Fifty roses lay on the ground by a photo of Soleiman Faqiri on the edge of a snow-covered square in the heart of Toronto, each rose marking one of the 50 blunt force trauma injuries found on his body after he died in an Ontario prison last year.
All of the injuries identified by the coroner — including a deep laceration across his forehead and bruises or abrasions all over his body — were the results of “blunt impact trauma,” but they were “insufficient to explain death,” the cause of which remains undetermined, said a report released in July.
On the one-year anniversary of his death, marked with an emotional vigil on Friday, the 30-year-old’s family was still searching for answers about what happened in his segregation cell during a confrontation between him and upwards of 20 guards at the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont. that day. So far, not a single person involved has had to publicly answer for the killing and no one has been held criminally responsible.
“Time has not healed the wounds… the time has not changed the tears — they all continue to flow like a boundless river,” Soleiman’s brother Yusuf, who had visited his grave on the day of the vigil, told the crowd, repeating the question his family has been asking.
“Why was my brother killed while he was under government care?”
‘Beat, bruised, cuffed, and murdered’
A crowd of about 60 people stood in the middle of Dundas square, as speakers including activist Desmond Cole, Imam Yasin Dwyer, and CEO of Deen Support Services Rabia Khedr took turns at the microphone
“Soleiman was living with a mental illness under ‘government care.’ He needed a system that cared for him,” said one sign. “Instead, he was beat, bruised, cuffed and murdered.”
If this happened… to somebody who was blonde, who was blue eyed, who was not dealing with the stereotypes so many of us have to deal with, there would be a way to make this investigation take less than a year
Activist Desmond Cole embraced an emotional Yusuf before taking to the stage and launching into an impassioned speech about the need to re-allocate resources from prisons and policing in Ontario to mental health care. Cole and several other speakers also questioned why Faqiri, who had a history of mental illness, had been in prison in the first place instead of a hospital, and whether or not the incident and the subsequent investigation would have unfolded in the same way had Faqiri been a white man.
“If this happened… to somebody who was blonde, who was blue eyed, who was not dealing with the stereotypes so many of us have to deal with, there would be a way to make this investigation take less than a year,” said Cole. “It’s because they believe we’re not going to stand up for our community the way we are doing tonight.”
Faqiri, a bearded, broad-shouldered Muslim man who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia a decade earlier, was arrested in December 2016 on charges of assault and uttering threats. He had been at the jail for 11 days while waiting for a mental health assessment.
According to the coroner’s report, Faqiri had been displaying behavioural issues — he’d been “psychiatrically unwell” in the days prior, and was placed in segregation just a few hours before his death.
He refused for two hours to come out of the shower, splashing water and throwing shampoo bottles at the guards, said the report. When they eventually managed to escort him back to his cell, his ankles and wrists cuffed, he resisted. One correctional officer “seemed to strike out” at him after he spit at a guard, said the report, referencing surveillance footage. When they got to the cell, Faqiri refused to go in, at which point he was pepper sprayed and pushed inside.
There’s no video of what happened next. But according to the Coroner’s investigation, Faqiri was pepper sprayed a second time while the guards tried to get him to the ground in his cell, telling him to stop resisting. After a few minutes, a ‘code blue,’ which indicates staff are in trouble or inmates are fighting or being aggressive, was called. Several more staff entered the cell to relieve the guards who were already inside, who described being exhausted by their attempts to restrain Faqiri.
Guards held down his limbs, while a spit hood and leg irons were placed on him. Faqiri seemed to have calmed down and was cooperating, said the report. After cuffing his arms behind his back, the guards began leaving. The second shift of guards in the cell lasted for between five and 10 minutes, the report said.
“Shortly thereafter, onlookers noted that Soleiman was no longer moving and had
stopped breathing,” said the coroner’s report.
What makes this suffering so difficult and unfathomable is not knowing when we’ll get our closure. We’re still waiting for closure. It is shameful, and absolutely unconscionable the way that the ministry treated my family.
He was pronounced dead at 3:45 p.m. after 45 minutes of CPR.
In October, the Kawartha Lakes Police Service said no charges would be laid in Faqiri’s death. They broke the news to his family in an email.
“The threshold for the laying of criminal charges is very high,” Sgt. Tom Hickey of police service told VICE News in an email. “In this case after a thorough investigation that threshold was not met.”
He added that while police have been clear that Faqiri was involved in a “struggle” with guards, none of his injuries were significant enough to cause his death.
“Nowhere in the coroner’s report does it say the injuries were as a result of an assault,” he said.
‘Unacceptable in a democracy’
If they wanted more answers, the family was told by police they’d have to file an access to information request. Police took the position that records might be released for “compassionate reasons.” But two weeks ago, that freedom of information request demanding the release of Faqiri’s medical records, a transcript of the 911 call made from the jail, and the surveillance footage cited in the coroner’s report of him being taken back to his cell, among other things — was also denied, so as not to interfere with an ongoing probe by the Correctional Services Oversight Investigations Unit (CSOIU).
The CSOIU has indicated the investigation will be over within a couple of weeks. The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Service, the government body responsible for the prison system, a refused to comment citing the ongoing investigation.
Nader Hasan, one of the Faqiri family’s lawyers, described the process of getting information from police and the government on the case as “outrageously frustrating” and the length of time as “unacceptable in a democracy.” He’s appealing the rejected freedom of information request.
To me, it is abundantly clear that there are grounds to laying criminal charges
“To me, it is abundantly clear that there are grounds to laying criminal charges,” Hasan said in an interview with VICE News. “If the Kawartha Lakes Police has a good faith explanation for not laying criminal charges, I’d love to know what it is.”
Any information the family has received has come from the coroner’s report, but many questions remain unanswered, said Hasan: what do witnesses, bystanders, and those who were involved have to say? What possible explanation could correctional officers have for engaging in a “lengthy assault” of a man on the ground with a spit hood over his head? How was Faqiri treated otherwise during 11 days at the facility? Why was he there in the first place? Why wasn’t his family allowed to see him?
“Anyone who has a conscience, anyone who believes in social justice, anyone who believes in the importance of mental health should be disturbed by this case,” Soleiman’s brother Yusuf said at the vigil.
“What makes this suffering so difficult and unfathomable is not knowing when we’ll get our closure. We’re still waiting for closure. It is shameful, and absolutely unconscionable the way that the ministry treated my family,” he told VICE News. “It feels like a coordinated effort to punish my family.”
“But the truth will come out,” he said, forcefully. “What’s really missing right now is accountability and transparency. We will continue to ask for it.”