Legal and mental health groups are calling for accountability and change in Ontario’s correctional system after a coroner’s report determined jail guards contributed to a mentally ill man’s death by beating and restraining him five years ago.

Soleiman Faqiri, 30, who lived with schizophrenia, died on Dec. 15, 2016, at the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont.

He had been remanded and was awaiting transfer to a hospital for acute psychiatric care. Faqiri, who had been charged with aggravated assault, assault and uttering threats, was held at the correctional centre for 11 days before he died. 

In an Aug. 5 report, Dr. Michael Pollanen, Ontario’s chief forensic pathologist, said Faqiri died after the guards beat, pepper-sprayed and restrained Faqiri while holding him face down in a segregation cell. Pollanen noted in the report that “key events” happened in the cell with no video surveillance.

“His death occurred during struggle and restraint by correctional officers,” the report’s synopsis reads. “The events leading to his death in custody included: prone position restraint, blunt impact trauma of the neck and body, handcuffing, shackling, application of a spit hood and exposure to pepper spray.”

No criminal charges have been laid. The case has been referred back to the Ontario Provincial Police for review, according to lawyers for his family.

Experts demand change in Ontario jails

Legal and mental health organizations said on Monday that changes to provincial corrections are needed now.

Senator Kim Pate, former executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, said people with mental health issues need “appropriate therapeutic inventions” and many should not be criminalized and incarcerated in the first place. When inmates with mental health issues are put into segregation, judicial oversight is required, she said.

“People who have mental health issues should first and foremost be treated in health facilities. We shouldn’t be expecting police or correctional officers to actually be able to diagnose. We don’t expect them to be able to diagnose heart disease or other kinds of physical illnesses. Why do we think that they can then diagnose and treat mental health issues?”

In an Aug. 5 report, Dr. Michael Pollanen, Ontario’s chief forensic pathologist, said Faqiri died after guards beat, pepper-sprayed and restrained him while holding him face down in a segregation cell at the Central East Correctional Centre. (Ousama Farag/CBC)

Chris Summerville, CEO of the Schizophrenia Society of Canada, said correctional officers should undergo de-escalation training before dealing with mentally ill inmates.

“If they are not teachable by their attitude, they need to be dismissed.” 

Five organizations, the Black Legal Action Centre, the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario, the Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants and the Colour of Poverty Colour of Change, have called in a joint statement for criminal charges to be laid against the correctional officers responsible for Faqiri’s death. 

“Those responsible for Mr. Faqiri’s death have been allowed to go about their lives without any consequences or accountability for their actions for almost five years. No longer. We call on the Ontario Provincial Police and the provincial Crown attorney to lay criminal charges against guards who participated in and were responsible for the death of Soleiman Faqiri,” the joint statement reads.

‘Full and public accountability’

The Criminalization and Punishment Education Project, organized by students and professors at Carleton University and the University of Ottawa, says in a letter to provincial Solicitor General Sylvia Jones: “We call on the Ministry of the Solicitor General to provide full and public accountability for the death of Soleiman and to take steps to end the use of violent and lethal force by its employees against prisoners, as well as the repeated collective coverups of all this by ministry staff.

“Preventing future violence not only requires accountability for the deaths of Soleiman and countless others who have died by incarceration…. We urge you in the strongest possible terms to build communities, not cages, to prevent interpersonal, corporate and state violence and save lives.”

The letter is signed by Aaron Doyle, an associate sociology and anthrolopology professor at Carleton University, and Justin Piché, an associate criminology professor at the University of Ottawa.

The project aims to bring together criminologists, students, researchers, community members, front-line workers and others to carry out public education, activism and research in the hopes of creating social change.

The Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario Division is calling for an end to the use of segregation for inmates with mental health issues, saying segregation can create new mental health issues where none existed previously and can worsen existing conditions.

The association is also calling for an independent oversight body for Ontario’s correctional system. 

Ontario’s Ministry of the Solicitor General, which oversees the province’s jails, has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Source From CBC News

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