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Asylum seeker charged with assault says he’s not violent

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A Somali asylum seeker charged with assaulting a border guard in Emerson, Man., is pleading his case to stay in Canada.

“I hope they give me a chance to prove myself that I’ve changed,” 37-year-old Ahmed Aden Ali said Tuesday from his lawyer’s office in Winnipeg.

Ali, along with members of his family, had been living in Minneapolis as government-sponsored UNHCR convention refugees since 1999. Most of his family members are still in the U.S.

He had landed immigrant status but didn’t become a U.S. citizen — so he lost his status after being convicted of grand theft auto and other misdemeanours in 2010 and 2013.

Ali served his time but was then sent to immigration detention. He was eventually released on a deportation order.

After Donald Trump was elected president, and amidst a wave of immigration raids, Ali paid a driver $200 US for a ride to the border. He walked into Canada on April 8 and was picked up by RCMP.

“I was fearing getting deported. I was thinking, coming over here, I could start over,” Ali said.
However, Canada Border Services Agency officers determined Ali was not eligible to remain in Canada because of his criminal record.

They detained him and said he was going to be deported.

Ali admits he got mad at that point. He swore at the officers and deliberately set off the sprinkler system in the detention room, but insists he didn’t threaten or assault anyone.

“I cussed them out. I said some bad stuff to her but I did not threaten,” he said.

“How can I assault somebody? They had the door locked. I’m inside the cell, she’s outside. So you tell me, is there any way I can assault her?”

After the incident, the CBSA said an officer was assaulted by a traveller resisting arrest.

“The officer sustained minor injury but did not require further medication attention. Our officers have the training and tools to respond to these situations,” said a statement provided to CBC News.

Ali was charged with two counts of uttering threats, mischief over $5,000 and assaulting a peace officer.

He spent two weeks in Headingley Correctional Centre and the Winnipeg Remand Centre.

Now out bail, on conditions including a curfew, he’s pleading for understanding.

Haunted by the past

Ali says he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and flashbacks from a violent incident in Somalia when he was 14. While Ali watched, a friend shot his own mother.

“I should’ve grabbed it [the gun], but I didn’t do it because I thought he was joking. But he did do it,” Ali said. “It really affected me.

“When you see too much death, some people, it’s like nothing to them. That’s what it was like over there in Somalia.”

Ali takes medication for stress and anxiety. He’s also trying to kick an alcohol addiction and deal with the after-effects of a brain aneurysm he suffered in 2013.

He’s on social assistance, living in a downtown Winnipeg shelter while he waits to apply for a work permit. He volunteers his time translating for other refugee claimants.

“I’m not what everybody said I am. They think that I’m violent. I’m not violent. I’m just trying to change my life to come here and be successful in life,” Ali said.
Ali’s criminal charges are winding through the justice system.

He has an admissibility hearing in June, which will determine if he’s eligible to make a refugee claim.

If he’s ordered deported, his lawyer says he’ll try to keep him here by proving it’s too dangerous to send him back to Somalia, or arguing he should be allowed to stay on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

“I don’t believe the United States is a country he’s going to be able to be returned to,” David H. Davis said.

“So I say to Mr. Ali the ball is in his court, meaning if he demonstrates good civil obedience, stays out of trouble, he continues his volunteer efforts and then eventually he’s going to be eligible for a work permit. As long as he demonstrates he’s here to comply with the rules and play by our rules, he has the opportunity to legitimize his status and never have to face that removal order.”

‘Is it a deserved second chance?’

But another immigration lawyer says he’s worried about the precedent — and reaction — this case could generate.

“My background has always been giving people second chances but my question is, is it a deserved second chance?” asked Ken Zaifman.

“He’s got family in the United States. He was a permanent resident of the the United States. His place where he should’ve resolved whatever issues he had and asked for a second chance is in the United States. If he’s unable to do that or the American system doesn’t allow him to do it, I don’t know if it’s Canada’s obligation to take him in.”
Cases like this only add fuel to the debate about asylum seekers, Zaifman added.

