When politicians turn a blind eye to abuse in jails a culture of impunity is legitimized

January 18, 2021

On Dec. 15, 2016, Soleiman Faqiri died at the hands of Ontario jail guards. Faqiri, who suffered from mental health vulnerabilities, was beaten and pepper sprayed by a half-dozen jail guards while he was shackled at the ankles and wrists and his head covered by a spit hood.

The coroner’s report found obvious injuries that were caused by blunt impact trauma. Newly released court documents indicate that guards violated the jails use-of-force rules. A jail sergeant, who was present when Faqiri was killed, called the combination of violence, restraints, and pepper spray a “triple threat” for asphyxia.

But despite the compelling evidence suggesting the killing was a criminal offence, the OPP declined to charge any of the guards because they could not say for sure who delivered the fatal blow.

The OPP’s absurd justification for the lack of charges is a legal fiction that smells of a coverup. There is no requirement in law to prove who dealt the final and fatal strike. Under Canadian law, you can be held responsible for the acts of your accomplices. A joint assault that results in death should result in criminal charges for all involved.

This is not a novel or archaic point of law, it is first-year law school basics. When inmates participate in a beating that results in death, all participants are charged — and often convicted. Canadian law confers no special immunity on jail guards.

The police should not only be looking at charging the guards involved in killing Faqiri, they should also be looking at the politicians who have often been wilfully blind of the violence in the jails they oversee.

The day after Faqiri was killed, Ontario’s Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, David Orazietti, quietly resigned from cabinet. The public deserves to know what Orazietti knew.

Just last year, in a damning decision, the Ontario Superior Court ruled that conditions at the Toronto South Detention Centre were “inhumane and fail to comport with basic standards of human decency.” Inmates were often confined to crowded small cells for as long as seven days, without access to showers. Clothing and bedding were often stained with urine, feces or blood, and there were bedbug infestations and other unsanitary conditions that led to untreatable infections.

The court ruled that Premier Doug Ford and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones have made a “deliberate policy choice to treat offenders in an inhumane fashion … rather than devote appropriate resources to the operation of the institution.”

Liberal or Tory, it is the same old story when it comes to jails.

In 2016, it was first publicly reported that Adam Capay, an Indigenous inmate, had languished in solitary confinement for more than 1,500 days. Capay was held in a 5-foot by 10-foot Plexiglas cell where the lights were kept on 24 hours a day. Under the United Nation’s Mandela rules, Ontario was committing torture.

And politicians knew about it. Yasir Naqvi, the Liberal minister in charge of Ontario’s jails at the time, visited the jail where Capay was incarcerated. Naqvi was told that Capay had been in solitary confinement for over three years, he saw Capay’s cell, and he even spoke with Capay directly.

Yet, Naqvi did nothing and Capay’s suffering continued.

The Ontario Superior Court found that no one involved in Capay’s case “suffered any consequences despite the disturbing lack of compliance with provincial law and policy.”

When politicians don’t care about violence, abuse, and inhumanity at the jails that they are responsible for, when they turn a blind eye to torture, and when they time and time again, ignore judicial condemnation, it should come as no surprise when atrocities occur behind bars.

We should be horrified, but not shocked or surprised, at the brutal killing of Faqiri. When politicians refuse to do anything to improve conditions in Ontario’s jails, actively turn a blind eye to abuse, and when police and the attorney general refuse to enforce the law then violence and a culture of institutional impunity is the result.

Those who commit murder, even if they are jail guards should be held to account. And so should the politicians who enable them.


This article first appeared in the Toronto Star