in a corner as he is surrounded by at least seven correctional officers.

As Lewis is speaking an officer suddenly pepper sprays him in the face. The officers then converge on Lewis, who said they began beating and kicking him. At one point the video shows two officers putting an arm around Lewis’s neck in what he described as a chokehold, and what a warden’s report called “variations of a headlock manouever” that left him unable to breathe. At the end of the video clip, Lewis is restrained with his hands behind his back and led away.

“The attack on me was unprovoked and vicious,” Lewis said in a recording played at a press conference Friday by advocates and his lawyer Sylvie Bordelais. “There was no de-escalation tactics employed.”

Lewis filed an inmate grievance after the incident and a finding of excessive use of force was upheld by a senior deputy commissioner at the Correctional Service of Canada.

Now Lewis is seeking a criminal investigation, saying he released the video publicly because he has continued to face mistreatment while in custody.

Lewis, who is Black, added that he has lost hope that the Correctional Service of Canada will change or meaningfully address systemic racism.

He said he has also steeled himself to face any potential repercussions for demanding accountability.

“Enough is enough,” he said. “I would rather be remembered as a man standing up for himself and what is right than a coward cowering down to an oppressive system.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for the OPP said: “We have been made aware of the allegations and are in the preliminary stages of reviewing the material that has been provided. The OPP cannot comment on details of this matter or whether an investigation will be initiated.”

The union representing the officers declined to comment.

Bordelais said Lewis has provided the video, which he first obtained in December 2019 from the Office of the Correctional Investigator, and a statement to the Ontario Provincial Police. Bordelais said the video evidence is crucial for inmates, who otherwise might not be believed.

“Recently we’ve gone through different situations where we have seen that obtaining video footage could lead to at least the start of change,” she said. “We hope that in the case of Mr. Lewis that is what will happen.”

Lewis continues to suffer harm from the attack including nightmares and post-traumatic stress disorder, he said.

“We recognize this video is concerning,” said a spokesperson for the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) in a statement.

“Immediately following this 2012 incident, CSC launched and completed an investigation into the use of force. Corrective action was taken. Due to privacy laws, we cannot share further details related to specific measures taken against the staff involved … CSC staff and senior management strive to ensure that our work to rehabilitate offenders is done safely and with the utmost professionalism.”

Lewis said he still does not know what if any measures were taken against the officers, but said he was placed in segregation and subjected to further mistreatment.

Lewis noted the grievance decision also said that the finding does not “absolve (him) of the behaviour that led to the incident.” He said he does not know what behaviour was being referred to.

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Bordelais said the finding of excessive use of force in the context of the grievance is different from the criminal standard.

Lewis is currently incarcerated at a minimum-security prison in Quebec. He was transferred out of Millhaven after a few years, his lawyer said.

He has appealed his conviction, in part arguing a juror may have relied on prejudicial outside information during deliberations. The Court of Appeal denied the appeal and last year Lewis requested permission to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada outside the set time limits. That application was denied earlier this year.



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