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Faqiri family demands apology for Ontario’s ‘inaction’ on inquest

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Faqiri family demands apology for Ontario's 'inaction' on inquest

After seven painful years spent calling for accountability, Soleiman Faqiri’s family hoped that by now, the province of Ontario would have acted on at least one of the recommendations issued in the inquest into his death at the hands of jail guards.

Instead, they say, there’s been radio silence.

In December, a coroner’s inquest confirmed what family insisted on all along: that Faqiri’s 2016 death at the Central East Correctional Centre was indeed a homicide. Along with that finding came 57 separate recommendations from the coroner’s jury — all aimed at preventing anyone with mental illness from dying at an Ontario jail again. 

But five months on, the province won’t say if it will act on any of those recommendations, including to release a public statement recognizing jails are not an appropriate environment for those with significant mental health issues — something the jury at the coroner’s inquest said should be done within 60 days. You can find the full list here.

Asked about the province’s response, Howard Sapers, a former federal correctional investigator and former Ontario independent adviser on correctional reform, was blunt. 

“The lack of action is inexcusable,” Sapers said.  

How many more inquests do we need until the system transforms?​​​​​​– Yusuf Faqiri

Faqiri’s family agrees and is now demanding an apology from the provincial government, not only for his death, but the government’s inaction on the jury’s recommendations.

The family held a news conference Thursday morning at Queen’s Park, joined by Opposition NDP critic for the attorney general Kristyn Wong-Tam, to call on Premier Doug Ford to respond. 

“We want to call out the government for their inaction and their indifference to the lives of the mentally ill,” Faqiri’s brother, Yusuf, told CBC News. “They’re under the expectation, outrageously, that this case will go away. This case will not go away.”

Faqiri’s mother put it more bluntly.

“They’ve done nothing. The system has remained the same. Nothing’s changed,” said Maryam Faqiri. “The truth came out, they killed my son … And they haven’t even said my son’s name publicly.”

WATCH | Yusuf Faqiri calls on province to apologize for his brother’s death: 
faqiri family demands apology for ontarios inaction on inquest

‘My family deserves a public apology,’ Soleiman Faqiri’s brother says

1 hour ago

Duration 1:08

Soleiman Faqiri’s family is demanding an apology from Premier Doug Ford’s government, both for Faqiri’s death at the hand of jail guards and the province’s lack of response to recommendations put forth by an inquest into his 2016 death. Faqiri’s brother, Yusuf, said Thursday: “Soleiman mattered. He had a story to tell.”

On Wednesday, Wong-Tam tabled a private members’ bill in the legislature called the Justice for Soli Act (Stop Criminalizing Mental Health).

The bill would see the provincial government formally recognize that “a correctional facility is not an appropriate environment for a person experiencing a mental health crisis” and “mental illness requires health care and should not be criminalized.”

State of jails ‘ineffective and unsafe’: coroner’s panel

A spokesperson for the Ministry of the Solicitor General told CBC News only that it is “continuing to carefully review the inquest recommendations and will respond to the Office of the Chief Coroner directly.” Asked how much longer that review will take, the ministry didn’t respond.

Sapers, who testified as a witness at the inquest, said implementing the recommendations would “save lives.” 

“Even if there are one or two recommendations that need consultation and more thought, I would have expected a signal that Ontario was not happy with the status quo,” he said.

Howard Sapers
Howard Sapers, a former federal correctional investigator and former Ontario independent adviser on correctional reform, says the province’s ‘lack of action is inexcusable.’ (Roy Grogan)

The status quo is a criminal justice system struggling to deliver on “basic promises” and “an in-custody reality that in its current state is increasingly both ineffective and unsafe,” according to a report published by the Ontario Chief Coroner’s expert panel on deaths in provincial custody last year.

The panel found the number of deaths in Ontario jails rose “dramatically” from 19 in 2014 to 25 in 2019 and then nearly doubled to 46 in 2021. Asked for a count of in-custody deaths since then, the province did not respond. 

WATCH | What we learned at the inquest into Soleiman Faqiri’s death: 
faqiri family demands apology for ontarios inaction on inquest 2

What we learned at the inquest into Soleiman Faqiri’s death

5 months ago

Duration 7:35

WARNING: This video contains graphic footage. Soleiman Faqiri died at the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont., after he was repeatedly struck by guards, pepper-sprayed twice, covered with a spit hood and placed on his stomach on the floor of a segregation cell. Shanifa Nasser explains what jurors were told at an inquest into the 30-year-old’s death.

Faqiri, who suffered from schizoaffective disorder — a combination of schizophrenic and bipolar symptoms — was taken into custody on Dec. 4, 2016, after allegedly stabbing a neighbour during what his family has said was a psychotic episode. 

He was awaiting a mental health assessment at the Central East Correctional Centre when he died face down on a cell floor, after guards punched and struck him repeatedly, pepper sprayed him twice, covered him with a spit hood and left him shackled.

The long-awaited inquest into Faqiri’s death took place in late 2023 and pulled back the curtain on what was described to jurors as a broken system, plagued by a lack of training and staff, tensions around different layers of management and an overreliance on segregation.

Corrections staff, health-care staff and management all recognized the 30-year-old was in crisis, the jury heard. Yet despite ministry policy, he was never taken to hospital or seen by a psychiatrist.

‘People keep dying, predictably and preventably’

While non-binding, the recommendations stemming from his death gave the province a “realistic, immediate action plan to prevent the next predictable death of someone in a mental health crisis” in corrections, said lawyer Anita Szigeti, who represented the mental health advocacy organization Empowerment Council during the inquest.

By now, Szigeti said, the province could have easily acted on “cost-neutral” recommendations, including committing to independent oversight of provincial jails, reviewing use-of-force options — particularly when it comes to people in crisis — and ending the use of spit hoods.

A woman with angular glasses poses for a photo.
Lawyer Anita Szigeti, who represented the mental health advocacy organization Empowerment Council during the Faqiri inquest, says by now, the government could have implemented multiple ‘cost-neutral’ recommendations put forward by the coroner’s jury. (Submitted by Anita Szigeti)

As recently as April, Szigeti points out, another man with a mental illness died in an Ontario jail — while the province continues to “review” recommendations made months ago. Ibrahim Ali’s family spoke to The Globe and Mail about his condition earlier this month. 

“The Coroner’s motto is, ‘We speak for the dead to protect the living,'” said Szigeti. “The Government of Ontario is not listening. They’re plugging their ears and humming to avoid having to confront the reality that vulnerable people keep dying, predictably and preventably.”

Following the inquest, Faqiri’s family also hoped Ontario Provincial Police might reopen their investigation into his death. A finding of homicide at an inquest does not carry any criminal liability, however the force could have chosen to reinvestigate based on information presented to the jury.

Asked about that possibility, the OPP told CBC News its investigation ended in 2020. “If new information were to come to light, the OPP would review that information to determine whether further investigation is warranted,” said spokesperson Gosia Puzio.

For Faqiri’s family, action on the recommendations can’t come soon enough, his brother said.

“All of us have a stake when individuals have a mental illness,” said Yusuf. 

“These are human beings and their lives are being lost because of uninformed policy decisions or because of lack of resources. How many more inquests do we need until the system transforms?”

This article is from from cbc.ca (CBC NEWS CANADA)

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