After a three-and-a-half-year battle attempting to bring justice for the death of Soleiman Faqiri, his family has learned that the OPP will not be laying criminal charges against the six guards from the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont., allegedly involved in his death in 2016.
OPP picked up the investigation in January of 2019 after an initial investigation from the Kawartha Lakes Police Service brought forward no charges either.
Faqiri was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 19.
According to his brother Yusuf, he was transferred to a cell at the CECC on Dec. 4, 2016, as he awaited a bed at the Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health in Whitby. Soleiman was there on charges of assault, threatening death and bodily harm and two counts of aggravated assault.
Eleven days later, Soleiman died inside a segregation cell at the facility following an altercation with guards, according to a coroner’s report.
Global News Peterborough has obtained a copy of the report. It found that Soleiman sustained “obvious injuries” during the incident but that the cause of death was “unascertained.”
Soleiman would have been 34 years old this year.
“Make no mistake, we will get justice for Soleiman,” said Yusuf Faqiri. “We might be heartbroken, but we are not crushed… Our pursuit of justice has not ended.
“We’re going to do this because we have to, because we don’t want our loved ones given to us in body bags anymore.”
OPP confirmed to Global News Peterborough on Thursday that no charges will be laid.
“The OPP investigation into this matter has concluded,” said Sgt. Jason Folz, media relations officer for the OPP Central Region. “In consultation with the Ministry of the Attorney General and the Crown’s office in Lindsay, they’ve determined that there’s no reasonable prospect for conviction in any criminal offences in this matter.”
Nader Hasan, one of the Faqiri family’s lawyers, took issue with the OPP’s decision.
“The explanation that the OPP provided us is — it’s almost laughable,” said Hasan, a criminal and constitutional lawyer at Stockwoods LLP.
“The OPP told us in a meeting last week that they have declined to lay any criminal charges against any of the six guards who were involved in the beating and death of Soleiman Faqiri because they couldn’t figure out who dealt the fatal blow.”
Folz could not confirm to Global Peterborough whether that was, in fact, the reason.
“This is absurd. This is preposterous,” said Yusuf Faqiri. “What that’s effectively saying to us, as Canadians, is that if you want to commit murder, do it in a group.”
Hasan voiced a similar sentiment.
“The idea that if you participate in a group beating of someone who is defenceless — that none of the people who participate in the group beating are criminally liable when the victim dies — that is not a principle of Canadian law that I’ve ever come across,” said Hasan.
“In fact, the contrary is true. The law is very clear, that if you take part in a group beating, you are liable for the acts of your co-accomplices.”
Hasan says typically what happens in a group beating case where someone has died is that the police charge everyone involved with murder.
“Why we have a different standard here, because it’s prison guards involved, is deeply, deeply, disconcerting,” said Hasan.
Folz said the decision not to lay charges followed usual protocols.
“Our OPP investigators took all evidence into account, and reviewed it all, and presented it to the Crown attorney and the Ministry of Attorney General,” said Sgt. Folz. “This is how these decisions are made, and were made in this instance.”
According to the coroner’s report, on Dec. 15, 2019, Faqiri was taken to the shower at around 1:15 p.m., where he stayed for almost two hours and allegedly refused to leave.
The report says Faqiri was still resisting the guards as he was being escorted back to his cell. His ankles and wrists were cuffed and he was “hunched forward” as he walked. The report also says CCTV footage from the hall shows Faqiri being escorted to his cell by five or six guards, who follow him inside.
Hasan confirmed to Global Peterborough that he has seen the footage and that there is no footage from inside the cell.
When Faqiri and the guards got into the cell, the report says Faqiri was pepper-sprayed twice, had a spit hood placed on his head and leg irons on his feet, and had his hands cuffed behind his back. Eyewitness accounts claim guards called a “code blue” for “backup”, which is different from a medical “code blue,” suggesting “cardiac arrest”.
Shortly after, the report says onlookers noticed Faqiri was not moving and had stopped breathing. Paramedics were called, and CPR was performed for 45 minutes.
Faqiri was pronounced dead in the cell at 3:45 p.m.
An eyewitness account of the incident, from an inmate who was in the cell across the hall from Soleiman, was also made public in 2018.
Hasan said OPP had told the legal team over the phone that the eyewitness account was “reliable.”
What were the findings of the coroner’s report?
The report found that Faqiri had sustained “obvious injuries,” including several external and internal bruises on the upper and lower limbs, and ligature marks around his ankles and wrists.
According to the report, all of the injuries found were caused by “blunt impact trauma.”
The summary of the report said the cause of death was “unascertained” and that the injuries were “insufficient to explain death.”
The report said many of the injuries sustained by Faqiri would match the story of the attempts to restrain him, but that things like falls, blows or other impacts to his body cannot be excluded as reasons for his injuries, either.
Where will the family go from here?
Hasan and Yusuf confirmed the family is waiting on a coroner’s inquest into Soleiman’s death, which Hasan said they’ve been assured will happen “very quickly.”
In Ontario, an inquest is a public hearing held by a coroner before a jury of five community members. They are held to make public the circumstances of a person’s death.
Hasan said that, during the inquest, he will get a chance to cross-examine witnesses in front of the jury, and from there, the legal team is hoping the jury will produce a homicide verdict.
If it does, it would be up to a police force, again, to take that verdict and determine whether or not it will reopen the investigation and lay charges.
There is also a civil lawsuit of the case currently before the courts, which is seeking $14.3 million in damages.
Hasan said the legal team is currently in the process of hearing testimonies from the guards under oath, after which they’re hoping to get to trial.
The family has also written an open letter to Premier Doug Ford calling for action.
Meanwhile, Yusuf said his family will continue to travel across Canada to tell the story of Soleiman.
“Every Canadian who lost their life as a result of the justice system, who had a mental illness, is counting on us,” said Yusuf. “And we will not let them down, because that is what Soleiman would have wanted.
“He was known for his smile, and that is literally the only thing I remember… I miss him every day.”