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Foster care system “failed” child refugee



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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.”


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.”


Remembering the ‘Somalia Affair,’ Canada’s Forgotten Abu Ghraib Moment



VICE NEWS — On the night of March 16, 1993, 16-year-old Somali Shidane Abukar Arone was caught trespassing by Canadian soldiers deployed in his country. Shortly after midnight, he was dead.

At the time, Somalia was in the midst of a brutal civil war that had sent more than 1.5 million refugees—a fifth of its population—fleeing beyond its borders. Thousands were dying every week from starvation and lack of medicine. Desperately needed humanitarian aid was being stolen by militia leaders and sold on the black market. In December 1992, Canada sent a 1,400-strong force as part of a UN peace-enforcing mission to ensure the food got to Somalis in need.

Four months later, Arone snuck into the perimeter of the Canadian base in the town of Belet Huen, 341 kilometres north of the Somali capital of Mogadishu, and was found hiding in a portable toilet by a Canadian Airborne Regiment (CAR) patrol. Arone didn’t resist arrest, claiming he was looking for a lost child. The patrolmen suspected he was a thief. Arone was taken to an underground bunker in the Canadian encampment, tied up and blindfolded.

What happened next is surely one of the ugliest incidents of modern Canadian history.

Over several hours, Arone was savagely tortured by Airborne soldiers. Subsequent court-martial testimony revealed he was waterboarded, punched in the jaw, hit by a metal bar, repeatedly kicked, and the soles of his feet burned by a cigarillo. According to several accounts, he was sodomized by a stick that was also used to beat him.

Upwards of 80 soldiers could hear Arone’s screams over the roar of a nearby electric generator. One soldier later testified he heard a “long dragged out howl”—before returning to his Game Boy. Others stopped by to comment their fellow soldiers had a nice trophy. Arone’s last words were a moaning repeated intonation of “Canada, Canada.”

Shidane Arone’s name shouldn’t be forgotten in 2018. There is a clear throughline between his demise and the fate of people such as Abdoul Abdi, a Somali former child refugee now facing deportation from Canada back to a country he fears only offers him certain death. Arone and Abdi are just some of the many names that have fallen through the cracks. We need to remember these names so their fates aren’t repeated.

Two men were eventually charged with Arone’s murder and torture: Master Corporal Clayton Matchee and Private Kyle Brown, members of the 2 Commando section of the Airborne. Matchee, a Cree man, was later reported to have bragged that “the white man fears the Indian and so will the black man.” Sixteen photographs were taken by the two men that night, with both Brown and Matchee posing with the bloodied semi-conscious Arone. The same day Matchee was arrested, he was found hanging by his bootlaces in his cell, and was left irreversibly brain-damaged. Brown, who was part Cree, was eventually sentenced to five years imprisonment and dismissed from the armed forces. Seven others were charged, including a major who issued the order that thieves caught sneaking into the camp could be “abused” as a deterrent, an order that was taken to a grotesque extreme. Most of the soldiers court-martialed were acquitted or only reprimanded.

Canadians back home were shocked, especially when a video surfaced featuring members of 2 Commando spouting racist remarks, with one stating Somalis “never work, they’re lazy, they’re slobs, and they stink.” Days later, footage of a hazing video emerged in which Airborne soldiers appeared to be smeared with human feces that spelled out “I love the KKK.” A 1994 Washington Post articlenoted the affair “dealt a blow to Canada’s image as the postwar era’s preeminent international peacekeeper, and to Canadians’ self-image as a people naturally adept at mediating and stabilizing foreign conflicts.” Arone’s death sparked a military internal inquiry and, in 1995, the federal government commissioned a public inquiry. The questions on Canadians’ minds were: How could this have happened? And why did none of the soldiers do anything to stop it?

Canadian peacekeeping had been riding high at the time after a successful decades-long UN-led mission in Cyprus that came to a close in 1993. Somalia proved to be a challenge of a different order; the crises of the Rwandan genocide and the Yugoslav Wars were still ahead. Over the course of several inquiries, the Canadian public discovered Arone’s murder was far from the only troubling incident.

