A broken system is harming those with mental illness

Posted on January 5, 2018 in Child & Family Debates

TheStar.com – Opinion/Contributors – This pattern of racialized, mentally ill men dying at the hands of police and corrections officers must stop.
Jan. 5, 2018.   By

The news that aspects of Canada’s laws on solitary confinement are unconstitutional came too late for the Faqiri family.

One year too late in fact.

Would this ruling have changed the terrible outcome that awaited their beloved brother and son, Soleiman, who was held in solitary confinement for 11 days before his unexplained death?

Just before the holidays, an Ontario Superior Court judge ruled that solitary confinement exceeding five days is unconstitutional. Without proper oversight, determined the judge, there are no adequate safeguards in place when such decisions are made.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which is challenging the law, additionally asked for a prohibition of the isolation of mentally ill patients, such as Faqiri. The Ontario Human Rights Commission is also suing the government for this horrendous practice.

With the law now partially suspended, all we can do as members of the public is wonder what might have changed for Faqiri. And all the Toronto family can do is continue to mourn as they search desperately for answers.

Was it the confinement of the 30-year-old schizophrenic man that led him into a subsequent altercation with guards at the Ontario corrections facility where he was being held? The altercation lasted three hours and culminated in Faqiri’s death; a coroner confirmed that 50 bruises from blunt force impact trauma were left on his body. Questions around this case continue to remain unanswered — a disappointment to the family and to all those who believe our systems should be about saving lives, not about taking them.

Faqiri, charged with assault and uttering threats, was being held in a Lindsay, Ont., jail while he waited for a bed to open up at a mental health facility. His family had been refused the right to see him throughout his detention. News only came when two police officers showed up at their door to notify them of his death.

“A true measure of a good society, is how that society treats its most vulnerable,” said Imam Yasin Dwyer, a chaplain at Ryerson University, speaking at a vigil on Dec. 15 last month, held to mark the one year anniversary of Faqiri’s death.

“We have to demand better from our society. We believe Canada is a good country, so therefore we have to make those who are in positions of authority accountable to that standard of goodness and that is why the family of Soleiman Faqiri is fighting, is pushing, is resisting.”

Despite the coroner’s report, local police determined that no one would be charged in the death and has refused to disclose any information. The family is now calling for a new investigation — this time by a force not directly connected to the community it is investigating. In the meantime, an inquest has been called — but its outcome will not be able to hold anyone criminally liable. That’s not good enough.

Also speaking at the vigil, journalist and activist Desmond Cole told those gathered that the system is not working for those who suffer from mental health issues. “Dream of the society that would take care of someone like Soleiman Faqiri instead of hurting them,” he said, lamenting the focus on funding prisons and police over mental health beds and supports.

A week following the anniversary of Faqiri’s death, another family of a mentally ill man received the horrific news of their own loved one’s demise at the hands of a police officer. Babak Saidi was shot dead during a routine check-in at an Ontario Provincial Police detachment in Morrisburg, Ont., on Dec. 23. The SIU is investigating how a man suffering from schizophrenia was killed at a police station.

“They have absolutely no tools and no awareness to deal with people with mental disability. Too many people with mental disabilities have died at the hands of the police,” said Elly Saidi, his sister, whose family is understandably devastated.

Just over a year ago, Ottawa also mourned the death of a man with mental health issues after he was beaten by a local police officer. Abdirahman Abdi died in a pool of blood at the steps of his home as his family watched helplessly from behind the lobby doors. A police officer has since been charged with manslaughter.

This pattern of racialized, mentally ill men dying at the hands of police and corrections officers must stop. Our elected officials must be held to account for a broken system that releases to us our most vulnerable in body bags.

Amira Elghawaby is a journalist and human rights advocate based in Ottawa. Twitter: @AmiraElghawaby


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