Soleiman Faqiri’s family expects ‘full story’ of his death in Ontario jail cell as inquest begins
Nearly seven years since police told Soleiman Faqiri’s family he would never be coming home, his loved ones might finally learn the answers to the questions that have haunted them since his death in an Ontario jail cell.
The inquest into the 30-year-old’s death at the Central East Correctional Centre — where he was violently restrained, pepper-sprayed and covered in a spit-hood while awaiting a bed at a health facility — begins Monday.
It’s there that members of a coroner’s jury and the public may, for the first time, witness video captured on the jail’s surveillance cameras of the moments leading up to Faqiri’s death on Dec.15, 2016. And it’s where lawyers for the family have said they hope “the full story” of what happened to him will finally emerge.
“The inquest will be about shining a light on this travesty of justice. What happened to Soleiman Faqiri should not happen to anyone,” the family’s lawyer, Nader Hasan, told CBC News earlier this year.
“We expect the inquest will tell that full story, and that the inquest will show both how the system failed Soli and how the very people entrusted with his care failed Soli miserably.”
The inquest comes after police declined — for the third time — to lay criminal charges against the correctional officers who restrained and left Faqiri face-down in a segregation cell, where he would take his final breaths.
At the time of his death, Faqiri, who suffered from schizophrenia, was awaiting a medical evaluation at the Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences. He had been charged with aggravated assault, assault and uttering threats following an altercation with a neighbour, but had not been convicted of any crime.
Faqiri suffered more than 50 bruises and other signs of blunt impact trauma, a post-mortem examination found. His cause of death, previously deemed unascertained, was later deemed to be restraint in a face-down position and injuries from his struggle with guards.
“Although this inquest will be a painful experience for our entire family to relive Soleiman’s tragedy, we believe that the public needs to know what happens to Canadians who suffer from mental illness in jails,” his elder brother, Yusuf, told CBC News.
“Too many people die in custody and are returned to their loved ones in body bags without transparency and accountability.”
No charges, despite pathologist’s findings
No on charges were ever laid in Faqiri’s death.
As reported by CBC News last August, Ontario Provincial Police said there was “insufficient” evidence to charge any of the jail staff involved despite the province’s chief forensic pathologist finding the guards’ actions contributed directly to his death.
A coroner’s jury cannot make any finding of legal responsibility but must deliver a verdict about manner of death, such as accident, homicide, or natural causes, according to the province. The jury can also make recommendations to prevent future such deaths.
If admitted as evidence by the coroner, footage from the jail’s hallways and other areas with cameras could shed light on exactly how many correctional officers were involved and Faqiri’s state in the hours before his death. It could also potentially corroborate some of what an inmate across the hall told CBC’s The Fifth Estate he saw the day Faqiri died.
There is no footage of what took place inside the cell or in the shower where reports indicated he was agitated. The Fifth Estate previously filed an access-to-information request for the surveillance footage in Faqiri’s death. That request was denied. CBC News filed a further access request after the family’s lawsuit was settled. That request was also denied.
The inquest is also likely to bring further attention to guards’ breaches of specific Ontario’s policies on use of force.
As previously reported, according to the province’s procedures manual for jail staff, an inmate must not be placed on his or her stomach while wearing a spit hood because of the risk of asphyxiation or losing oxygen. Inmates must also be “properly decontaminated” when pepper spray is used and must not be left unattended while wearing a spit hood, the policies states.
At least two of those policies appear to have been violated in Faqiri’s case.
The coroner could also choose to admit as evidence an internal investigation report by the province’s Correctional Services Oversight and Investigations unit, completed around the summer of 2018. That report could reveal more about the steps taken in the aftermath of Faqiri’s death, any disciplinary actions taken and why — according to the province — at least five of the jail staff involved were allowed to keep their jobs.
Union points to ‘crisis in corrections’
Recommendations from a coroner’s jury are not binding.
Asked if the province will abide by the recommendations that may come of the inquest, the Ministry of the Solicitor General told CBC News earlier this year that it “continuously works to make sure policies are based on the best evidence.
“Inquest recommendations directed at the ministry are thoroughly reviewed and remain an important resource to prevent deaths in custody,” ministry spokesperson Andrew Morrison said.
WATCH | Former inmate tells CBC’s The Fifth Estate he’s haunted by Faqiri’s death:
Meanwhile, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents Ontario correctional officers, has said it hopes the inquest will result in recommendations to prevent future deaths.
“Our corrections division has been urging the Ontario government for many years to fix the crisis in our correctional institutions that leads to tragic situations. It is a priority for the division to ensure that all incarcerated people and correctional workers are in a safe environment,” the union said.
For its part, the family has received standing at the inquest. Under the Coroner’s Act, those with standing at inquests can call and examine witnesses as well as present arguments to the jury.
As he prepares to relive the details of his brother’s death, Yusuf says he’s buoyed by the memory of Faqiri’s warm smile and big hugs.
“I miss my little brother so much.”