Family wants answers after Ontario man with schizophrenia killed in jail guard ‘altercation’
The family of Soleiman Faqiri, a man with schizophrenia who died after a “physical altercation” with guards inside an Ontario jail last month, are demanding answers — while friends hold a vigil in his memory in Toronto.
Faqiri was admitted to the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont. on Dec. 4, after being charged with assault, threatening death and bodily harm and two counts of aggravated assault.
Eleven days later, the 30-year-old was dead.
His brother, Yusuf Faqiri, said that during that time the family was not allowed access to him or given a reason as to why they couldn’t see or speak with him.
Yusuf described Soleiman as a brilliant man with a great sense of humour who studied environmental engineering at the University of Waterloo.
“His smile was, it was this infectious smile and you’d see him everywhere and he was always smiling,” Yusuf said. “He didn’t have much, but he was grateful for everything he had.”
Yusuf said Soleiman was “temporarily housed” at the jail as work was being done to transfer him to the Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences facility in Lindsay, “but he never made it there.”
“There’s been reports that he had been in solitary confinement, we don’t have that information,” Yusuf said, adding that the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services has refused to confirm or deny that detail.
“And that’s the problem to begin with. That information hasn’t been forthcoming … almost eight weeks and we don’t have that much information about Soleiman.”
A ministry spokesman said in an email they could only confirm a male inmate “passed away” at the facility on Dec. 15.
“As the matter is under active police investigation, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time,” Andrew Morrison said.
“Should the Coroner’s investigation determine that the death was anything other than natural causes, a mandatory inquest will be held.”
Yusuf said the Kawartha Lakes Police Service would only tell the family that Soleiman lost vital signs during the physical altercation with the guards, but declined to provide more detail.
“So, what that effectively means is that Soleiman was killed after this physical altercation. Use of force was applied to him,” he said.
“I’m wondering and the family is astounded — what possessed them to do something like this to a man who was mentally ill, who was vulnerable.”
Nader Hasan, the family’s lawyer, said Soleiman’s death was an injustice that should never have occurred.
“A young man died in the custody of a Canadian correctional facility. That shouldn’t have happened. He didn’t die of natural causes, he didn’t die spontaneously of a heart attack, he died after guards entered his cell and assaulted him,” he said, adding that the family tried almost daily to speak with Soleiman while he was in custody.
“They weren’t allowed to see him for reasons that aren’t exactly clear to us yet, but in so doing they also came to the jail to provide information to the nursing staff, to the corrections staff about his condition so that they would be able to take proper care of Soleiman.”
Yusuf said Soleiman’s mental illness was “well documented at the facility” and that Soleiman had been diagnosed with schizophrenia in the spring of 2005.
“They were well aware of his medical condition, 100 per cent. Because they knew that he was suffering from this illness,” he said.
“Nobody deserves this. This is inhumane. There’s no compassion. My brother deserved better. Any human being deserved better.”
“I did not think that would happen in this country, but for us the most horrifying aspect is the last few minutes of Soleiman’s life — and they weren’t pretty. I don’t wish this pain, this grief, on anyone.”
Yusuf said the fact that Soleiman was not able to see or speak with his family during his 11 days in custody showed a lack of basic human dignity.
“We were denied access to him every single time,” he said. “To this day we do not know why.”
Hasan said he could not fathom a reason as to why the family was prevented from seeing Soleiman during those 11 days.
“It’s absolutely outrageous the way they’ve been kept in the dark,” he said.
“The outrage continues because although the police have been conducting an investigation, it’s been seven weeks since Soleiman died and we still know very little about what took place other than that he died at the hands of the prison guards and we still don’t know if the police are going to lay charges.”
Hasan said he believes there is likely enough evidence to make the determination as to whether or not charges should be laid, adding that if they are not laid the family could demand an inquest for more information.
“The family’s not asking for anything more than knowing what happened to their now deceased son and brother,” he said.
Yusuf said the “lack of compassion and respect” shown to the family in the almost eight weeks since Soleiman’s death has been a form of “inhumanity.”
“Quite often I feel we’re still in a nightmare,” he said. “It’s one thing to lose a loved one, that in itself is a profoundly difficult and immense pain, but what’s even worse and what even compounds the grief is that we’re not given answers.”
Dr. Karen De Freitas, a forensic psychiatrist and medical director of the forensic program at the Ontario Shores Centre, said it’s important for those in custody who have mental health issues to have access to treatment even before they enter the criminal justice system.
“If someone is already in the justice system, than I think it’s important that they do have access to physicians and to nurses that can diagnose them if problems arise and that they be provided with adequate treatment,” she said.
“In some cases that may take place within the detention centre, but in more severe cases they need to have access to a hospital environment and so it would be useful if there was a way of smoothly transitioning them from the detention centre to the hospital if they’re unwell.”
De Freitas said that “ease of transition” between correctional facilities and hospitals is important so that jail staff who may not have the resources or expertise to treat the individual’s condition can refer them to a hospital until they’re stable enough to return.
“The jails do have psychiatrists, they do have mental health nurses who are trained,” she said.
“I think the issue often comes down to resources, that there’s simply not enough of those staff available to give the inmates or the patients the time and the resources they need for optimal care.”
While family members continue their pursuit for more information on Soleiman’s death, a vigil will take place at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto Wednesday night in honour of him. An online petition has also been launched calling for more transparency in the wake of Soleiman’s death.
Yusuf said he has three questions he wants answered — why did Soleiman die, how did he die and why was the family not allowed to see him in the 11 days he was in custody?
“This is a man that had a mental illness. This is a man that was vulnerable. This is a man that needed compassion,” he said.
“People needed to understand that he needed help and they never gave that to him.”
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