Ontario officials will schedule an inquest into the 2015 death of immigration detainee Abdurahman Hassan in Peterborough, Ont., the province announced Friday.
But the inquest may not happen for at least another two years, regional coroner Paul Dungey told Global News.
“We would like them to be more timely, but the current state of affairs, the situation is that there is a backlog in each region, my region included,” Dungey said.
“It’s not what we would like – we would like it to be sooner – but we have a number of inquests that we are trying to catch up on.”
The announcement came as Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit, which investigates deaths and injuries related to police, released disturbing new details about Hassan’s death in a Peterborough hospital room in June of last year.
Hassan, who was being held for deportation to Somalia at the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont., had been in the Ontario jail system for three years as an immigration detainee. He had a range of serious health issues, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and insulin-dependent diabetes.
On the night he died, ten people at the hospital were trying to control Hassan, who was throwing and swallowing his feces and chunks of his own hair. At one point, an Ontario Provincial Police officer at the scene was holding Hassan’s head down with a towel to stop him spitting and biting.
Hassan, 39, died suddenly while being restrained at the hospital. A cause of death was never established, but the OPP officer’s role didn’t contribute to it, SIU director Tony Loparco said in a news release.
“The towel was placed over (Hassan’s) mouth, but his nose was unobstructed and no force was applied to his throat,” Loparco wrote. “Moreover, the man was audibly snorting through his nose and yelling through the towel during the exchange. This is indicative of him having no difficulty breathing.”
The autopsy ruled out asphyxiation as a cause of death, Loparco wrote.
The underlying issue is whether Hassan’s health problems were being treated in jail.
At a detention review in May of 2015, Hassan’s lawyer was trying to have him transferred to the St. Lawrence Valley Correctional and Treatment Centre, a facility in Brockville, Ont. for mentally ill inmates.
“Mr. Hassan … only has sporadic access to psychiatric professionals, no access to therapy or programming or mental health services, and his condition has noticeably deteriorated over the past years and months,” Ben Liston told the hearing.
Liston did not respond to a request for comment. In the past, he has said he is unable to discuss the case without consent from Hassan’s family.
“Immigration detainees are extremely isolated,” says immigration detention activist Tings Chak. “They routinely do not get adequate access to health care, to doctors, to psychologists. We know there are several layers of systemic failure.”
Public safety minister Ralph Goodale told a Senate committee that he is looking to change Canada’s immigration detention practices.
Transcripts of Hassan’s detention hearings show someone who was incoherent and has a limited grasp of his surroundings.
Last summer, 88 inmates in the immigration detention wing at the Lindsay jail signed a petition demanding an inquest into Hassan’s death. They circulated it secretly between maximum-security ranges that weren’t supposed to be in contact with each other, using inmates in cleaning and food service jobs. They then smuggled it out in a pile of legal papers.
Hassan immigrated to Canada from Somalia with his aunt in 1992, and was granted refugee status the following year.
In his early 20s, starting in 1999, he committed a series of violent crimes which included assaulting his brother and mother, robbery, and, in a 2001 incident, threatening to burn his mother’s house down. At that time he threatened to kill responding police officers and kicked out the back window of their car.
He also had addictions to alcohol and crack cocaine, court documents show.
After finishing a sentence for aggravated sexual assault, he was ordered deported, and held as a flight risk.
“We just can’t wait two years for a coroner’s inquest for an answer,” Chak says. “This is a process that takes a couple of years, and the recommendations might not be followed. For us, the coroner’s inquest is secondary to something which is urgent, which is ensuring that more people do not die in the interim.”