By Adam Brazeau
CORNWALL, Ontario – A Cornwall family is demanding answers after a city man, who had been grappling with suicidal thoughts, leapt to his death while languishing in a Montreal prison.
In April of this year Christopher Clarke, 26, of Cornwall, was being held at Montreal’s Bordeaux Jail on an outstanding contraband warrant. His family wants to know why, on Aril 27, he climbed over a railing outside his third-floor cell and fell to his death.
“There needs to be rules and regulations at Bordeaux Prison for handling inmates with mental health issues so this doesn’t happen again,” said Melissa Harrison, Clarke’s sister in an interview with Seaway News. “We want accountability.”
The Cornwall Community Police Service and the Bordeaux Jail are being targeted by the family as they ramp up their questions concerning the suicide.
“The Cornwall police had his trust and they broke that trust,” said Harrison. “They said they were taking him to the hospital to deal with mental health issues and they didn’t.”
The Cornwall police service has protocols officers must follow concerning mental health issues which include clearly identifying people as suicide risks and sharing that information with other police forces.
Sgt. Daniel Maille, subbing for police chief Dan Parkinson who is unavailable, said his service was quick to react when the media reached out to it for comment.
The case is drawing national media attention, as Clarke’s death was the subject of a recent CBC investigative report.
“When it came to our attention, we took action immediately,” Maille said. “It’s always disheartening to know someone who was in our care took their life.”
Maille confirmed the Cornwall service is reviewing how things were conducted while interacting with Clarke, but wouldn’t go into any greater detail.
“There is an internal investigation right now,” he said. “Currently we’re looking at every aspect of the investigation.”
His comments come as cold comfort to Clarke’s family, who are still grappling with his death.
“It seems something went wrong,” said Harrison.
Clarke was only at the Boudreaux Jail for 13 days before he took his own life. As his short stay came to its end, Clarke sent multiple texts to his sister from an illicit cell phone. Some of the texts read; “I feel sick,” “I’m not sleeping,” “I smoked two packs today,” “Please call me,” “I need to get out of here.”
Concerned for her brother, Harrison decided to call the jail nearly every day he remained behind bars. A communication barrier was already in place since Clarke’s sister isn’t fluent in French. She made a dozen calls and left many messages, but never received any reply.
“There was nothing on their website for an emergency line,” said Harrison.
Her issue with the Cornwall police is that when he was taken into their custody, it was supposed to be for help, not imprisonment.
“I fear their documentation won’t show he was supposed to be taken to the hospital,” said Harrison.
According to Harrison, Clarke had had mental health issues and suicidal ideations that impacted his relationship with his fiancée. The issues led to his fiancée contacting the police because of his unpredictable behavior. In hopes to get him help, not arrested.
Clarke was already gone when police arrived one night earlier this year. His fiancée got a hold of him on the phone and the Cornwall police allegedly took over the conversation. Harrison’s version is that the police promised a hospital bed. When they picked up Clarke, plans changed.
An outstanding warrant from an unpaid fine in Quebec had finally caught up to him. The fine came from a charge in 2008 from the Quebec provincial police for driving a vehicle full of contraband cigarettes.
Not too long after, Harrison received word he was in a Montreal jail.
“He was supposed to get help and instead there is a warrant waiting for him,” said Harrison.
Currently, she is seeking legal advice on whether or not to take the jail to court.
Harrison mentioned that Cornwall police staff sgt. Brian Snyder provided a great deal of help in her search for all the documentation involving the arrest from the jail and police.
Harrison is still waiting for all the documentation to arrive to move forward legally.
Clement Falardeau, Public Security spokesman, could not be reached for comment.
More to come.