Former Millhaven inmate seeks compensation for assault, excess force, negligence, and breach of Charter rights

Blair Kay, a correctional officer, deployed pepper spray against Christophe Lewis in 2012 and was found guilty of assault with a weapon. Screen captured image.

Christophe Lewis was assaulted in 2012 by Correctional Service Canada officers while in custody at Millhaven Institution after he refused to comply with a request to strip down in front of a large group of male and female officers.

According to court filings, Lewis has commenced a lawsuit against correctional officers Blair Kay and Linda Gallimore, as well as against the Attorney General Of Canada, for assault, excess force, negligence, and breach of his Charter rights.

The incident, in which Kay pepper sprayed Lewis directly in the eyes, occurred on November 19, 2012. Justice for Lewis took over a decade, as it wasn’t until this year on May 12, 2023, that Kay was found guilty of assault with a weapon in what Lewis has described as an “unprovoked and vicious” attack. The case finally came to light after Lewis and his representatives were able to obtain video of the incident from Correctional Service Canada in 2021.

Lewis is being represented in his civil case by the Ottawa-based firm of Greenspon Granger Hill.  

Reached for comment, lawyer Lawrence Greenspon explained that Lewis’s civil case was a good fit for his firm: “We do an awful lot of work in the civil area, in terms of excess force, negligent investigation, breach of Charter rights… This is not very different from that kind of scenario where we take on, for lack of a better word, ‘the authorities,’ where there’s an abuse of power.”

May 15, 2023: Supporters of Christophe Lewis gather on the steps of the Napanee courthouse after correctional officer Donald “Blair” Kay was found guilty of assaulting Lewis with a weapon when Lewis was an inmate at Millhaven Institution. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

“In this particular case, Christophe had his Charter rights and his very bodily security violated,” Greenspon continued. “[The courts prosecuted it] in the criminal system, but then there’s a matter of following up in the civil courts so that that there are some efforts to recognize what Christophe went through as a result. It’s a crossover between criminal law and civil cases. My practice is the intersection of the two.”

“Violence against inmates most often goes unreported. In this case, it took ten years for the officer to be brought to justice,” Greenspon noted.

Tina Hill, Greenspon’s co-counsel, stated, “Individuals in custody have the same rights as other individuals in our society to security of the person and to be protected from unreasonable search. What happened in this case was completely unnecessary and has had a long-lasting impact on Mr. Lewis.”

Interestingly, besides Blair Kay, the civil case also names Linda Gallimore, who was involved in the incident the day Lewis was assaulted. At the time of his decision on the Kay matter on May 15, 2023, Justice Geoffrey Griffin suggested Gallimore played a major role in the escalation of events leading up to the assault on Lewis; he observed that Gallimore had the situation under control before Kay arrived but became annoyed when Lewis asked her about documentation regarding his child’s visits. Griffin observed with some irony, “I do not want to speculate that what occurred is that Ms. Gallimore became irritated with Mr. Lewis challenging her on that paperwork… so she became frustrated with him.”

Greenspon agreed that Gallimore had played an integral part in the events that day: “We did name her in the statement… She had certainly had a role in setting this whole thing into motion… She’s included in the Statement of Claim for her role in what took place.”

Officer Linda Gallimore (right) made the emergency call that triggered an assault on Lewis by Kay and other COs. Screen Captured image.

“All too often… these incidents go completely unreported,” remarked Greenspon. “They rarely ever lead to any criminal charges… No inmate is going to be foolish enough to start to either lay out a criminal complaint or a civil action while they’re in the custody of the very people who have been responsible for these types of incidents. … We are fortunate that in this one particular case — albeit it waited an awful long time — the matter did proceed through criminal prosecution, and there was a conviction. And now we will be pursuing this civil action for damages on [Lewis’s] behalf.”

Asked how he would respond to individuals who feel Lewis is not entitled to compensation based on his own criminal actions, Greenspon was clear, saying, “The criminal justice system operated, and he was prosecuted and was found guilty of the offence, and he’s received this punishment. He’s done his time.”

“Unfortunately,” the lawyer continued, “while he was doing his time, he himself had his rights severely violated. And so it’s not a matter of what he did to somebody else; it’s a matter of [acknowledging that] he’s done his time for that and while doing his time, this is what he went through. He was wronged in this way.”

Greenspon noted that people need to be sensitive to what victims of crime have endured, and rightly so. However, “when the people who have been punished for those crimes are treated in this way, there’s got to be a recognition that that too is wrong.” 

Lewis’s team is seeking :

  • general damages of $250,000;
  • special damages, in an amount to be particularized before trial;
  • punitive, exemplary, and/or aggravated damages of $250,000;
  • pre- and post-judgment interest according to the Courts of Justice Act, RSO 1990, C. 43 and any amendments thereto;
  • the costs of this action, together with applicable taxes; and
  • such further and other relief as this Honourable Court may deem just.

Kingstonist will provide more information as it becomes available.

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