MONTREAL — More than a month after her younger brother died, Sarafina Dennie says she still has trouble eating or sleeping.
She says she struggles to understand how her brother Nicous D'Andre Spring — a quiet person who loved boxing, music and playing with her young children — died at Montreal's Bordeaux jail after an altercation with guards on Christmas Eve, a day after he was supposed to be released.
"It breaks my heart," she said in a phone interview.
"It's been over a month now, and we're not really getting any answers at all. And we would love to get answers for why they did this to him. He did not deserve what they did."
Spring, 21, was illegally detained at Montreal's Bordeaux jail on Dec. 24 when guards fitted his head with a spit hood and pepper-sprayed him twice. He died in hospital.
Quebec's Public Security Department 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.
Dennie said the family has received little information from investigators about what happened inside the jail; she said much of what the family has learned has come from the news. She said they had neither heard from Spring nor known that his release had been ordered, adding that they didn't know how close he had come to making it home for Christmas.
Now, she is calling on authorities to release any relevant video footage of the incident to her family — and to the public.
"I would like to have answers for what happened exactly to my brother, and to know what they did and why they did it," she said. "We need justice."
Dennie said Spring was well-loved, both in his Montreal community and within his family, who came from the Caribbean country of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines seeking a better life.
One of her last memories, she said, was of him showing up to help carry an oven into her home, a moment she remembers because of how much he loved Caribbean food.
Previous family statements have said Spring struggled with mental health issues, but his sister said Monday he was not "dangerous, aggressive, or harmful."
"He was very loving, very kind, very quiet," she said. "Not a rowdy person. You won't even know he's in the room unless you see him, that's how quiet he is."
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association says video footage exists, and that it should be released to the family.
"We do know that it has been reviewed and we do know that it is very disturbing," executive director Noa Mendelsohn Aviv said in a phone interview.
Mendelsohn Aviv said there are many questions that need to be answered, including why Spring was still in detention when a judge had ordered him released, and why guards seemingly used the potentially dangerous combination of a spit hood and pepper spray.
Calls to release the Montreal jail video have come after authorities in the United States released video footage Friday showing Tyre Nichols being beaten by five Memphis police officers. The footage emerged one day after the officers were charged with murder in Nichols’s death.
Mendelsohn Aviv said the question of whether to publicly release violent footage to the public is not straightforward.
"On the one hand, you have a real need for sensitivity and considerate treatment of the footage of a person being treated violently by those in power, and on the other hand, the need for public transparency and accountability and a reckoning with what happened," she said.
Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday, Mendelsohn Aviv said there is precedent in Canada for releasing videos from detention centres. She said prison videos of Ashley Smith, who choked herself to death on Oct. 19, 2007, in Grand Valley Institution, in Kitchener, Ont., were eventually released despite the objections of Correctional Service Canada.
Mendelsohn Aviv said she was hard-pressed to think of a compelling legal reason for authorities to refuse to release Spring's video, "especially since the family is demanding it."
Asked if the province will release the video, Public Security Department spokesperson Marjolaine Gagnon noted provincial police are investigating the death and the coroner's office has ordered an inquest. To avoid interfering with those investigations, she said, the department "will not publish items likely to be examined as evidence" by them.
Dennie, for her part, said she wants the public to see to footage to help ensure what happened to her brother doesn't happen to anyone else.
"The public needs to see what they did," she said of the authorities at the jail.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 31, 2023.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press