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Foster care system “failed” child refugee

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Abdoulkader Abdi, who grew up in government care, could be deported because Nova Scotia officials never applied for his citizenship

After finishing a prison sentence for crimes he committed as a young adult, Abdoulkader Abdi hoped to be released last week to a halfway house in Toronto and on his way to being home with family. Instead, he was re-arrested by Canadian border officials and thrown into immigration detention.

Now the 23-year-old former child refugee from Somalia, who is a product of Nova Scotia’s foster care system is facing deportation back to a country he hasn’t seen since he was six and where members of his family were murdered when he was a child, according to his lawyer.

The Canadian government often tries to deport refugees back to their home countries after they’ve been found inadmissible because they’ve committed serious crimes. What makes Abdi’s story unique, though, is that he’s been in government custody since he was seven years old, and his citizenship application fell through the crack at the hands of government workers.

Unlike Canadian citizens who are free after they’ve served a sentence, Abdi is facing what immigration experts call “double punishment” — also being deported from home — because the government actively prevented his family from including him on their own citizenship application and also failed to apply on his behalf.

The case has drawn strong criticism from refugee advocates and youth protection workers across the country. Justin Trudeau was asked about Abdi at several recent town halls and Nova Scotia’s premier is promising to review not only Abdi’s case, but also other similar cases in the province.

FROM FOSTER CARE TO PRISON

When Abdi was eight years old, he and his sister Fatuma were taken from their home by the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services. To this day, Fatuma doesn’t know why it happened, since she says neither of them were abused or neglected by their family, she told VICE News. All she remembers about the day she was taken is a swarm of police officers and social workers showing up to their apartment and taking them away from their aunts.

With no translator to explain the situation, his aunt Asha Abdi had no choice but to surrender the children that day, she told VICE News. She and Fatuma now believe the siblings were apprehended because their aunt took too long to register them for school after the family moved from Sydney to Halifax, although the rules were never properly communicated, they said.

“All that time, we were communicating by dictionary and translator over the phone,” Asha told VICE News.

While the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services wouldn’t speak to the specifics of the case, they said they “adhere to a standard of practice that includes taking whatever immigration steps are needed, particularly as children in care transition into adulthood.”

The standard is now being developed into a formal policy, the department said in a statement to VICE News.

POLITICAL FALLOUT

Speaking with reporters on Wednesday, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said there would be a complete review of Abdi’s case, along with “any cases that would require the kind of support that I’m hearing about with this particular gentleman.”

“I’ve asked… what are the options that we are providing and laying out to all children in care,” he said. “Then it is up to those children as they grow into [their] teenage years to decide whether or not they take advantage of those options.”

“The province can’t force you to take out citizenship,” McNeil added. “The province can provide you the support and provide you the options to gain citizenship, but it is up to the individual to determine whether or not they want citizenship.”

In a town hall on Tuesday in Sackville, N.S., Fatuma demanded an answer from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“Why are you deporting my brother?” she asked. “If it was your son, would you do anything to stop this?”

Trudeau called Abdi’s story “an important one,” and admitted that the care system had “failed” him. While he didn’t speak directly to the details of the case, he assured Fatuma that Canada’s immigration minister Ahmed Hussen, who also came to Canada as a Somali refugee, “understands the challenges and the situation [her] family is facing right now.”

“Any time the government has to issue a deportation order… it’s something we take very seriously,” he said, adding that no final decisions had been made.

Canada will “do what Canada always does and try to do the right thing based on both rules and compassion not just for your brother but for everyone who comes to this country,” Trudeau said.

‘TERRIBLE IRONY’

After he and his sister were placed in foster care, Abdi was “terrified,” he wrote in an affidavit. “I did not speak English. Shortly thereafter, we were transferred to the children’s hospital in Halifax, where we were held for examination for what seemed like an eternity.”

While his aunt tried repeatedly, without success, to regain custody of the children, Abdi was bounced around between a total of 31 different group and foster homes. He was never adopted and only finished school up to grade 6.

