No justice for victims of criminal justice system: Kanji

No justice for victims of criminal justice system: Kanji

Inhumanities of Canada’s prison system have been repeatedly exposed, particularly surrounding the use of solitary confinement, but those responsible are rarely held accountable.

 
A small group of family and friends of Soleiman Faqiri hold a vigil at Nathan Phillips Square in February for the mentally ill man who died during an altercation with guards in jail in Lindsay, Ont.
A small group of family and friends of Soleiman Faqiri hold a vigil at Nathan Phillips Square in February for the mentally ill man who died during an altercation with guards in jail in Lindsay, Ont.  (RICK MADONIK / TORONTO STAR) | ORDER THIS PHOTO  
 

Thirty-year-old Soleiman Faqiri died last December in a solitary confinement cell in Central East Correctional Centre, after being beaten by as many as 20 guards sent in to subdue him. On Monday, his family learned that no one will be charged for his death.

Soleiman’s hands and feet had been shackled, and a hood put over his head. He had more than 50 cuts, bruises, and other injuries from “blunt force trauma” on his body, according to the coroner’s report. He was buried with a gash from the assault visible on his face.

Diagnosed with schizophrenia, Soleiman was waiting to be transferred to a mental health facility. “My brother needed a bed and a doctor, instead he got handcuffs and fists,” said his older brother Yusuf. “This was a man with mental illness who needed help, instead he lost his life.”

The Faqiris have not been told why the police refused to lay criminal charges, and they have not been allowed to see the video footage of the moments leading to Soleiman’s death. After waiting more than 10 months for answers, all they know is that their son and brother died under conditions of violence 11 days after entering the jail, and that no one is being held responsible.

The inhumanities of Canada’s prison system have been repeatedly exposed. October marked the 10-year anniversary of the death of teenager Ashley Smith, who choked to death in solitary confinement, while guards stood outside and watched.

But the abuses continue, largely hidden from sight and mind, shielded by a thick wall of unaccountability.

People suffering mental health crises, such as Faqiri, are regularly subjected to solitary confinement — even though the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture concluded in 2011 that “imposition [of solitary confinement], of any duration, on persons with mental disabilities is cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” and a violation of the Convention Against Torture.

In 2013, the Ontario government signed a binding settlement meant to prevent segregation for prisoners experiencing mental health issues — but 11 people have died in solitary confinement since then, and the percentage of people in segregation with mental health alerts increased over the course of last year.

 
 
 

A report on provincial prisons released this April by the Ontario Ombudsman described one man who was left naked in a dirty segregation cell, where he had been confined for more than a month.

In May, an officer at Central North Correctional Centre in Penetanguishine tweeted about a segregated inmate who was kept in a “urine/feces soaked cell” and was “eating his own feces.” For exposing this, the officer was threatened with disciplinary action.

Ojibwe youth Adam Capay languished in a constantly lit solitary cell for more than 1,500 days, while his powers of speech and memory steadily deteriorated: a situation the provincial government knew about for nine months before doing anything.

At least 150 people have died while locked up in Ontario jails over the last decade; the exact number is not known, because deaths in provincial incarceration are not consistently recorded.

“Many in-custody deaths are preventable,” according to a report published in September by the Independent Review of Ontario Corrections. The report noted that coroners’ juries make the same recommendations over and over again following deaths in jail; “the repetitive nature of the jury recommendations suggests that the ministry is not treating recommendations as issues of systemic concern or is not effectively implementing the recommended changes.”

The federal government has proposed new legal limits on the use of solitary confinement — but will not ban it altogether, even for people with mental illness. The Ontario government has promised to correct the wrongs of the province’s correctional system, but has not yet tabled any new legislation.

The state is quick to pre-emptively criminalize marginalized communities, but slow to address the abuses committed against the marginalized by its own institutions: hundreds needlessly dead or subjected to treatment the UN considers “cruel, inhuman, and degrading.”

“There is a great deal of irony in the fact that imprisonment — the ultimate product of our system of criminal justice — itself epitomizes injustice,” a parliamentary subcommittee observed in 1977. Forty years later, it is shameful how little has changed — even while the list of victims grows ever-longer.

Almost a year after the death of her son, Soleiman Faqiri’s mother continues to visit his grave every day and cry for him. May Soleiman rest in peace, and may his family find some justice.

Azeezah Kanji is a legal analyst based in Toronto. She writes in the Star every other Thursday.

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