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Yusuf Faqiri, in his Toronto home on Nov. 10, 2020.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The organizer: Yusuf Faqiri

The pitch: Raising awareness about mental-health issues in prisons

Yusuf Faqiri was on the phone with his friend when his sister burst into the room in tears and said their brother, Soleiman, had died.

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Soleiman was being held at the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont., while he awaited trial on charges of assault and uttering threats. He’d been diagnosed with schizophrenia and he was supposed to be in a mental-health unit. The family found out later that there had been an altercation with a group of guards and that Soleiman, 30, had been restrained and beaten. No charges have been laid despite a pair of police investigations and a coroner’s report that said Soleiman’s body had more than 50 signs of “blunt impact trauma.”

The incident happened on Dec. 15, 2016, and Mr. Faqiri has been looking for answers ever since. He created an organization called Justice for Soli and he hopes that an upcoming coroner’s inquest will help shed light on what happened.

But he also wants to raise awareness about mental-health issues in prisons. “We want to make sure that other families don’t go through the ordeal that my family is going through,” Mr. Faqiri said from his home in Toronto where he works as a civil servant.

The group is calling for more funding for mental-health services in prisons and greater transparency for what goes on behind bars. Justice for Soli has been backed by dozens of organizations including the Schizophrenia Society of Canada, the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies and Arch Disability Law Centre. Mr. Faqiri has also toured Ontario and parts of Canada to meet families who have experienced similar tragedies.

Mr. Faqiri said that in many ways prisons have become mental-health hospitals and officials must be held accountable for how they treat inmates. “It’s a very opaque system,” he said. “When somebody goes in nobody knows what’s going on.

He added that he plans to keep fighting for his brother and every other mentally ill prisoner. “This work that we are doing goes beyond my late brother,” he said. “I see this work as a service to this country, as a public service.”

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