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‘New evidence’ emerges in 2015 death of Somali man with mental illness in CBSA custody

New information has emerged in the death of Abdurahman Hassan, a Somali man with mental illness, who died while being restrained in immigration custody in 2015, Ontario's chief coroner's office says.

New information has emerged in the death of Abdurahman Hassan, a Somali man with mental illness, who died while being restrained in immigration custody in 2015, Ontario’s chief coroner’s office says.

The discovery has forced the postponement of the inquest into Hassan’s death, which had already been delayed once.

In an email to CBC News, Stephanie Rea, spokesperson for the province’s chief coroner’s office said, “All parties in the inquest did everything they could to maintain the start date, but new evidence that could not be foreseen has come to light.”

Rea did not elaborate on the nature of the new evidence.

The province first announced an inquest into the death of the 39-year-old in late October. The date was originally set for Nov. 29, but was later rescheduled to begin Dec. 6.

A new date for the inquest has not been set.

“It was decided that in the best interest of the inquest the start date would be postponed,” Rea told CBC News.

The province earlier announced the inquest, which is mandatory under the Coroner’s Act, would hear from approximately 20 witnesses. A jury may make recommendations aimed at preventing further such deaths.
‘Significant’ mental health issues

It’s been six years since Hassan died in hospital on July 11, 2015, after being transferred from the Central East Correctional Centre, otherwise known as Ontario’s Lindsay jail.

Hassan, who the province’s police watchdog later noted suffered from “significant” mental health issues, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, had been in the custody the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) for three years awaiting deportation.

“Hassan was the youngest son of a family that had fled from war-torn Somalia, seeking a better life in Toronto,” Senator Mobina Jaffer said in 2016 while raising concerns over the Canada Border Services Agency Act.

Approximately one year after his death, Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) cleared two police officers, one with the Peterborough Police Service and the other with Ontario Provincial Police, of any responsibility.

According to a 2016 SIU report into Hassan’s death, on the night of June 10, 2015, two police officers, five nurses and three security guards entered an “isolation room” where he was being held, and attempted to sedate him. The SIU report indicated Hassan had been ingesting clumps of his own hair as well as feces.
Held down, mouth covered with towel

Together with the security guards, the officers held down Hassan’s legs and held a towel to his mouth “to prevent him from biting and spitting,” the report.

Within five minutes of administering the sedative, the report said, Hassan fell asleep.

But less than three hours later, the officers re-entered the room along with four nurses. Hassan woke up and according to the SIU, again began ingesting and throwing feces.

Again he was held down, his mouth covered with a towel and head held against the bed.

“While being restrained, the man kicked, hit, and grabbed at the nurses who were attempting to clean him and his bedding. Suddenly, the man stopped moving,” the report said.

Hassan was pronounced dead at 1:30 a.m.

“The issue that I need to determine is whether or not the actions of either of the subject officers were a significant contributing cause of the man’s death,” wrote Tony Loparco, the SIU’s director at the time.

“My conclusion is that neither officer did anything that could reasonably satisfy the essential offence element of causation,”
Calls to end immigration detention

Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International released a joint report that found Canada detains thousands of asylum seekers every year in often abusive conditions where Black people and people of colour appear to be held for longer periods.
Many asylum seekers are held in provincial jails with the regular jail population and are often subjected to solitary confinement, the report said, and those with psychosocial disabilities or mental health conditions experience discrimination.

The organizations have called on the federal government to end immigration detention in Canada.

Canada locked up 8,825 people between the ages of 15 and 83, including 1,932 in provincial jails, between April 2019 and March 2020, the report found. It has also held more than 300 immigration detainees for longer than a year since 2016.

The CBSA remains the only major law enforcement agency in Canada without independent civilian oversight, which repeatedly resulted in serious human rights violations in the context of immigration detention, the advocacy groups said.

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