From the start, the Canadians had issues with thieves and looters in and around their base, many of them children. Firing their weapons in the air didn’t work; the conflict-accustomed locals didn’t flinch. There was no real Somali authority in place to punish or incarcerate prisoners the Canadians apprehended. So a number of morally questionable measures were employed to deal with the problem. Children caught stealing were bound, blindfolded, and left in the sun for hours, with a sign bearing the word “Thief” in Somali hanging around their necks. Twelve days before Arone’s death, Airborne troops used bait to snare thieves, a dubious action that ended with two Somalis shot, one fatally in the back. All told, six Somalis were killed by Canadian soldiers during their deployment.
As these details were revealed, allegations of multiple cover-ups also emerged, from shredded Department of National Defense documents to “trophy” photographs of soldiers posing with bound Somali prisoners being ordered destroyed. The CAR, a proud elite regiment since its creation in 1968, was disbanded in shame in 1995.

Even before these recommendations, the Somalia Affair narrative had transitioned from the horrifying acts perpetrated by Canadian soldiers towards the national trauma they caused. Its victim shifted from Arone and other Somalis to Canada’s self-identity. In 1996, Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno wrote: “How typically Canadian that we become more animated and reactive, and outraged over the chain of responsibility, or the chain of collusion, or the chain of concealment, then we did over the original crimes and deplorable conduct of Canadian peacekeepers.”

It’s impossible to say Canada’s legacy of residential schools and colonialism didn’t rear its ugly head on March 16, 1993, when two Cree victims of racism—Matchee was nicknamed “Geronimo” by his fellow soldiers, a moniker he loathed—perpetrated acts of brutality when they believed they had free licence to do so. Right before the March 16 torture started, Matchee was advised by his section commander to beat Arone with a phone book to avoid leaving marks, a practice some policemen in Saskatchewan, Matchee’s home province, were alleged to have used on First Nations men. Matchee’s family got hate mail and bomb threats after Arone’s murder went public, with one letter stating: “Indian, welfare bum. You deserve to die.”

Even if it arguably hasn’t eliminated racism within its ranks, some of the Canadian military’s changes seem to have worked. In Afghanistan, a case arose in 2008 where a Canadian soldier mercy killed a severely wounded Taliban soldier, and was subsequently court-martialed. But nothing nearly as grotesque as Arone’s murder has occurred since.

Canada’s involvement in peacekeeping has still steeply declined since the Somalia Affair. To distance himself from the Conservatives during the 2015 electoral campaign, Justin Trudeau pledged a renewed commitment to peacekeeping, to the tune of $500 million and 600 Canadian troops. Not much has happened since; potential involvement in a UN-led mission in Al-Qaeda-threatened Mali never came to anything. Back in the 2015 electoral campaign, there were only 68 Canadian peacekeepers in the field. Jump to February 2018 and the sum of Canadian peacekeepers is 40, half of them policemen.

And yet, peacekeeping remains popular with the Canadian public. The Somalia Affair has become a minor blip in what Canadians feel is an otherwise unblemished history of peacekeeping. Almost 70 percent of Canadians support deploying Canadian Forces on UN peacekeeping missions in active fighting areas, according to a 2016 Nanos poll.

Trudeau’s Liberals don’t seem to be interested in peacekeeping. They’ve already gotten grief over multi-billion dollar arms sales to Saudi Arabia, including vehicles which may have been used on Yemeni civilians, and seem keen to avoid the kind of quagmire that Somalia and Afghanistan proved to be. Their peacekeeping initiatives have been more or less limited to things like devoting $21 million to increase the number of women in the field. Meanwhile, they’ve reduced the initial promise of 600 soldiers to a 200-strong task force for temporary deployments.

