Alleged victim of assault by Millhaven correctional officer takes stand
The trial of Donald “Blair” Kay, a Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) officer charged with assaulting a prisoner with a weapon in a historic incident at Millhaven Institution, continued Friday afternoon, Jan. 6, 2023, with testimony by Christophe Lewis.
Lewis is the alleged victim of an assault with a weapon by Blair Kay in November 2012 when the former was incarcerated at Millhaven Institution.
After a morning consisting of testimony from Correctional Service of Canada employees, Lewis was called to testify by Assistant Crown Attorney Timothy Kavanagh.
Lewis began his time on the stand by asking Justice Geoffrey Griffin if he might address the court. Justice Griffin allowed this, for which Lewis thanked him, saying, “I have waited 12 years for this.”
Lewis began by explaining that he was frustrated with the court system for many reasons. Firstly, he had not received a subpoena from the Crown, despite being told on his arrival at the Napanee court that he is the Crown’s main witness.
Lewis stated that he is currently living at a transition house in Quebec and was not given the information in advance of his court appearance; he had only shown up to the trial because his own legal team had found out that it was proceeding through the courts. “I only first met the Crown [attorney] yesterday,” Lewis said, adding that he had had no preparation as a witness.
Justice Griffin expressed empathy for Lewis’s frustration, saying it is his understanding that only victims of domestic violence and sexual offences get a much assistance from Ontario Victim Services (OVS): “It just seems inappropriate that, in other crimes, the victims don’t get the same treatment.”
Lewis said specifically that he would have liked the opportunity to submit notes provided by his psychiatric care team about the psychological impact the incident had had on him since it occurred in 2012.
The Crown took Lewis through the video, which is the main piece of evidence in the trial.
Lewis said that on Monday, Nov. 19, 2012, he had just come from visiting with his girlfriend in the visitation area when he stopped to talk to a female Correctional Services of Canada Officer (CO) at the Correspondence and Visitation Office (often referred to as the “C&V”). He wanted information about his child’s permission to visit him and provided CO with documents to that effect, which his girlfriend had given him.
Sometime during this conversation, Lewis testified, the CO told him she didn’t want to discuss the matter now ,and asked him to “go strip naked” in a designated area for strip searches. Lewis said he continued to try to get information about his child’s visits, but when the CO repeated the request for him to go to the strip search area as a “direct order,” he said he would only strip for two male COs, as was protocol.
Lewis said he went to the area to wait and began to comply, by giving the contents of his pockets to a male CO before beginning to undo his belt, as can be seen in the video.
At that time, Lewis said, several guards entered the small room and began ordering him to comply. “They are all talking and yelling ‘strip search’… I’m intimidated; I didn’t want to come across as aggressive… Multiple people are speaking, and everyone is barking an order.”
Lewis said that he was concerned and frightened by the large group, and he continued to speak, in his words, “calmly to them.” He said both male and female COs were present, and that in the video only a small fraction of the COs can be seen on camera.
He said he thought that the Corrections Manager who was present would begin steps to de-escalate the situation, but that instead “within seconds,” CO Blair Kay pepper-sprayed him, and then “all the guards came in… kicking, punching, fighting over who would get to put me in a chokehold.”
At that point, Lewis said, he was choked to unconsciousness and urinated in his pants. Then he came-to with guards lifting him by his arms, separating his shoulder.
“Before you were sprayed,” asked the Crown, “do you recall any other words?”
“Just expletives, ‘You better fucking comply’ and [the like],” Lewis answered.
“Is it your understanding that a CO has to use certain words to move to the next level [of discipline]? Do you recall [anyone telling you that you might] be pepper sprayed?” asked the Crown.
“No,” answered Lewis, reiterating that he was surprised, and that he’d expected that “they would take the time to de-escalate the situation instead of going right to use of force.”
At the time, Lewis had been at Millhaven since May 2012 and had been subjected to and complied with at least one strip search a week, because it was protocol to be searched like that after every visitor.
After the Crown finished his questions, Justice Griffin offered Lewis a break before coss-examination, and the court took a fifteen-minute recess.
After the break, defence attorney Michael Hodgson first had Lewis verify a copy of his criminal record and then entered it into the record as exhibit two, after establishing that Lewis had been convicted of second-degree murder, for which he was serving time in Millhaven Institution in 2012.
At this time, it came to light that Lewis had actually been convicted in December 2011, but an issue with jury secrecy had come after his trial, so he had remained in pretrial custody for four months while that was sorted out.
