I was listening to a podcast with French sociologist Rachida Brahim called “Racism Kills Twice,” when I heard the news that Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) will not charge the alleged killers of Soleiman Faqiri.
How would Faqiri’s mother feel? I tried to imagine the pain of losing a son in horrible circumstances and later hearing the news that no one would be held accountable.
“Racism kills two times: first when the physical and verbal violence is exerted against the mind and body of the victim, and second when that violence or abuse is denied or not held accountable by the authority. That would leave the victim lost, without a sense of purpose,” explained Brahim, speaking about the double violence that she argues racialized people suffer from when they become caught in an oppressive system.
Personally, I think Faqiri was killed several times. When this 30-year-old man, diagnosed at the age of 19 with schizophrenia, was taken to the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ontario, his family thought that his troubles with the law were, as it happened a few times before, “benign,” and that all he needed was mental health supervision and support.
But Faqiri was let down by the system. He died on December 15, 2016.
That tragic story could have ended with an apology, or at least some explanation. But it didn’t. Due to the tremendous efforts and persistence of the brother of the deceased, Yusuf Faqiri, the family was able to dig further into the tragic circumstances of this horrible death. In 2016, in an interview with CBC, Yusuf repeatedly asked the same questions: “We want to know why my brother died,” “Why did Soleiman die?” “How did Soleiman die?”
Holding up information from the family. Putting the onus on the family to find out exactly what happened before and after the death of their loved ones. These are other ways to “kill” the victim again. To deny them the rest and peace. To prevent the family from finishing their mourning. This is what the system did.
Initially, the answers were scarce. Worse, they were not given straightforwardly by the authorities to the family. They came bit by bit, through investigative journalism and legal efforts, but mainly through the family’s activism.
First came the coroner report. It indicated that Soleiman Faqiri died inside a segregation cell at the detention facility following an altercation with guards. He was found with dozens of injuries, including blunt force trauma. The report mentions “obvious injuries,” but the cause of the death remained “unknown.” And when the family asked for accountability, their demands were left unanswered.
More disappointment came when after conducting an investigation, the Kawartha Lakes Police Service decided to not lay charges.
The decision came after years of fighting for answers, and after a nearby inmate housed just across from Soleiman’s cell at the time of the incident broke his silence with an eyewitness account. The pressure built on OPP to do something.
In 2019, OPP reopened the case and promised to conduct an independent investigation. That was received with relief and optimism by the family.
Meanwhile, the family learned more details about how Soleiman died. He was pepper-sprayed, his ankles and hands were cuffed, a “spit hood” was placed over his head and 50 signs of blunt force trauma were found all over his body. Most likely it was a group that caused Soleiman’s death.
OPP buried its head under the sand and refused to lay charges. Their argument was that it was not clear who gave the fatal blow.
What logic is behind this reasoning? If we face a gang killing, or other violent assault, can we let the killers go free?
Why, when jail guards participate in the beating of a young racialized man in crisis, does it become hard to determine who gave the “fatal blow” to the victim?
By denying his family truth and justice, Soleiman Faqiri is being killed over and over.
Speaking about the case recently, Senator Peter M. Boehm called it a “travesty of justice.”
Dozens of civil society and professional organizations have issued statements condemning the OPP decision. What more is expected? What more can the family and their supporters do to let Soleiman Faqiri rest in peace, and stop killing him over and over?
Monia Mazigh was born and raised in Tunisia and immigrated to Canada in 1991. Mazigh was catapulted onto the public stage in 2002 when her husband, Maher Arar, was deported to Syria where he was tortured and held without charge for over a year. She campaigned tirelessly for his release. Mazigh holds a PhD in finance from McGill University. In 2008, she published a memoir, Hope and Despair, about her pursuit of justice, and recently, a novel about Muslim women, Mirrors and Mirages. In 2017, she published Hope Has Two Daughters, a novel about the Arab Spring. You can follow her on Twitter @MoniaMazigh or on her blog.
Image: Ye Jinghan/Unsplash