And what of Somalia now, 25 year later? The endless cycle of violence ravaging the country since the 1980s continues. On February 23, two car bombs killed 45 in Mogadishu in an attack claimed by the Al-Qaeda affiliated Al Shabab. But Canada is staying out of Africa for the foreseeable future, despite plans to increase the military budget from the current $18.9 billion to $32.6 billion by 2029.

But the public inquiry never heard testimony on Arone’s murder. The inquiry was prematurely shut down in 1996 and ordered to produce a report the following year. The report’s conclusions didn’t focus on racism in the military that seemed inherent in the actions of Matchee, Brown, and others. It blamed a lack of understanding of Somalia culture, the harsh climate, as well as the demoralizing toxic environment created by locals who were known to throw rocks and spit at the Canadians ostensibly there to help them. Many soldiers felt the Somalis were ungrateful, as Somalis largely saw the UN involvement being motivated by Western self-interest. A lack of education within the armed forces officer ranks was also found to be problematic. Only 30 percent of officers at the time had university degrees; Matchee and Brown’s non-commissioned section commander had only completed eighth grade.

In 1997, 100 recommendations were presented to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien to reform the military, including making post-secondary education mandatory for all officers, putting an emphasis on ethics in military college curriculums, and the creation of an independent military journal. Racism in the military became one element in a complex situation, rather than the central issue demanding tackling.

As for Arone’s family, the Canadian government compensated his clan the value of 100 camels (approx. $15,000 USD), which they had demanded as blood money. Arone’s parents later sued the Canadian government for $5 million, but the suit was dismissed in 1999. The judge wasn’t convinced the government had a care of duty towards Somali citizens and ruled there was no evidence Arone’s parents had suffered because of their son’s death.

Twenty-five years on, Arone’s death still raises more questions than it answers. The world has problems and Canada does have a lot to offer to help. But are we willing to pay the price for getting involved, for more convoys of fallen soldiers rolling in procession down the Highway of Heroes, for more potential Rwandas and Somalias? Are we ready to do things differently in the future? These are questions we have to ask ourselves. For the time being, we’re avoiding them and staying put.

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The shameful attempt to deport a man who’s been in Canada since childhood



THE CONVERSATION — As migration scholars and detention experts, we will show that while perhaps lawful, this deportation is the accumulation of governmental historical, social and moral failures. Abdoul arrived in Canada as a six-year-old child, and is a product of this country. His deportation should be halted.

Abdoul was born in Saudi Arabia to a Somali mother, and spent four years in a Djibouti refugee camp. Eighteen years ago, he was only six years old when he claimed asylum in Nova Scotia. With his mother deceased, Abdoul arrived in the care of his sister and aunts.

The province intervened to remove Abdoul from his aunts’ care. The Nova Scotia Department of Community Services then placed him in foster care until he aged out of the system. Abdoul was in 31 different “care” arrangements: Permanent and temporary foster homes, halfway houses, hospitals, wards and so on.

Not one addressed his struggles, and some were abusive. The government did not apply for citizenship for Abdoul despite pressure from the Abdi family.

When Abdoul was about 18 years old, he was convicted on criminal charges. He served four-and-a-half years in prison and was released to a halfway house. It was at the gates of this house that the Canada Border Services Agency arrested him, took him to an immigration detention facility and began deportation proceedings to send him to Somalia.

Abdoul has never lived in Somalia, a country under an extreme travel advisory alert.
Until they apply for and are granted citizenship, asylum-seekers are only granted permanent residence in Canada. Canadian law stipulates that asylum-seekers or permanent residents who receive criminal convictions carrying custodial sentences exceeding six months may be deported. Abdi’s conviction falls under this category.

This deportation order is wrong. With the support of his sister Fatuma Abdi, the Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter has begun an anti-deportation campaign called All Out 4 Abdoul. His removal is being legally contested by his lawyer, Benjamin Perryman, with the support of the International Human Rights Program at the University of Toronto.