“How do we deal with people like this? How do we maintain the integrity of the system and also ensure that we’re not denigrating our obligation to real refugees?” he asked.

“It’s a balance. In my view, yes, it does raise a concern. It shows perhaps individuals who are coming to Canada to make refugee claims may not have the strongest claim and I don’t want that to affect real refugees. I don’t want that to affect the selection process, the determination process, and the appetite of the Canadian public to help refugees.”

After the alleged assault on the CBSA officer, the Customs and Immigration Union said members have concerns about the number of asylum seekers with criminal convictions being allowed into Canada.

The CBSA later said only three of 135 people were detained between March 20 and April 16 because they were a danger to public safety. It still has not provided data on how many of those who are not detained have criminal records.

Meanwhile, Ali’s lawyer said the border is being protected, and Canadians have no reason to be concerned.

“I don’t believe Canadians need to be fearful that there’s some onslaught of criminals leaving the United States and coming into Canada. I don’t think that’s the situation at all,” Davis said.

“Canada wants to make sure that whomever is seeking refuge here is going to do so in a peaceful manner and they want to become future taxpayers and I think that’s what Mr. Ali is trying to demonstrate right now.”

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Canada

Somali youth project update (Project TooSoo)

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CBC —  For the past year, a group of young Somalis in Toronto has been learning how to re-claim the stories told about their community.

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Arts & Culture

Kenyan-Somali, black, Muslim and Canadian: new doc explores Canada’s hyphenated identities

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Short documentary ‘Hyphen-Nation’ by 22-year-old Torontonian puts five black women in conversation

A new documentary by a 22-year-old Toronto filmmaker is analyzing what is means to be an immigrant in Canada.

Directed and produced by Samah Ali, Hyphen-Nation features a 14-minute conversation between five women of colour that is inspired by her own cultural experience.

The women discuss how their cultural heritage influences their identities as Canadians and immigrants.

“The whole conversation is what’s your hyphen?” explained Ali, calling her debut film a “nuanced” discussion about what black Canadian identities look like.

“And that’s what opens it up to so many people to identify with because whether it’s themselves or their family members who have an immigration story, everybody typically has a hyphen.”

The women are asked if they identify with being black Canadians.

Ali explains this is both liberating and tragic. She identifies as a Kenyan-Somali woman, along with a Muslim woman and a black woman.

“I don’t know if I identify strongly as a Canadian, but definitely when I leave Canada I identify as a Canadian,” she said despite being born and raised in Toronto.

“The other parts of my identity, the ones that are more visible, the ones that I practice everyday are definitely the ones that are on the forefront of my mind. Compared to my Canadianness, it’s something that I’m not really aware of until I have my passport and I’m travelling to other countries.”
Sojin Chun, programmer for Regent Park Film Festival, says the short documentary captures the theme of the festival.

“We really want to show different narratives that you wouldn’t normally see through other means, through the mainstream media,” she said.

The three day event is free and showcases the work of women of colour which reflects Toronto’s east end neighbourhood.

“We really make sure we represent all the cultures that are present in Regent Park,” said Chun.

Ali explains this is why she wanted Hyphen-Nation to premiere at the film festival.

“I want this film to foster a greater community, not only in Canada, but also worldwide.”

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Canada

Somali-Canadian Community Discusses Causes Behind Rise in Youth Gang Activity

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The Somali community that settled in Canada says poverty and a lack of access to jobs and academic opportunities are some of the factors behind deadly gang violence that has taken a toll on its youth.

More than two dozen young Somali men have died in Alberta because of such violence in the past decade, with gang activity spreading to Toronto as well, officials say.

The Somali-Canadian population discussed the issue of gang-related deaths recently at a town hall forum hosted in Toronto by VOA’s Somali Service. In attendance at the town hall were an Islamic preacher, a woman who lost a son to violence, and two people representing youth and parents in the community. More than 200 people attended, including parents, relatives and friends of the victims of gang violence.

