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3 years, no answers: Family of Soleiman Faqiri marks sombre anniversary as police tight-lipped

Three years since the family of Soleiman Faqiri learned he was never coming home, closure is something they will have to keep waiting for. While the investigation into his jail death was reopened last year, Faqiris say they've heard nothing from police.

Ontario Provincial Police has not said if it's interviewed key witness in jail death or if probe is complete

Sunday marked the third anniversary of Soleiman Faqiri's death at the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont., and nearly one year since the investigation into his death was reopened — this time overseen by the Ontario Provincial Police. (Submitted by Yusuf Faqiri)

Soleiman Faqiri's family hoped that by now they would finally know why their son didn't make it out of an Ontario jail alive.

But three years since an unthinkable knock at their door by police telling them the 30-year-old was never coming home, closure is something the family will have to keep waiting for.

Sunday marked the third anniversary of Faqiri's death at the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont., and nearly one year since the investigation into his death was reopened — this time overseen by the Ontario Provincial Police after an earlier investigation by Kawartha Lakes police found no grounds for criminal charges against any jail staff.

"Our world was turned upside down," Faqiri's brother Yusuf Faqiri said at a vigil in Toronto, one of seven held across the country.

Dozens joined Faqiri's family amid frigid temperatures, calling for accountability for Faqiri's death and reform within a criminal justice system where mental health is too often not adequately addressed.

Dozens joined Yusuf Faqiri in Toronto amid frigid temperatures, calling for accountability for his brother's death. (Angelina King/CBC)

"The light of our family was taken from us … but if we get accountability and transparency on Soleiman's life, this story will give other families hope."

When he first moved to Canada from Afghanistan in 1993, life for Faqiri seemed promising.

A straight-A student, captain of his high school rugby team and loved by his four siblings and parents, Faqiri had been studying environmental engineering when a car accident during his first year of study at the University of Waterloo changed the course of his life permanently.

After the accident, Faqiri was diagnosed with schizophrenia, unable to complete his education. That was followed by a number of run-ins with the law as Faqiri struggled to keep up with his medication.

He had been taken into custody about 10 times under Ontario's Mental Health Act when he was arrested in Ajax, Ont., on Dec. 4, 2016, for allegedly stabbing a neighbour with what police said at the time was an "edged weapon." He was later charged with aggravated assault and uttering threats.

But instead of a hospital, he was taken to a jail cell. Eleven days later, he was dead. 

The Central East Correction Centre in Lindsay, Ont., where Faqiri died in 2016. (Google Streetview)

'Blood flying'

Faqiri was found lifeless on the floor of a segregation cell on Dec. 15, 2016. A coroner's investigation deemed his cause of death "unascertained."

That changed during an investigation by CBC's The Fifth Estate, which obtained more than 1,500 pages of documents surrounding his death and tracked down an inmate whose cell was directly across from Faqiri​​​'s. 

You can judge a society based upon how they treat the most vulnerable ​​​​.- Yasin Dwyer, Muslim Chaplaincy of Toronto

The police investigation said Faqiri had been aggressive and that he'd gotten into an altercation with guards, spraying them with water when in the shower and tossing shampoo bottles at them.

The man who'd been across the hall from Faqiri's cell, John Thibeault, told The Fifth Estate a very different story. Thibeault said he was too afraid to speak to investigators about what he'd seen on the day Faqiri died because he still had time left to serve and worried about what could happen if guards knew he'd spoken out.

"Blood flying, limbs — it was brutal," Thibeault described to The Fifth Estate, recounting four guards punching Faqiri in the face, with one yelling at him to "stop resisting."

John Thibeault says he saw jail guards beat Soleiman Faqiri 0:56

While Faqiri was being taken back to his cell after his shower, something appeared to trigger him.

Thibeault said he watched as Faqiri was pepper-sprayed in his face, taken into his cell out of the range of security cameras. He was dead within minutes, said Thibeault.

OPP not saying if eyewitness interviewed

Documents show Faqiri was found with more than 50 abrasions, ligature marks and bruises on his body and neck. 

The police notes obtained by The Fifth Estate also made reference to a "blow or pressure on the neck." That detail never appeared in the coroner's report, but asphyxiation couldn't be ruled out, it said. 

Fifteen guards were suspended following Faqiri's death, though the length of those suspensions and whether they were paid remains unknown.

CBC News inquired with the OPP about whether the eyewitness who spoke to The Fifth Estate has been interviewed as part of their investigation, but the force so far hasn't responded. It also hasn't commented on the status of the probe, whether it is complete or whether criminal charges are expected to be laid against any of the guards involved on the day he died. 

Meanwhile, Faqiri's family has filed a $14.3-million lawsuit against the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, the superintendent of the jail and seven individual correctional staff.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents the guards, turned down repeated requests by CBC News for comment, saying its policy is not to speak on matters before the courts. Ontario's correctional ministry has repeatedly refused comment for the same reason. 

Attempts to reach the guards directly involved have also been unsuccessful.

'He was taken away from us,' brother says

For Yusuf Faqiri, the sombre anniversary of his brother's death was mixed with anger.

"I miss his presence, I miss his sense of humour, I miss his brilliance," a tearful Yusuf said Sunday at the Toronto vigil. Other events were held in Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Peterborough, Ont.

"What's frustrating is how while we have to knock on this closed system, the police took a year in their investigation and they never gave us anything," he said, referring to the family's wait for the results of the OPP's reinvestigation.

"The guards need to be charged," he said. "Soleiman did not roll over and die.… He was taken away from us."

Faqiri was laid to rest by family members after he died in an Ontario jail cell on Dec. 15, 2016. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Yasin Dwyer, a former prison chaplain who has been counselling the family, was also in attendance Sunday, echoing calls for transparency in the investigation. 

"You can judge a society based upon how they treat the most vulnerable and I think we have a lot to learn from this very tragic case — the intersection of incarceration, detention and mental health," he said.

"What happened to Soleiman Faqiri was completely unnecessary."

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