“The terrible irony in this case, or one them at least, is that children that are apprehended because they’re deemed in need of protection are done so on the assumption that they’re going to be better off in state care than with their family,” said Benjamin Perryman, the lawyer representing Abdi in the federal court case that presents charter and international law arguments on his status. Abdi now faces the greatest danger he’s faced in his life, Perryman added — being deported to Somalia

Canada currently doesn’t deport people to Somalia, which it considers to be a country in the midst of a “humanitarian crisis,” unless they’ve been found inadmissible to Canada because they’ve been convicted of a crime. But even in those cases, the government has been struggling to send people back because Canadian officials can’t accompany them and most airlines won’t travel to the country.

“I don’t even know my culture no more,” Fatuma said, adding that because they didn’t grow up with their Somali family, her brother also has no relationship with Somalia. “They stripped me from my culture. They put me in group homes where I wasn’t allowed to speak my language. I can’t speak two sentences to you in my language.”

CONFLICT WITH THE LAW

Abdi was born in Saudi Arabia to a Saudi father and a Somali mother. After his parents got divorced, the family left Saudi Arabia for Djibouti as refugees because of the ongoing civil war in Somalia. Abdi’s mother died in the refugee camp, and his aunts Asha and Hawa went on to raise him.

All of Abdi’s family is in Canada—his daughter, sister, nephews, and aunts — and Abdi considers himself Canadian. Fatuma didn’t even realize she wasn’t a citizen until her brother got in trouble with the law.

When he was nine or 10, Abdi and his sister were placed with a foster family who he describes in his affidavit as a “physically and emotionally abusive” because they yelled and beat him for not being able to read. While his sister was eventually taken out after making allegations of sexual assault and attempting multiple times to run away, Abdi was afraid to complain, believing no one else would take him in. He also tried running away repeatedly. Once, when he took the family’s car and drove around Halifax trying to find his sister, the police found him and brought him back home. “It was at this point that I started having conflict with the law,” he wrote.

FEARS FOR CHILD

Fatuma blames Nova Scotia’s youth protection system for her brother’s troubles, saying he was left for years in an abusive situation and provided with no therapy or parental guidance throughout his childhood, but “thrown into the jungle.”

Throughout his time in care, Abdi never realized he wasn’t a Canadian citizen. When he was 14, he was told that staff were trying to get him a passport and that they retained a lawyer to help with the case. He was also granted a social insurance number. But somehow, the citizenship application never materialized.

In 2014, Abdi pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and assault of a peace officer with a weapon, as well as theft and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle. He’s also been convicted of a number of offences committed during his time in jail and has a prior record of other adult crimes, ranging from failing to comply with conditions to carrying a concealed weapon.

“As a teenager, I did not understand the negative implications that being a non-citizen would pose for me down the road,” wrote Abdi. “While I am ultimately responsible for my criminal convictions and am serving my time for the choices I have made, I am not responsible for the fact that I am a non-citizen.”

Abdi, who is a young father to a three-year-old girl named Farrah, recently learned that the Department of Community Services has taken steps to apprehend his daughter from her mother. His sister Fatuma says she also had a child who was apprehended and subsequently died in care. The baby, which was born premature and was recovering from jaundice, was taken after police raided her home in search of the weapon Abdi allegedly used in an assault, she said.

“I would do anything for Farrah not to go through the experience I had of growing up in care,” Abdi wrote in his affidavit about his daughter. “I want to be there for her and support her once I am released from jail. If I had to work three jobs to help her have a different life than me, I would do that.”

‘FACING DEATH’

The Canadian Council For Refugees (CCR) has recommended to the government that criminal inadmissibility not apply to people who are permanent residents or protected persons who have been in Canada for three of the last five years.

The organization is also concerned about youth protection agencies that fail to pay proper attention to non-citizen children under their care and their status.

Janet Dench, executive director of CCR, said one factor is that youth protection is a provincial responsibility, while immigration is federal.

“But in too many cases, there’s a complete breakdown in terms of understanding of the situation, where the children in care obviously and rightly assume the adults are looking after their best interests,” said Dench, adding that it’s “unfortunately well established that children who have been through youth protection disproportionately end up in the criminal justice system.”

He’s currently incarcerated in Toronto, Adbi’s lawyer said on Thursday. Abdi’s next detention review is on January 15, while the date for his next deportation hearing has not yet been set.

“I really just want people to see we were just kids coming here,” said Fatuma. “The government had every right over us, and because they failed on our behalf, my brother is facing death.”

