On December 15, 2016, Soleiman Faqiri was found dead in a cell at the Central East Correctional Centre, in Lindsay, after an altercation with a group of correctional officers. The 30-year-old, who suffered from schizophrenia, was pepper sprayed and shackled, and was wearing a spit hood. Although there were more than 50 signs of blunt-impact trauma to his body, a coroner’s report deemed the cause of his death “unascertained.”
Five years later, Ontario’s chief forensic pathologist has committed to personally reviewing the case, which is profiled in the TVO podcast Unascertained.
In a letter sent to the lead lawyer for the Office of the Chief Coroner on May 18, chief forensic pathologist Michael Pollanen said he would review the 2017 post-mortem report.
Pollanen goes on to state that he has “considerable practical experience with postmortem examinations of cases of death during detention” and has also conducted research “related to death in the setting of restraint and torture.”
Faqiri’s brother, Yusuf Faqiri, calls the review “long overdue.”
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“There’s a certain level of guarded hope with this,” he says. “That guarded hope comes from the notion that there have been two police investigations, and they botched them … This is the first time we see an institution of government that’s taking a sincere and genuine look into the beating of my late brother.”
Yusuf Zine, host of Unascertained, says he was surprised by the development. During an interview with Pollanen and Chief Coroner Dirk Huyer conducted for the podcast a few weeks earlier, he says, “they were very adamant that they weren't going to comment on the case. We sort of left that interview thinking, ‘They are just going to roll with this existing report,’ which we believe to be out of date, clearly.”
Episode 6 of Unascertained features an interview with chief forensic pathologist Michael Pollanen.
Zine says that Pollanen’s decision marks a significant development: To me, it's very unique that the chief forensic pathologist of Ontario is personally reviewing a post-mortem report like this.”
Faqiri family lawyer Edward Marrocco says that it’s possible that Pollanen is acting now because an inquest into Faqiri’s death is coming. Inquests are always launched following a death in custody from non-natural causes, he notes. In this case, the inquest has been delayed because of the pandemic and pending police-investigation results.
“I don't think that a four-year-old post-mortem report that relied on facts that we now know are wrong is the pathology report that they want to take forward for that inquest,” he says. “So in other words, it's time to review the report in order to go to the inquest with an actually relevant document that takes into account all of this new information, which wasn't known in 2017.”
Since the 2017 report, for example, further evidence has emerged suggesting the excessive use of force and that his hands were cuffed behind his back — a position that put him at potential risk of asphyxiation.
Marrocco says the fact that someone with as much experience with in-custody deaths as Pollanen has decided to review the case suggests that the chief forensic pathologist “sees something that no one else has seen before.”
A statement emailed to TVO.org by the Office of the Chief Coroner on behalf Pollanen states that “reviews of post-mortem reports are not an unusual practice during complex death investigations … In Ontario, the Chief Forensic Pathologist supervises and directs all medicolegal autopsies and can therefore exercise discretion on reviewing complex cases if there is a scientific, justice-related, or public interest in undertaking a review.”
Yusuf Faqiri says the review is about more than this case and his family. “They need to get this right. Not just because of Soleiman Faqiri or the Faqiri family. Mental illness affects us all across our province and our nation. And there’s this dangerous nexus of incarceration and mental illness. Oftentimes [the mentally ill] are found in body bags. And it’s linked to accountability and transparency.”
An additional episode of Unascertained examining the latest developments in the Faqiri case will be released June 23.