Canada: Toronto Man Subjected To ‘Cruel and Unusual' Punishment While Detained By Brantford Police

Last Updated: August 9 2017
Article by Nicolas Di Nardo

Treatment of prisoners is a big issue that for the most part, goes unseen by many all over the world. Many countries are full of corrupt law enforcement officers, horrible prison conditions, or do not follow the basic rights that are to be given to prisoners.

However, you'd never suspect that a prisoner in Canada would go through and type of 'cruel and unusual' treatment that we hear about on the news. Unfortunately, it still does happen in our own backyard.

Philip Alafe didn't expect something like this to happen in Canada either, especially to him. Alafe, 27, is from Nigeria and is currently applying for refugee status. He was arrested back in July 2015 for dangerous driving, and assault with a weapon for driving dangerously at others. Upon his arrest, he disclosed his mental health issues – depression and anxiety – along with his disease, sick cell anemia, which without medication he can be left in an abundance of pain. In addition, he told Brantford Police Officer Staff Sgt. Cheney Venn that he was not suicidal in any way.

Alafe and Venn arrived at the Police station at 6:50pm, at which time Alafe disclosed the above information before being placed in a cell. There, he began to have one of the worst nights of his life. Alafe described his whole night, stating that they treated him "worse than an animal...[he was] stripped of everything... [he] just didn't want to live anymore... [he] thought he was going to be in that situation forever."

Philip's night in the station was broken down into events:

  • 11:21 p.m.
    • Alafe spends 15 minutes asking for medication and throws wet toilet paper
    • Venn threatens a "very frigging cold night" if Alafe continues to throw toilet paper
  • 11:48 p.m.
    • Alafe continue to throw toilet paper
    • Venn takes his blanket and mattress away and provides Alafe with one pill
  • 1:10 a.m.
    • Philip ties his jumpsuit to the cell bars
    • Venn threatens to take it if it is not taken down
  • 2:50 a.m.
    • Over this time, Alafe asks for his blanket back and ties his t-shirt to the bars, which Venn takes
  • 3:01 a.m.
    • Philip tries to get a piece of paper with his jumpsuit
    • Jumpsuit is taken by Venn
  • 3:03 a.m.
    • From this point on, Alafe now spends his time in the cell naked, until 7:30 a.m.
    • At 6 a.m. he tries to tie his socks into a noose, which an officer takes from him
  • 7:30 a.m.
    • Other officers return Alafe's jumpsuit, mattress, and blanket

After having gone through this night in the Brantford Police station and bringing this matter to court, Alafe said that without the video footage no one would have believed him when describing the events that took place.

The footage displayed the "cruel and unusual treatment" that Alafe suffered, which the Ontario Court Justice Ken Lenz had also determined. Lenz found his rights under section 7 and section 12 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms have been violated.

Sec. 7:

Life, liberty and security of a person

  1. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.

Sec. 12:

Treatment or punishment

  1. Everyone has the right to not be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.

When this ruling was issued in April, Ken Lenz condemned Venn's behaviour describing the treatment as "egregious" and "clearly degrading to human dignity". Not only did Judge Lenz identify that Venn had violated police policies relating to treatment of people in custody with mental health concerns, he defended Alafe by acknowledging that there was "nothing the defendant could do to stop his mistreatment even when he did behave as requested for extensive periods of time." This is not the first case in which Venn has mistreated people in custody with mental health concerns.

Venn defended his actions, testifying in court that his actions were common practice in similar situations. Lenz challenged Venn's testimony and reviewed the Brantford Police policy, which states:

  • A blanket should not be provided only if there is a history of suicidal tendencies, destructive behaviour, or the officer in charge deems it harmful to the prisoner, any person, or the facility.

The policy does not mention the actions of removing mattresses, but does state that clothing may only be removed if the prisoner is suicidal. During his testimony, Venn said he was not concerned he would self-harm until he witnessed the sock incident.

Lenz continued to take Alafe's side, saying that Venn was "bullying someone in his control because he could" and that it "looks more like punishment than an attempt to elicit good behaviour."

Parallel with Alafe's belief, Lenz even addressed the video exhibits, Lenz said, "without the cell videos, he would've simply believed the officer's testimony."

This particular case is causing Lenz to have a change of heart with regards to our police force. He went on to say that the is beginning to share the perception that Alafe has, that the police can't be fully trusted.

As a result, the judge stayed the charges against Alafe. Venn is still on the force, he remains on regular duties.

In addition to this ruling, Brantford police chief Greg Nelson will be investigating into potential professional misconduct. The policy and training practices in relation to prisoner care and handling will also be addressed and reviewed by the Brantford Police Service, and their findings will be presented to the Police Services Board.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Nicolas Di Nardo
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