Canada

N.S. man facing deportation to Somalia to be released, lawyer says

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TIMES COLONIST — HALIFAX — The lawyer for a young man who has spent most of his life in Canada but is now facing deportation to Somalia says his client will soon be released from detention.

Benjamin Perryman says the Immigration and Refugee Board has ordered Abdoul Abdi to be released from custody.

Abdi was six years old when he arrived in Nova Scotia as a refugee from the war-torn, African country.

He went to live with his aunt, who didn’t speak English, and was soon apprehended by the Nova Scotia government and put into foster care.

Between the ages of eight and 19, Abdi was moved 31 times, separated from his sister and was never granted citizenship.

His aunt’s efforts to regain custody were rejected, and attempts to file a citizenship application for the children was blocked.

Abdi served five years in prison for multiple charges, including aggravated assault.

Perryman said Abdi was given grossly inadequate care by the province as a foster child. He has said deporting him to Somalia — a country to which he has no ties and where he would be unable to care for his Canadian-born daughter — would be unfair.

Abdi’s case has become a rallying point for advocates who say it was wrong for the province to fail to apply for citizenship on his behalf.

Stephen McNeil, Nova Scotia’s premier, said last week that he has ordered the province’s Community Services Department to complete a review of any cases that would require supports similar to those needed by Abdi.

The Canada Border Services Agency detained Abdi when he was released from prison earlier this month.

Although a date is not finalized, Abdi, 24, will soon be released to a halfway house in the greater Toronto area.

“He will likely be transferred to a halfway house tomorrow. Canada continues to pursue his deportation,” Perryman said in a tweet Monday.

(Global News, The Canadian Press)

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Canada failed Abdoul Abdi but it’s not too late to do the right thing

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The Somali refugees life is a tragic story that highlights the gaps in Canadian institutions and systems that disproportionately and negatively impact Black Canadians.

“If it was your son, would you do anything to stop this?”

This was the question posed directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau by Fatouma, the sister of Abdoul Abdi, at a town hall event in Halifax this week.

Abdi’s is a tragic story that highlights the gaps in Canadian institutions and systems that disproportionately and negatively impact Black Canadians.

Abdi came to Canada as a child refugee from Somalia in 2000 with his sister and aunts. His mother died in a refugee camp while awaiting the three-year process that eventually landed his family here.

Under uncertain circumstances, of which his family continues to seek clarification due to language barriers at the time, the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services removed a 7-year-old Abdi and his sister from the care of their aunt. Over the next decade the siblings were separated and Abdi was shuffled between 31 homes.

Abdi’s aunt never stopped fighting for guardianship, and while she obtained her own citizenship she was denied the opportunity to apply for citizenship on behalf of her niece and nephew. While under child protection, Abdi was provided insufficient support to navigate the process of becoming a Canadian citizen on his own.

He was failed by the very system that was meant to protect him.

For child welfare advocates, Abdi’s story and path from care to the criminal justice system is a familiar one. For the crimes he committed in his youth, which included aggravated assault, time has justly been served. At the moment of his release, as he prepared to reunite with his family and reintegrate into society, Abdi was detained once more.

Without his citizenship in place, Abdi was left vulnerable to the immigration process that could possibly lead to deportation.

Standing shoulder-to-shoulder to speak truth to power, advocates across Canada have spoken out with a resounding roar on Abdi’s behalf, garnering attention and seeking immediate remedy for his case.

In response to Fatouma’s question, Trudeau emphasized compassion and empathy while outlining the ways in which he recognized Canadian systems failed Abdi.

“It opened our eyes to something that many of us knew was ongoing in many communities but we continue to need to address,” he said.

While his response was well informed, I would have liked to hear the prime minister name systemic anti-Black racism as a key factor to be addressed.

We need to directly acknowledge the cracks in our government systems through which Black Canadians are falling through at disproportionately high rates so that we can proactively tackle them.

South of our border, the president of the United States has continued his divisive political agenda anchored in anti-Black racism. After hearing of his comments this week I wonder how his defenders continue to uphold him as a leader.

Characterizing Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations as “s—hole countries,” in an immigration meeting Trump reportedly asked, “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out.”

As thousands of Haitian families look to Canada in the wake of the Trump administration’s decision to rescind deportation protections from nearly 60,000 Haitian refugees following the devastation of the 2010 earthquake, I hope Canada will show the compassion and empathy our prime minister talked about in his town hall this week and take them in.

