STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY

Soleiman Faqiri was a mentally ill man who died under suspicious circumstances while under detention at the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ontario. A campus speaking tour led by his brother, Yusuf Faqiri, is putting the spotlight on mental illness in the Canadian correctional system and calling for justice.

The Justice for Soli organization and OPIRG Toronto organized the event, which took place in the Multi-Faith Centre at UTSG on January 18, the second stop on its U of T tour.

Yusuf spoke at the event, sharing details of Soleiman’s case and his family’s search for closure. A year after Soleiman’s death, the family still does not know the full details of the investigation or why charges were never brought against any of the correctional staff involved.

Soleiman was arrested on December 4, 2016 on charges of assault and uttering threats. On December 15, 2016, he was found dead in his cell after an altercation with prison guards.

A coroner’s report detailed more than 50 signs of “blunt impact trauma” found across Soleiman’s body. The report stated that Soleiman was pepper-sprayed twice.

Following the pepper spray, a “code blue” — indicating that an inmate is being aggressive or a staff member is in danger — was initiated. Soleiman was bound with cuffs and leg irons, his head covered with a spit hood. After the initial guards’ shifts ended and new guards arrived, Soleiman was observed to have stopped breathing. His death occurred 11 days after he had arrived at the correctional centre and days before he was meant to be moved to a mental health facility.

Despite these findings, the official cause of death was “unascertained.” After 11 months of investigation, the Kawartha Lakes Police Service (KLPS) concluded that “no grounds exist to process criminal charges against anyone who was involved with Mr. Faqiri prior to his death.”

A week after the KLPS released its statement, the coroner’s office announced an inquest into Soleiman’s death — though Yusuf called this “an important start,” he said the family will continue to fight for accountability.

“He’s alive before this incident, he’s dead after,” Yusuf told The Varsity. “I’d love for the Ministry to explain to me how 50 bruises happened to a mentally ill man and why charges were not pressed by the Kawartha Lakes Police Service.”

Yusuf described the circumstances of his brother’s death and the subsequent treatment of his family by the KLPS with one word: “un-Canadian.” He concluded his talk by stating that “the greatest measure of a society is how that society treats its most vulnerable.”

The goal of the Justice for Soli organization and the purpose of its tri-campus speaking tour at U of T is to highlight the need for greater accountability. The organization hopes to see those involved in the death of Soleiman criminally charged.

In the long term, Yusuf called for better mental health training for correctional officers. He hopes to start a conversation surrounding mental illness and the stigma associated with it.

Soleiman was diagnosed with schizophrenia after a car accident cut short his academic career at the University of Waterloo’s engineering program. Prior to his diagnosis, Yusuf described his brother as a straight-A student. Despite mental health issues, Soleiman remained dedicated to his faith and education, picking up Arabic and teaching the language to their mother.

Yusuf stressed the fact that mental illness is only one aspect of a person. “That doesn’t characterize who they are. These are individuals with hopes and dreams.”

A “certain desire for change” in the student body and academic culture of U of T prompted Yusuf to bring his campaign here. He wants the case of his brother to reach as many eyes and ears as possible so that “the powers that be and Canadians at large know that a Canadian man under government care was killed in custody. Someone who was vulnerable, someone who needed to be taken care of.”

When asked if he still had faith in the Canadian justice system, Yusuf said that he had faith in people, but he made clear that “the system failed [his] brother, and the system is failing many other Canadians.”

The tri-campus speaking tour also stopped at UTSC on January 12 and will visit Room IB 345 in UTM’s Instructional Centre Building at 6:00 pm on January 25.

Editor’s Note (January 23): This article has been updated to reflect that OPIRG Toronto helped organize the event. 




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