Skip to main content

Quebec tribunal says jail violated rights of Black man left naked in cell for hours

The yard of the Orsainville Detention Centre, near Quebec City, is shown on June 7, 2014. Quebec's human rights tribunal has found that provincial jail guards violated the rights of a Black inmate who was left for hours naked and wet in a cell without a mattress. Judge Christian Brunelle has ordered the provincial government and several guards at a Quebec City jail to pay Samuel Toussaint a total of $41,500 in damages and ordered the province's public security department to create a plan to fight discriminatory profiling. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Francis Vachon The yard of the Orsainville Detention Centre, near Quebec City, is shown on June 7, 2014. Quebec's human rights tribunal has found that provincial jail guards violated the rights of a Black inmate who was left for hours naked and wet in a cell without a mattress. Judge Christian Brunelle has ordered the provincial government and several guards at a Quebec City jail to pay Samuel Toussaint a total of $41,500 in damages and ordered the province's public security department to create a plan to fight discriminatory profiling. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Francis Vachon
Share

The brutal and unusual treatment suffered by a Black inmate who was left for hours naked and wet in a cell without a mattress suggests he was racially profiled, Quebec's human rights tribunal has found.

Guards at the Centre de detention de Quebec violated the rights of Samuel Toussaint and treated him differently than other inmates, Judge Christian Brunelle wrote in his Nov. 3 decision, awarding the man $41,500.

"In this case, Mr. Toussaint found himself lying on the dirty floor of a cell, his hands cuffed behind his back, subject to blows and joint holds from at least four (corrections officers) before all his clothes were cut off his body," Brunelle wrote. "He was made to parade through the halls of the jail without a single article of clothing to provide any cover to his private parts."

The judge ordered Kevin Leclerc, then-acting head of the jail's admission unit, along with several guards and the provincial government to pay a total of $40,000 in damages. Leclerc was ordered to pay an additional $1,500 to Toussaint because Brunelle said he had an additional level of responsibility.

The Public Safety Department was ordered to develop a plan to fight discriminatory profiling and to train all guards, as well as other jail employees, on how to avoid profiling inmates.

According to the ruling, the December 2016 incident began when Toussaint, then 21, arrived at the jail, where he was serving an intermittent sentence of 82 days after an assault conviction. A guard told Toussaint to stop smoking a cigarette in the parking lot, and in response the 21-year-old allegedly flicked the cigarette at him, hitting his bulletproof vest.

Toussaint testified that he had thrown the cigarette butt toward the guard -- but that the butt had not hit him.

The tribunal's ruling says guards thought Toussaint was intoxicated, unco-operative and arrogant.

While other prisoners who reported to jail that day for weekend sentences were searched and sent to the facility's gym, Toussaint was placed alone in a holding cell for around an hour. He was then handcuffed and forced to walk backwards to another cell, without being told where he was being taken, the ruling says.

Guards testified that Toussaint was being aggressive that day, but the judge said those claims were not borne out by video evidence.

When Toussaint arrived at the second cell, guards used a knife to cut off his clothes to search him, and some of them insulted him, at least one of whom used a racial slur, the ruling says.

The judge said the guards who reported hearing the slur said they were shocked by it, and that other guards denied hearing it.

Toussaint struggled as the guards cut off his clothes, and in response they struck him and used pain holds on him, the ruling says. After, he was moved, naked, to a third cell. The ruling says other guards left their posts to watch him being paraded naked through the hallway.

While in the third cell, a guard pepper-sprayed Toussaint, who was then taken to a decontamination shower -- and rinsed off for far less time than is required by government policy, the judge wrote. Then, he was directed to a fourth cell.

"Mr. Toussaint was left alone, completely naked, in this concrete room whose furniture consisted of a wash basin and a steel toilet," the ruling says. "He spent the rest of the day there, without any clothing, meal or mattress, afflicted by a headache and the fear of being disfigured by the burns from the inflammatory product."

The Quebec government argued that Toussaint's treatment was legal and followed normal procedures; however, an expert witness who testified on behalf of the province's human rights commission, which brought the case to the tribunal, testified that the video evidence shows Toussaint was never aggressive and posed no risk to the guards.

The judge found that Toussaint's treatment was unusual and that it differed from the way other inmates are usually handled in jail. For those reasons, Brunelle said that Toussaint was racially profiled.

If guards suspected that Toussaint was intoxicated, they should have adapted the way they handled him, the judge said.

As a result of his treatment in jail, Toussaint was hospitalized for his mental health and was unable to finish his college semester.

Brunelle said he found "troubling" that jail guards hadn't received any training on racial profiling or on how to intervene in situations in which people are experiencing a handicap -- such as intoxication -- or are in a disturbed mental state.

Quebec's Public Safety Department did not respond to a request for comment on Monday afternoon.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 13, 2023.  

CTVNews.ca Top Stories

Stay Connected