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Bikers expected at gathering to mourn latest inmate death at London jail

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A gathering at London’s provincial jail marking inmate Brandon Marchant’s death, expected to draw hundreds of people, including bikers, should be peaceful, an organizer says.

Author of the article:

Randy Richmond, Dale Carruthers

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Jul 16, 2021  •  1 day ago  •  3 minute read  •  87 Comments Brandon Marchant of London died after being found unresponsive in his cell at London's provincial jail, the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre, police said. Brandon Marchant of London died after being found unresponsive in his cell at London’s provincial jail, the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre, police said. 

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A gathering at London’s provincial jail marking inmate Brandon Marchant’s death, expected to draw hundreds of people, including bikers, should be peaceful, an organizer says.

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“Everyone is welcome. It is 100 per cent peaceful,” Jessica Robinson said. “It’s about a young man who died.”

London police have the same expectations, a spokesperson said.

“If there was a concern for public safety, like any other event, we would attend. However we have no reason to believe that will be the case,” Const Kimberly Flett said.

The head of Ontario’s biker enforcement unit, Staff Sgt. Scott Wade, said he was aware of Marchant’s death, but declined to comment when asked if his officers would be monitoring the gathering.

Robinson is the sister of Laura Straughan, one of the first of 19 Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre (EMDC) inmates to die since 2009. She was 25.

The most recent was Marchant, 32, whose Facebook account shows he was friends with members of the Hells Angels, though not a member himself. Marchant had worked in construction and was a mixed-martial arts fighter, recalled by family and friends as an engaging and popular man who had struggled recently with addiction.

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A contingent of bikers is expected to ride to EMDC Saturday after Marchant’s family and friends hold a private service.

But the focus of the gathering will be an Indigenous healing circle, and remembering Marchant, said Robinson, noting his family has approved and guided her plans.

Families and friends of other inmates who have died also are expected to attend, many of them angered by Marchant’s death, allegations he was assaulted at EMDC and the recent removal of crosses they began putting up near the entrance of the jail in 2018.

Marchant was arrested after a Canada Day crash on Highway 401. He was taken to hospital that day, then transferred to the Exeter Road jail July 2. He was found unresponsive in his segregation cell July 3 and transferred back to hospital, where he was taken off life support July 6.

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Two inmates have told The Free Press they witnessed correctional officers assaulting Marchant the evening of July 2. The girlfriend of one of the inmates said she was on the phone with him at the time and heard screaming. That inmate said he called his lawyer the next day. The lawyer confirmed that account and said he contacted London police right away.

London police are investigating the allegations and Marchant’s death.

Officials with the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents correctional officers at EMDC, have not responded to requests for comment.

After a health and safety grievance from OPSEU, the Ontario Grievance Settlement Board ordered the province in May to remove the memorial crosses. The board agreed with correctional officers who said the crosses reminded them of the deaths of the inmates and caused mental health problems.

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Judy and Glen Struthers, whose son, Justin, died at Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre in 2017, protest outside the south London jail Friday on the eve of a memorial gathering for Brandon Marchant, the latest inmate to die. (Dale Carruthers/The London Free Press) Judy and Glen Struthers, whose son, Justin, died at Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre in 2017, protest outside the south London jail Friday on the eve of a memorial gathering for Brandon Marchant, the latest inmate to die. (Dale Carruthers/The London Free Press)

The province was supposed to notify dead inmates’ families to give them a chance to remove the crosses. Families learned of the decision from a London Free Press story.

Only a handful say they got notification calls. A provincial spokesperson said officials tried to reach all relatives, but some contact information was out of date. Many families dispute that, noting their phone numbers and addresses haven’t changed in years.

The province suddenly removed the crosses July 12. Marchant’s family and friends say they plan to put up a cross at Saturday’s event, even though crosses they erected during the last week have been removed.

Since 2009, 19 people have died at the Exeter Road jail which has wrestled with drug smuggling, health care and supervisory problems and violence.

The jail has been plagued by violence, understaffing, overcrowding, drug abuse and poor labour relations for decades – issues that have been uncovered and extensively documented by The Free Press, including the Michener Award-winning series Indiscernible, which examined the 2014 death of inmate Jamie High.

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