Through news conferences, social media and mainstream and prominent media coverage, Abdoul and his supporters have called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ahmed Hussen, the minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, to use their discretionary powers to stop the deportation. The Federal Court is now hearing the case.

Why has Abdoul’s plight struck such a visceral chord?

‘Scapegoats’ for poor policy

We argue that Abdoul Abdi’s case illuminates how Canada is failing asylum-seekers, criminalized people and visible minorities. The federal government’s ongoing and persistent efforts to banish Abdoul to Somalia indicate how asylum-seekers have once again become the scapegoats for poor policy.

We find local and federal government failures at various points culminating in this deportation order. On these grounds, we argue it’s the government’s responsibility to stop the deportation.

Firstly, Nova Scotia failed to provide Abdoul’s aunts, themselves newcomers, with the full support they needed to raise the child and to keep him safe.

The decision to remove the child from his aunts contradicts the evidence that the best outcomes for children occur when they remain with their families. Nova Scotia is grappling with a disturbing history of abuses at the now-shuttered Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children in Dartmouth, where a provincial inquiry is entering its third phase. The decision to remove Abdoul should be situated within a system plagued by institutional racism.

What’s more, as a Crown ward, the state shuttled Abdoul among 31 different living arrangements in 12 years — on average, this is a new home every four-and-a-half months. Abdoul has alleged that some of these homes were abusive.

Clearly, the state failed to provide him with sufficient care and support to assist him to make good life choices.

Crown wards at greater risk of committing crimes

Governments cannot control an individual’s actions, but we know that people from disadvantaged backgrounds commit crimes at a higher rate than the overall population. As a Crown ward, this child would have been at greater risk of offending. The community is right to expect that the support provided to Abdoul should have been commensurate to the risk.

The Nova Scotia Department of Community Services also failed to execute its duty to assist Abdoul in becoming a citizen. Given the logistical and other barriers hindering Crown wards from applying, this assistance was its policy-mandated responsibility.

Surely, it’s logical to have more long-term residents as citizens, and fewer people here as asylum-seekers, permanent residents, or other less-than-full statuses. At least 15 cases of former child refugees facing deportation are surfacing; of these, at least three have been deported to a country they have no connection to because of criminal activity after they turned 18.

Morality aside, this practice breaches international law: Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 7 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Childstate that everyone has the right to nationality and citizenship.

Finally, and most fundamentally, the government of Canada is failing to recognize that Abdoul Abdi, who arrived in Canada as a six-year-old child, is the product of their state. Indeed it could be argued that, as a Crown ward, Abdoul is even more a product of the Canadian system than others who were raised within a nuclear family unit.

By attempting to deport Abdoul, the Canadian government has indicated an adherence to biological determinism: The view that Abdoul’s “nurture” — his social ties, relationships and mutually reinforcing personal and community histories — matters less than his “nature” as a perpetual foreigner.

The Somali Canadian community already faces significant challenges from “systematic, institutional racism on the part of schools, police and intelligence agencies and the media.”It would be a shame if the federal government fed in to false — not to mention racist — perceptions by continuing its efforts to deport Abdoul Abdi.

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Former child refugee may be sent back to Somalia after 18 years in Canada



Fatouma Abdi, Abdoul Abdi's sister, and her son Kayden Cockerill-Abdi arrive at Federal Court in Halifax on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

A former Somali child refugee who has spent most of his life in Canada will face a deportation hearing on Wednesday.

Abdoul Abdi, 24, who grew up in foster care in Nova Scotia but was not granted Canadian citizenship, was detained by the Canada Border Services Agency after serving five years in prison for multiple offences, including aggravated assault.

A sociologist familiar with Abdi’s case said he arrived in Canada at 6 years old and was moved 31 times between various foster homes.

Abdi’s sister, Fatuma Abdi, has said the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services failed both of them by not providing a path to Canadian citizenship.

The hearing before the Immigration and Refugee Board is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET in Toronto.

With files from The Canadian Press

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