After a young man dies in custody, a Montreal family searches for answers

David Tshiteya Kalubi, 23, was arrested one evening earlier in this month in Montreal's Hochelaga neighbourhood. Hours later, he was dead.

David Tshiteya Kalubi, 23, died on Nov. 8 after being held at Montreal's municipal courthouse

a Black man in a blue jacket posing for the camera
David Tshiteya Kalubi, 23, died on Nov. 8 after spending the night in police custody. (Quelyna M. Kalubi/Facebook)

One evening earlier this month, David Tshiteya Kalubi was stopped by police in Montreal's Hochelaga neighbourhood, where he lived.

He was arrested on an outstanding warrant, according to authorities, and taken into custody. Less than 12 hours later, he was dead.

What exactly transpired in the hours leading up to his death early on Nov. 8 remains unclear, but civil rights activists are raising concerns about the case.

Kalubi, 23, had a girlfriend, was beginning a new job and was close to his family, with whom he lived, according to the family's lawyer, Virginie Dufresne-Lemire.

It's hard to get closure when they don't have these answers.- Virginie Dufresne-Lemire, the Kalubi family lawyer

He was also black — his family is of Congolese origin — a fact that has left some wondering if racial profiling played a role in the circumstances surrounding his death.

Dan Philip, the executive director of the Black Coalition of Quebec, spoke to CBC News about the case after speaking to Kalubi's mother, who declined to talk to CBC directly.

'A travesty'

Philip said it took police seven hours to notify her and her family of Kalubi's death.

When they finally did, Philip says, police first interrogated the family about Kalubi, before telling them he was dead.

"They felt it was a travesty," Philip said Kalubi's mother told him.

"They felt there was no compassion. They felt that there was no concern about either the death of the young man or the family themselves who have to mourn the situation."

The family is holding a private funeral on Saturday.

Quebec's Bureau of Independent Investigations (BEI), which takes over cases when an individual dies in police custody, is handling the case. For now, it is offering few details.

David Tshiteya Kalubi died in hospital after being at the Montreal courthouse. (Johanne Lapierre/Radio-Canada)

Kalubi was arrested after police ran a background check and he was found to have an outstanding warrant, Martin Bonin-Charron, a BEI spokesperson, said in an emailed statement to CBC News.

Bonin-Charron would not say what the warrant was for. It was, however, related to a municipal offence.

A night in custody, dead in hospital

Montreal police took Kalubi to the station, where he spent the night before being transferred to the municipal courthouse in Old Montreal to appear before a judge, the BEI said.

The transfer happened at 7:35 a.m.

Just over an hour later, at 8:55 a.m, a guard noticed that Kalubi was on the floor and appeared unconscious.

He was taken to the hospital and declared dead at 9:55 a.m.

For Philip, the circumstances surrounding his arrest, while still not entirely clear, are the first place of concern. He worries Kalubi was treated differently because he was black.

Kalubi's family, for its part, is more hesitant to call out racial profiling.

"For the moment, there's not enough information to know if it's a case of racial profiling, but with a young black man arrested it can look like racial profiling," said the family's lawyer, Dufresne-Lemire. 

Lack of medical attention?

Kalubi lived with sickle-cell anemia, a genetic disease that causes malformed red blood cells.

Dufresne-Lemire said that Kalubi was aware of his condition and would go to the hospital when it would escalate into a crisis.

"It can have fatal consequences, so of course we are wondering if it had anything to do with it," said Dufresne-Lemire.

The exact cause of death and the role, if any, that sickle-cell anemia played will only be available once the results of an autopsy are released.

Those likely won't be available for at least six months, Dufresne-Lemire said — an excruciating period of waiting for Kalubi's family.

'Hard to get closure'

Philip is skeptical the BEI will provide the answers the family seeks, pointing out that the unit includes several former police officers. 

Quebec's Bureau of Independent Investigations, members of which are seen here, has been criticized for being staffed by former police officers and its lack of diversity. (Quebec government)

"It's the police investigating the police. They have no interest in finding out why did he died and what negligence caused his death," he said.

The BEI counters that it is equipped to handle such cases.

"[The investigators] all share the organization's core values ​​of impartiality, integrity and rigour," Bonin-Charron said in his email.

Still, Dufresne-Lemire says that it will likely be a year before the BEI's report is released, another difficult delay for Kalubi's mourning family.

"It's hard to get closure when they don't have these answers," she said.


C​ecilia MacArthur is an associate producer at CBC Montreal's morning show Daybreak.