Family of mentally ill man who died in jail learns their request for information denied

When police announced there would be no charges laid in Soleiman Faqiri's death, his family was told to file an FOI request for more details. Now just days away from the 1-year anniversary, that request has been denied, with police saying releasing the details could compromise an ongoing investigation.

It's been nearly a year since Soleiman Faqiri's death, but his family will have to wait longer for closure

Officials turned down a freedom of information from the family of Soleiman Faqiri, who are still looking for answers one year after he died mysteriously in an Ontario jail. (Submitted by Yusuf Faqiri)

From the moment his lifeless body was found in a jail cell on a frigid December day almost exactly a year ago, the family of Soleiman Faqiri has been demanding answers to a single question: "Why?"

Now, 12 months later, they've learned they'll be waiting even longer for those answers. That's because their request for information on just what took place in those final moments before the 30-year-old died in custody at a Lindsay, Ont., jail has been denied.

It's been just over a month since the Kawartha Lakes Police Service announced there were no grounds to lay criminal charges in Faqiri's death on Dec. 15, 2016, despite the more than 50 signs of blunt impact trauma found on his body.

That determination followed a coroner's report released in July that detailed a litany of injuries Faqiri suffered in those last minutes of his life, after, according to his lawyers, between 10 and 20 guards entered his cell at the Central East Correctional Centre. 

Faqiri, who had a history of schizophrenia, had spent 11 days in the cell, after being arrested on charges of assault and uttering threats. He was awaiting transfer to a mental health facility. 

His cause of death, according to the report, was "unascertained." 

Earlier this year, CBC News learned from a source with knowledge of the investigation that prior to his death, the 30-year-old was restrained with his hands behind his back, pepper-sprayed and had a spit hood placed over his head at the so-called super-jail. The source also said a number of correctional staff at the provincial facility had been suspended. 

'Unnecessary pain'

Any further details, the family was told, would have to be obtained through a freedom of information request, which they filed the very next day, meticulously listing more than 15 specific materials they hoped would finally shine a light on what happened. 

Medical reports, the transcript of the 911 call made by jail staff, and a piece of surveillance video cited in the coroner's report — showing guards escorting Faqiri back to his cell for what would be the final time — were among the items requested.

"They were literally counting the days," one of the family's lawyers, Edward Marrocco, told CBC News a week after learning their request was denied. "It would have been the family's very first window into what happened."

Now they've been told the request won't be granted. 

"It's just unnecessary pain that they're being put through," Marrocco said, adding the information will come out one way or the other through the coroner's inquest. 

Faqiri was laid to rest by family members on a frigid Sunday after his death on Dec. 15, 2016. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

The explanation was brief. Officials feared "premature disclosure" of the records could interfere with a second investigation, currently underway the Correctional Services Oversight Investigations (CSOIU). 

"Once the case is closed the records may then be subject to release," according to a letter signed by Kawartha Lakes Police Service's director of information services Debbie Hemminger. 

The letter goes on to list a string of privacy exemptions contained under the freedom of information and privacy legislation, and says the decision not to release the records was the responsibility of police.

Neither the family nor their lawyers knew about the CSOIU investigation before the letter. Marrocco doesn't see how it matters anyway. 

"I really don't agree with the suggestion that there could be any prejudice to any ongoing investigation as a result of providing this information now," he said. 

'It's appalling'

​The police also didn't know about it until they were processing the Faqiris' request, and were informed by the province's Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, according to police spokesman Tom Hickey. 

The force took the position that the records might be released on compassionate grounds, but "concerns were raised over the potential impact of prematurely releasing the responsive records which may interfere with a lawful investigation," Hickey said in an email to CBC News. 

The email further explains that the correctional oversight body has indicated its investigation "should be concluded within the next couple of weeks." 

"We've been told 'a few weeks' for an entire year, so I don't know what that means," Faqiri's brother Yusuf told CBC News, referring to what he says has been a lack of information from police over the course of their more than 10-month-long investigation.

"We're approaching the one-year anniversary of my late brother's death, and we still don't have those answers," he said. "It's appalling. That's our right."

Yusuf Faqiri says his family remains desperate for closure around about his younger brother's death. (Nick Boisvert/CBC)

When asked about the scope of their investigation and whether it will indeed be completed within the next couple of weeks, the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services would not say. Nor has it answered whether members of its staff will face any discipline, saying only that their investigation is ongoing and that it would be inappropriate to comment further. 

Pouring grief into planning vigil

The hope was that by now they might have some form of closure, Yusuf says.

Instead, he found himself having to explain to his mother, Maryam, they simply won't be given any more answers right now as she repeatedly asks, "Why? I just want to know what happened to my son."

In the meantime, as the anniversary he says should have never had to be marked nears, Yusuf and his family are pouring their grief into planning a vigil.

On Dec. 15., exactly 12 months after Faqiri's death, they plan to gather with his friends, advocates and once-strangers who have simply been moved by his story.

As that date approaches, Yusuf says the moment his family received Faqiri's body plays over and over in his mind. 

Soleiman, left, is seen in a family photo with his brothers Yusuf, right, and Ali. (Nick Boisvert/CBC)

"It's given me nightmares many times not knowing the last few minutes of my brother's life, how difficult it was for him," he said. 

It's a painful contrast to the childhood memories that he's held onto throughout the past year. His younger brother regularly schooled him at soccer but always remained humble, Yusuf recalled.

"Even though he was the best, he would always smile and encourage me to keep trying my best," he said.

Those words take on new meaning now, Yusuf says, as he continues to search for answers. 

"The truth will come out."

About the Author

Shanifa Nasser

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Shanifa Nasser is an investigative journalist interested in national security and stories with a heartbeat. Before coming to CBC News, she was a Munk Fellow in Global Journalism at the University of Toronto. She also holds a Master's degree in Islamic Studies.