Connect with us

Canada

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

Published

on

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.

Books

CANADA: Edmonton author aims to boost diversity in children’s book publishing

Published

on

EDMONTON—Two years ago Rahma Mohamed’s then four-year-old daughter saw an Elsa costume, complete with blond braids, and pleaded with her mother to buy it so she would look “beautiful.”

That’s when Mohamed decided her kids needed more cultural inspiration than the blond princess from Frozen.

After a year of work, the first-time author published Muhima’s Quest, a children’s book that tells the story of a young African-America Muslim girl who wakes up on her 10th birthday and goes on a journey.

Now, Mohamed’s at work on her second book, which is due out at the end of the month. She’s on a journey of her own, she said, to boost diversity in children’s publishing.

“I wanted to create a character who had African descent and is a Muslim in a children’s book because I just found out that there were none that were available in the mainstream,” she said.

Her books show kids it’s OK to be different, she said. Take her first book: some Muslims don’t celebrate birthdays, she explains, and the little girl in the book struggles with her faith and questions why she doesn’t celebrate like her classmates do.

“The overall message is that we do things differently, but that part is what makes us beautiful,” Mohamed said.

She said she felt it necessary for her kids to see themselves represented in the books they read in order to “enhance their self-confidence, as well as bolster their sense of pride.”

Mohamed, who writes under the pen name Rahma Rodaah, self-published her first book and since last summer, has sold 200 copies locally.

“It does take a lot of resources and you have to self-finance, but I believe in the end it’s worth it,” she said.

She hopes to go bigger with her second book, which focuses on the universal concept of sibling rivalry, and features a young girl who plans on selling her little brother because she believes he is getting all the attention.

“My overall goal is to portray Muslim Africans who are basically a normal family.”

Mohamed says her previous book was well-received by parents at readings she had done at public libraries and schools.

“Most of them who are Muslims really loved that the kids could identify with the characters,” she said.

The books also acted as a conversation starter for non-Muslim families, she said.

She said, for her, the most exciting part of the journey is knowing that she is making a difference in shaping the minds of young Black Muslims.

“We are underrepresented, misunderstood and mostly mischaracterized. It is time we paint a different picture.”

Continue Reading

Canada

Canadian Mohammed Ahmed wins silver medal in Commonwealth 5,000M

Published

on

CANADIAN PRESS — GOLD COAST, Australia — Canadian Mohammed Ahmed earned silver Sunday in the 5,000 metres on the first day of track and field at the Commonwealth Games.

Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei won gold in 13 minutes 50.83 seconds, ahead of Ahmed in 13:52.78 and Kenya’s Edward Zakayo in 13:54.06.

“I’ve been at the cusp for many years, but I finally get to stand on the podium and hopefully (one day) I get to climb one more step,” said the 27-year-old Ahmed, who was fifth in the 5,000 and sixth in the 10,000 at the 2014 games in Glasgow.

Ahmed was sixth in the 5,000 and eighth in the 10,000 at last year’s world championships, both Canadian-best finishes. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, he was fourth and 32nd, respectively, in the races.

Born in Mogadishu, Somalia, Ahmed spent the first 10 years of his life in Kenya before his family moved to St. Catharines, Ont.

Continue Reading

Canada

A Somali-Canadian’s reflections on Refugee Rights Day in Canada

Published

on

MUSLIM LINK — Refugee Rights Day is a day to create awareness in the public consciousness about the rights and protection of refugees in Canada. Celebrated on April 4th, this day is significant particularly for refugee claimants because it brings attention to the advances made in the protection of refugee rights in Canada as a result of the Supreme Court’s 1985 Singh Decision. In this decision, the Supreme Court found that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the fundamental rights of refugees. The Court decided that ‘everyone’ includes refugee claimants in the sentence: ‘Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.’

Refugee claimants are therefore entitled to the right to have their refugee claim heard, in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice and international law.

I came to Canada as a refugee from Somalia. I live in Victoria, BC, a city with a growing refugee community.

Every year on June 20, cities and communities in Canada and around the world celebrate and commemorate World Refugee Day which gives the world a chance to focus its attention on forced migration and refugee issues.

But World Refugee Day wasn’t celebrated in Victoria.

I wanted to change that.

I wanted the city, community organizations, community members, faith groups and elected officials etc to come together to celebrate and recognize their coworkers, neighbors, friends, supervisors, doctors etc who have refugee history in their families, or refugee or former refugees to honor refugees and recognize their resilience.

I really wanted to see the community coming together to talk about how we can be more welcoming and create more empathy and understanding for our shared future in this city.

Days like Refugee Rights Day and World Refugee Day create an opportunity to raise public awareness about the long-term challenges refugees in Canada face beyond just settlement.

What many Canadians often don’t realize is the importance of family reunification after part of a family is able to settle in Canada. One of the many shared experiences of refugees is family separation, which has devastating impacts on their wellbeing, and their ability to contribute more to their host countries. Keeping families separated is not good for Canada. When families are united they are able to contribute more to the economy and the mental health of the family is greatly improved.

As a Somali Canadian, I have seen the negative impact of delayed family reunification all to well. I like to think that Somali people are resilient, resourceful and friendly people. I take pride how Somali people have strong family values and support each other, because of that, I was privately sponsored as a refugee to come to Canada by my uncle.

