'No answers' a year after Soleiman Faqiri prison death

An inquest will look into the death of a mentally ill man who died in an Ontario prison last year.

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    'No answers' a year after Soleiman Faqiri prison death
    Soleiman Faqiri, 30, died in a Canadian prison on December 15, 2016 [Courtesy Yusuf Faqiri]

    All Yusuf Faqiri wants, is to know what happened to his brother.

    It's been almost a year since Soleiman Faqiri died in a Canadian prison.

    The 30-year-old had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was set to be moved to a mental health facility. But as he waited for a bed to open up, Soleiman, who was facing aggravated assault charges, was placed in a segregation cell, also known as solitary confinement, in December 2016. 

    Less than two weeks after he was first detained at the Central East Correctional Centre, a maximum-security, provincial prison in Lindsay, Ontario, Faqiri was dead.

    "To this day, we still don't have answers," Yusuf, the eldest of five siblings, including Soleiman, told Al Jazeera in a telephone interview this week, as the one-year anniversary of his brother's death rapidly approaches.

    "We still don't know why my brother was killed," Yusuf said.

    Police close investigation without charges

    Yusuf described his brother as being "always remembered for his generosity, for his kindness".

    Soleiman spoke three languages - English, Arabic and Persian - and he was studying environmental engineering when he was diagnosed with schizophrenia after a car accident in 2005, during his first year at university in Canada, Yusuf said.

    "He always had this sense of humour, this thirst for life. He was always smiling," he said.

    Yusuf said his family is still reeling from his death: his mother visits Soleiman's grave nearly every day and his younger sister has taken to wearing Soleiman's old clothes.

    "We're all suffering. Life has not been the same," he said.

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    Now, their pain has been compounded by local police's recent decision to close the investigation into Soleiman's death without laying any criminal charges, Yusuf said.

    The Kawartha Lake Police Service made the announcement on October 30 that no charges would be filed.

    "We have concluded that no grounds exist to process criminal charges against anyone who was involved with Mr. Faqiri prior to his death," the police force said in a statement.

    Nader Hasan is a lawyer representing the Faqiri family.

    He explained that even if police felt they have insufficient evidence to prove that a homicide occurred, a coroner's report released earlier this year still made it known that Soleiman was beaten by prison guards prior to his death, and therefore a crime may have occurred.

    "There's still a series of assaults that have taken place. You definitely have grounds to believe that serious assault causing bodily harm took place," Hasan told Al Jazeera.

    Soleiman Faqiri, 30, was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2005, said his brother, Yusuf. [Courtesy Yusuf Faqiri]

    Multiple cuts and bruises: Coroner's report

    Faqiri was found dead in a segregation cell with "obvious injuries" to his body, according to the Ontario coroner's report, which was released to the Faqiri family earlier this year and seen by Al Jazeera.

    "The death was discovered after an 'altercation' had occurred" between Faqiri and prison guards, the coroner's report states.

    Faqiri was found dead, on December 15, 2016, and he was described as being "psychiatrically unwell" in the days prior to his death.

    The day he died, Faqiri had resisted guards as they tried to get him out of the prison shower. He stayed in the shower for just under two hours, as he sprayed the guards with water and threw shampoo bottles at them, the report states.

    Guards restrained Faqiri's arms and legs and he was pepper-sprayed at least twice as they tried to get him back into his cell. A "spit hood and leg shackles were placed on him," the report found.

    "Eventually he calmed down and was cooperative; guards were able to cuff his hands behind him and leave the cell. Around this time, someone noticed he was no longer moving or breathing. Death was pronounced after a prolonged period of CPR," the report states.

    The autopsy revealed Faqiri had external and internal bruises across his body, including his shoulders, head, neck and back. His body showed signs of multiple abrasions and ligature marks were visible around his ankles and wrists, the report found.

    However these injuries were not sufficient to cause his death, said the coroner, who could not medically determine the primary cause of death.

    The coroner's report listed the cause as "undetermined".

    Family wants accountability

    Yusuf said his family is frustrated by a lack of information from police and other authorities about what happened to Soleiman.

    "What we want ultimately is ... accountability and transparency," he said. "We want the people that were responsible for my brother's death to be [held] accountable because we don't want this to happen to someone else."

    A few days after the police department's decision not to lay charges in the case, the coroner in eastern Ontario announced that an inquiry would be launched into the events surrounding Soleiman's death.

    "The jury may make recommendations aimed at preventing similar deaths," the coroner's statement reads.

    According to Hasan, the family's lawyer, the inquest is the "last best hope of finding out the truth".

    After the coroner's investigation into what happened is completed, the formal inquest - likely 10 to 15 days of witness and other testimonies - will be scheduled, Hasan explained.

    "This is someone who was restrained. He had handcuffs on his wrists and we understand that his ankles were also shackled. He was on the ground," Hasan said.

    "In light of that, why did you need somewhere between 10 and 20 jail guards to further subdue him over the course of a lengthy period of time?"

    A spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, meanwhile, told Al Jazeera in an email that while it was aware that an inquest will be launched, "it would be inappropriate to comment further as the inquest unfolds".

    Concern around 'over-use' of prison segregation

    Last November, the Ontario government hired an independent adviser to investigate the use of solitary confinement in provincial prisons and propose improvements to the prison system overall.

    Howard Sapers was tasked with examining how Ontario could reduce the number of people held in segregation and limit the amount of time they are held, as well as find alternatives to segregation for particularly vulnerable inmates, including those with mental health issues.

    "Many of those in segregation simply should not be there," Sapers wrote in an interim report, released in March.

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    In 2016, more than 1,300 men and women spent at least 60 total days in a segregation cell in facilities run by Ontario Correctional Services, the report states.

    As many as 575 were in segregation on any given day last year, and seven out of 10 were in pretrial detention awaiting trial or bail determination.

    "Last year, Ontario inmates who were flagged as having potential or confirmed suicide risk or mental illness were more likely to be placed in segregation, and, once there, tended to stay longer than the rest of the segregated population," the report found.

    Hasan told Al Jazeera that Faqiri's case raises major questions about "the over-use" of segregation in Canadian prisons.

    "Soleiman [is] by no means the first person with mental health issues who has died tragically in a Canadian jail," Hasan said.

    "Until something drastic happens, he's unlikely to be the last."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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