Justice Griffin interrupted with interest, “I know it has nothing to do with this trial, but… you were convicted and then what happened?”
“A jury member was coerced into testifying against me,” explained Lewis. “It was a big thing for a while.”
“It would have been a big thing,” agreed Griffin. “The court of appeal would have been involved.”
With Justice Griffin’s interest piqued, he asked Lewis more questions; Lewis explained that the statute of limitations on that case had run out, so the appeal came to nothing.
After this aside, Hodgson went into his cross-examination in-depth, establishing that Lewis had felt he was being mocked by the female CO prior to the incident, and that she had mocked him to his then-girlfriend, “In fact, you believed that [the female CO] had a bit of an axe to grind with you in particular?”
Lewis agreed, “I felt that she didn’t like me.”
“So, that day you had a bit of an argument with her over some documentation?” asked Hogdson.
“I wouldn’t call it an argument,” said Lewis. “I told her [about] another copy of my daughter’s notarized document… I attempted to have a discussion about this… To be frank, she stopped the conversation when I pointed out the [previously supposedly lost] document on her desk. That was when she got up and started walking past me.”
Hodgson led Lewis through a series of documents about the incident that were written in 2012, pointing out various contradictions to the statements Lewis had given on this day in court more than a decade later.
Lewis countered that he had not authored any of the documents himself and had only signed them in 2012 to “just forget about the whole thing” as it occurred.
At one point, after suggesting several times that Lewis had made no attempt to comply with the strip search, Justice Griffin interrupted and reminded Hodgson, “That is not the case; he did actually [attempt to comply]. You can see him on the video emptying his pockets and handing his things to the male CO.”
After Hodgson finished his questions, Justice Griffith allowed Lewis to address the court.
Lewis thanked the judge, saying he wanted to talk about the impact of the incident and aftermath it has had because he “was never given a chance to make a victim impact statement.”
“This has been a damning situation emotionally and physically… and vicariously affects my family, as well,” Lewis began.
“When I went to Millhaven, I had just got my life sentence. So it was a difficult time for me, having to reflect on the wrongs I did and… how I will possibly be in prison for the rest of my life. A lot of times, guys get a life sentence and they don’t make it out, right? So I’m fortunate that I was even able to make it out of that situation and become a better person.”
Lewis explained, “The reason why I wanted to be released in Montreal was to stay away from Toronto, so I wouldn’t go back into that type of lifestyle… There’s a lot of at-risk youth actually in Montreal that need help, as well… I figured it was the best place for me to be able to give my services and work towards my ultimate goal of just remaining free.”
Lewis described being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder due to the incident at Millhaven. He intimated that there were more incidents after the one for which court was sitting today: “When I went back to segregation… I have this video. I don’t know why the prosecution doesn’t, but I do. I have three other videos that are attached to this one before CSC had them destroyed [that] I got through the correctional investigator’s office…” he stated.
Hodgson spoke to this: “Your honour, I have to object… It sounds like we’re getting into new allegations of things I don’t know about and aren’t before the court.”
Justice Griffith disagreed, however: “It’s not allegations; he’s describing the difficulties that he attributes to this occurrence.”
Allowed to continue, Lewis stated, “ I’m almost done… Just the feelings of hopelessness. It’s still with me to this day. I go to therapy to address it. I actually speak to youth who are dealing with similar situations… coming from a background of abusive homes… I explain the same thing to them: how to channel their imaging the right way and not let it get the best of them… I just thought it was important for me to express myself because a lot of people don’t have a voice. A lot of people can’t articulate themselves.”
Justice Griffith said that he was impressed by Lewis’s articulate speech: “You express yourself with a great deal of clarity. What is your education?”
“I dropped [out of] high school, but I’m currently in Concordia University right now,” Lewis answered. “[These COs] made me realize that I was helpless. I couldn’t do anything. And people could just take advantage of me in any way they wanted, and that didn’t sit well with me. So… I made up my mind… I’m going to study the law and learn about it, and I’m going to make sure I don’t let this just go. And, That’s why we’re here today, and I just want to make it out. That’s all that I want to say.”
“Thank you very much, sir,” replied Justice Griffith, “and I wish you all the best in the future. The way it’s oriented, I think maybe it’s going to be a much better future than the past.”
The Crown had no more witnesses, and Justice Griffith adjourned the case until Thursday, Mar. 2, 2023, at 10 a.m. when the defence will present its case.