In 2015, just three countries produced half the world’s refugees, and Somalia was one of them. Many Western countries are closing their doors on Somali refugees and that includes Canada. For the last few years I have been advocating to make it easier for African refugees to come to Canada through the Canadian Council for Refugees.

Even though Canada has provided a new home to many Somali refugees in the decades since the fall of Siad Barré, it has not offered special immigration measures to respond to the longstanding catastrophic situation in Somalia as it has with other communities. On the contrary, some immigration policies have particularly discriminated against Somalis, with devastating consequences.

In February 1993, Canada’s Immigration Act was changed so that accepted refugees had to provide satisfactory identity documents in order to be granted permanent residence. Many Somali and Afghan refugees could not provide satisfactory identity documents, because of the lack of a functioning government in their country of origin. Others were also affected, but the Somalis were by far the most numerous to be caught up in the ID issue over the coming years. The consequences for refugees who could not become permanent residents were dire:

They could not reunite with spouses or young children outside Canada.

They could not go to university or college (unless they could afford to pay foreign student fees). They were not eligible for student loans.

They could not travel outside Canada.

They often could not get better-paid jobs as employers didn’t want to hire someone without permanent status.

People’s mental health suffered because of their powerlessness.

By 1999 the number of people in limbo was estimated to be 13,000. Finally in 2000, the government agreed to the settlement of a legal challenge, launched in 1996, which argued that the ID rule was discriminatory against Somalis (the case is called Aden). Under the terms of the settlement, Somali refugees without ID would be able to submit instead affidavits from someone who knew them before their arrival in Canada or from a credible Somali organization in Canada. The terms of the agreement were written into the 2002 regulations of the new Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

During the 1990s, it was often pointed out that keeping thousands of refugees in limbo would have devastating long-term social impacts. Even though the ID issue was largely resolved a decade ago, some of the struggles in the Somali Canadian community today may well be at least partly due to the impacts of the policies, which are felt into the next generation. Families were only reunited after a long separation, people were unable to educate themselves or get decent jobs, and many fell into depression. Many Somalis felt that their community had been rebuffed and rejected by the government.

Somalis being Muslim and Black faced discrimination, but the community resisted and remained resilient and thrived despite the challenges by community coming together and organizing and building social networks which have helped refugees who have came after 2000s. Somali refugees like me.

am so proud of the Somali Canadian community for all the things they have achieved, I have traveled in the last six years across the country, and met Doctors, Lawyers, Business people, scholars, activists, social workers, public servants, community leaders all of Somali origin. Many Canadians are of course familiar with Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Somali Canadian Ahmed Hussen who came to Canada Somali as 16 year old refugee.

Somali Canadians work hard to continue making Canada a better place – a place that I hope will welcome more refugees. The Somali community’s experience must be retold again and again, so we can learn from it. The Somali community have a lot to share to improve the settlement and integration of refugees today.

I was a refugee for more than two decades before arriving to Canada. It was these experiences that have convinced me to dedicate my life to creating more just, inclusive and peaceful communities; both in my new home country of Canada and in areas where conflict and instability continue to ravage and destroy many lives. I appreciate that these have led me to become who I am, and that’s why I continue to work harder to play my role to make Canada a better place for everyone.

I have worked with a variety of refugee populations in protracted situations in various urban and camp-based locations in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Fortunately I continued my work with refugees when I arrived in Canada. I facilitie volunteer support services for refugees in Greater Victoria at the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria and formerly facilitated wraparound support services for vulnerable immigrant and refugee youth in Greater Victoria at Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society. I closely work at the national level with the Canadian Council for Refugees — this gives me the opportunity to work around policy issues while locally I work on frontline issues. Through my life experience and my work with refugees at various organisational and community-based levels, I have gained a deep understanding of the protection-related issues refugees are facing in their countries of origin and asylum. This has strengthened my ability to strong advocate for refugees.

One of the big questions I am exploring now is how can Indigenous communities and refugee communities learn more about each other and work in solidarity with one another.

I recognize that as a new Canadian citizen, I am a guest on this beautiful Victoria/Lekwungen territory… land that rightfully belongs to the First Nations.

We are all settlers – including those of us who came here as newcomers or migrants, either in this generation or in generations past, whether voluntary or as a result of war, persecution or conflict.

Unfortunately there is lack of education for newcomers about the history and realities of Indigenous communities upon arrival. Often newcomers pick up negative stereotypes about our brothers and sisters who are Indigenous peoples. I think settlement agencies can draw out some of the similar challenges and cultural similarities of newcomers and Indigenous communities — they may share similar experiences with injustice due to persecution, oppression, colonization, discrimination, stereotyping and exclusion. One in five Canadians is an immigrant so it is crucial to continue building bridges and respectful relationship in order to continue the reconciliation process.

I hope after reading this you will take the time to educate yourself more about refugee rights in Canada.

This year, the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) is running the campaign slogan “Protecting Refugees = Stronger Communities

CCR and all its member organizations are calling on the Government of Canada to:

Resettle 20,000 government-assisted refugees annually.

Ensure applications of privately sponsored refugees are processed within 12 months.

Reform the refugee determination system so that all claimants have access to a fair hearing before an expert independent tribunal.

To conclude, I would like to quote my role model in refugee advocate Barbara Harrel-Bond, who said “Refugees are ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.”

Continue Reading

TRENDING