In 1991, a large number of Somalis fleeing war in their east African country settled in a group of residential towers in northwest Toronto.

Cultural challenges

The community has struggled to integrate into Canadian life, but several speakers said the largest impediments are cultural challenges, as well as poverty and a lack of opportunities for Somali youth, panel members said.

Habiba Aden, a cofounder of a Somali group called Positive Change, lost her 26-year-old son Warsame Ali in a double homicide in September 2012 in Toronto. She said she believes cultural challenges and a loss of identity are major issues driving young Somalis toward gang activity.

“Our sons lack paternal role model, and they do not speak their mother language, which forces them struggle with identity crisis,” Aden said.

In Canada, “mothers take the leading role of the family while still struggling with raising more than half a dozen kids. They do not get the same help and cultural co-parenting they would get back home from other family members,” Aden said.

She said she believes those challenges lead families to be less physically affectionate with one another, and eventually drive their sons to outside influences.

Sidiq Ali Hashi, the youth representative on the panel said Somali youth are affected by the socioeconomic status of the community coupled with the influence of the poor neighborhoods they live in.

“I think the reason is the environment where the Somali child is being raised. He grows up in the worst poverty-ridden neighborhoods of Toronto,” Hashi said. He said the neighborhoods where Somali youth live lack investments and good schools.

Because of these challenges, some students drop out of school and fall in with drug dealers and gangs, Hashi said.

Canada, parents blamed

Panelist Sheikh Saeed Rageah, a religious scholar and Imam, said the education system in Canada has failed Somali youth, calling the schools “systematic racism.”

“The education system in this country was designed to segregate us. When the Somali-Muslim child joins the school, he or she is labeled as a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD), which deprives them their rights for a fair teaching and homework support,” Rageah said.

However, Saeed Mohamed Mohamud, a parent representative on the panel, said blame belonged not with Canada’s education system but with parents.

“Whatever it is, I think the system in this country was not designed for Somalis. It has been the same since we came here. But I would put the primary blame on a bad parenting of many members within the community,” Mohamud said. “I am a parent. I always see young boys who went to school in the morning, and when they come out hanging out the streets of Toronto with their backpacks. Where are the parents of these boys?”

Some family members had questions for Toronto police, saying many of the homicide cases of slain Somalis remain unsolved.

Toronto police officials said about 40 percent of gang shootings in the city occur in the Toronto neighborhood where Somalis reside.

“We have issues with regards to gang members, drug trade, poverty, lack of opportunity, lack of recreational facilities, inadequate … housing. We have issues with families themselves and the culture that is brought into the community,” Toronto police Superintendent Mario Di Tommaso told VOA.

Di Tommaso said the gangs in Toronto, including those within the Somali community, are based on race, gender and ethnicity.

Community involvement

He said the Toronto police have spent resources to investigate the gang-related shootings and homicides, but he said some blame lies within the community and its lack of reporting such activity.

“We will have many situations where the community at large, not necessarily the Somali community, will make observations, will witnesses something, and they are reluctant to call the police,” Di Tommaso said. “When that happens, you have a proliferation of crimes within that community, which breeds fear.

“We need more witnesses from the community so that we can advance to our investigations,” he added.

At least one parent, Mohamud agreed to a point. He said the community was not happy with how the police and law enforcement agencies handled cases involving the Somali youth, saying, “We have a right that government investigates and tells us who killed our kids, but we also need to collaborate with the law enforcement agencies as well.”

Abdirahman Yabarow, chief of VOA’s Somali Service, said the forum was designed to give the Somali-Canadian community a chance to explore, brainstorm and find solutions behind the violence that is affecting their youth.

At the conclusion of the two-hour discussion, panelists proposed an organization aimed at gathering and making available resources for the community. They also urged those in the audience to unite against the influences that are pushing the Somali youth to drug- and gang-related crimes.

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