Canada should be aiming for nothing less than global leadership in the steps we take to address anti-Black racism. To do this successfully we will need active engagement from Canadian political leaders.

They should be proactively partnering with Black communities to identify priorities, set goals, communicate them publicly, and track progress toward success.

It’s difficult to engage in dialogue about policy while Abdi and his family live in crisis, facing this terrifying uncertainty. I hope this nightmare is over for them very soon.

But how is it fair that his story be used to advance public policy before his own livelihood is restored?

It is time for him to be reunited with his family so they may begin the long journey of healing from these painful experiences. That is what’s fair.

And I hope once that happens we can dive deeply into rectifying the systems that failed him, and map our way forward.

Tiffany Gooch is a political strategist at public affairs firms Enterprise and Ensight, secretary of the Ontario Liberal Party Executive Council, and an advocate for increased cultural and gender diversity in Canadian politics.

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Memorable story: Respect, truth key in reporting young boy’s drowning death

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As 2017 came to a close, StarPhoenix staff reflected on the stories that struck a personal chord with them this year. For Morgan Modjeski, it was getting at the truth in the chaotic hours after the tragic death of a child.

The goal of the Saskatoon StarPhoenix was to get it right.

That was what I told Hussein Elmmi a day after his five-year-old son, Ahmedsadiq Elmmi, drowned in a pond near Dundonald School. When I sat down with Hussein, the boy’s funeral had been held just a few hours earlier at the Islamic Association of Saskatchewan Mosque on Copland Crescent.

Like any father in his situation would be, Hussein was crushed. Listening to the tape of our interview three months later, I heard his quiet voice again, speaking about his family’s unfathomable loss.

Support was pouring in for them. People all over Saskatoon were heartbroken over the accident, but no one more than Hussein and his loved ones. In our interview, he said there was no adjective to describe how the death affected his family.

Their lives would never be the same, and his frustration and anger were magnified by the misinformation circulating about his boy. The hours after a tragedy are chaotic. Some reports said Ahmedsadiq was a newcomer to Canada, but as The StarPhoenix gathered more information, it became clear that was not the case.

Hussein had questions about where the information was coming from. He felt people were stereotyping his son. While the family was new to Saskatoon, his wife had been living in Prince Albert since 2000 and Ahmedsadiq was a Canadian citizen, born in Prince Albert’s Victoria Hospital.

Gathering information about a person who has died is always a challenge, and never enjoyable. It’s even more difficult when the person is a child.

Various people told reporters the boy’s family was a member of three different communities in Saskatoon: the Filipino community, the Pakistani community and the Somali community.

We started to reach out to community associations on Facebook in an attempt to get more information. That’s when a representative from the Pakistani community told me the child was a member of the Somali community and his funeral was taking place as we messaged back and forth.

After speaking with my editors, we decided I should stop by the funeral to seek more information from people who knew the family directly, or to see if it was possible to speak with the boy’s parents.

It was a delicate situation, to say the least. In looking for answers, we had to be respectful.

By the time I arrived, the funeral had ended and the small casket carrying Ahmedsadiq’s body was being loaded into the back of a hearse. There was no opportunity to speak with anyone extensively, as family had already moved on to the burial site. However, a trusted contact agreed to try to get a message to the family that the paper was hoping to speak with them.

An hour or so later, the contact called and after some brief conversations, we were told the boy’s father was willing to speak with me directly. We were going to hear more about the boy from the man who raised him.

Meanwhile, people across the city were also looking for answers. Information about the death — accurate or not — was spreading. More than 480 students attend the school, and few people knew the identity of the child who had drowned. Was it a relative, the child of a friend or an acquaintance?

When such questions are swirling around, journalists are under pressure to find the truth. Without help from the people directly involved, carrying out that task borders on impossible.

Frustrated by the misinformation spreading on the social media rumour mill, Hussein and his family wanted people to know the facts about Ahmedsadiq. At a time of unimaginable stress, they chose to trust The StarPhoenix, and nothing mattered more to us than living up to that responsibility.

Ahmedsadiq’s death is still under investigation by the Saskatoon Public School Division and Saskatchewan’s Advocate for Children and Youth.

mmodjeski@postmedia.com

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