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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.

Canada

Canadians call for return of relative held in Ethiopia

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AL JAZEERA — A Canadian family is calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to negotiate the release of a citizen imprisoned in Ethiopia saying “there will never be a better time than now to get him home”.

Canadian Bashir Makhtal, 49, has been imprisoned in Ethiopia since January 2007 on charges of “terrorism”.

Authorities in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, accuse Makhtal of being a ringleader for the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) – a rebel group pressing for self-rule in Ethiopia’s eastern Ogaden region – and he was sentenced to life in prison.

Ethiopia classifies the ONLF as a “terrorist” organisation.

The United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and the European Union, however, do not.

Makhtal, whose grandfather was a founding member of the ONLF, has always declared himself innocent, saying he was in the region to promote his clothing business.

Now, more than a decade on, the Ethiopian government’s recent release of thousands of political prisoners and peace talks with the ONLF have given Makhtal’s family further impetus in campaigning for his release.

‘There is hope’
Asiso Abdi, Makhtal’s wife, told Al Jazeera that Ethiopian authorities could be persuaded to include Bashir among those freed, if Canada applies adequate diplomatic pressure.

“If the government of Justin Trudeau is willing to get Bashir home, there will never be a better time than now,” Abdi said. “When there is a life, there is a hope.”

Canadian officials say they are exploring every possible option to bring Makhtal back to Canada.

Omar Alghabra, parliamentary secretary to Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, met Makhtal during a diplomatic visit to Ethiopia in April 2017.

Negotiating Makhtal’s release is a priority for the Canadian government, he told Al Jazeera.

“Our objective is to see this happen as soon as we can… At every opportunity, the discussion with Ethiopian officials regarding Mr Makhtal happens,” Alghabra said.

“[But] these conversations are not easy… The Ethiopian government see him as someone who has been convicted and is serving a sentence.”

Despite mounting diplomatic pressure, Ethiopian officials continue to deny Makhtal is a political prisoner and block his release from jail.

Metasebia Tadesse, Ethiopia’s ambassador to Qatar, told Al Jazeera recent prisoner releases were specifically intended to “create a broader political space within the country”, and will not affect Makhtal’s status.

“Bashir Makhtal is not an Ethiopian, he is imprisoned due to the terrorist crimes he committed,” Tadesse said. “One cannot mix his case with the current measures taken by the Ethiopian government.”

When questioned, Tadesse refused to provide Al Jazeera with further details regarding the nature of the “terrorist crimes”.

‘An unfair trial’
Rights group Amnesty International said Makhtal has been detained unfairly.

“Once charges were laid against Makhtal we pressed for him to be provided with a fair trial and an opportunity to mount an effective defence, such as by having full access to allegations, evidence and witnesses against him,” Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International in Canada, told Al Jazeera.

“That was not the case, nor was his appeal hearing a fair process,” Neve said.

Lorne Waldman, Makhtal’s Canada-based lawyer, told Al Jazeera that Ethiopia had subjected his client to a number of extrajudicial measures: including an illegal extradition and torture.

“Bashir’s version of events has been the same since the beginning, that he was in Somalia doing business … [and] when there was the [Ethiopian] military incursion into Somalia he, like thousands of others, fled to the Kenyan border,” Waldman said.

“He was detained at the border and taken into custody in Nairobi, and from Nairobi he was illegally spirited on a private plane to Ethiopia without any formal extradition proceedings,” he added.

“Then he was tortured and charged under the anti-terrorism provisions in Ethiopia, before being prosecuted in what people generally felt was an unfair trial, convicted and sentenced to life in prison.”

Extraordinary rendition
Amnesty said Makhtal’s transfer to Ethiopia was “tantamount to an instance of extraordinary rendition”, adding it was “very likely” he had been subjected to torture or other forms of cruel treatment in Ethiopia.

The prevalence of torture in Ethiopia – described as a “major problem” in Human Rights Watch’s 2018 report – and Makhtal being held incommunicado at the beginning of his detention support Amnesty’s concerns regarding mistreatment, Neve said.

Authorities in Ethiopia did not acknowledge they had imprisoned Makhtal until July 2007, six months after his arrival in Addis Ababa, his relatives told Al Jazeera.

Nearly 11 years later, Makhtal’s family still has little clarity about whether Ethiopia will release him.

Some 12,000km away from his prison cell in Ethiopia, Makhtal’s absence in Canada continues to be felt every day, Abdi told Al Jazeera.

“They took my husband and with him my future happiness,” she said.

“I have already missed 11 wedding anniversaries with him, 11 years of my life have gone. I’m missing a half of me deep inside the dark cell of an Ethiopian prison.”

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Canada’s institutions repeatedly failed former child refugee Abdoul Abdi

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The ethical case to fight the deportation of former child refugee Abdoul Abdi from Canada is a straightforward one with no visible shades of grey.

Yet it has ballooned into a needless battle exposing federal and provincial indifference to non-citizen children.

On Feb. 15, a Federal Court will hear an emergency request to temporarily stop Abdi’s deportation.

The broad strokes of Abdi’s story are these.

Instability was the only constant in the life of this man, born 24 years ago in Saudi Arabia to a Saudi father and Somali mother. He lived for four years at a refugee camp in Djibouti and then at age 6 landed in Canada along with his sister and aunts.

At age 8, child protective services scooped him and his sister out of their aunt’s home for reasons unknown. This is not surprising — research in Ontario last year showed Aboriginal and Black children are far more likely to be investigated and taken into care than white children.

The family now speculates this could be because their aunt, who didn’t speak much English, took too long to register them for school.

Abdi bounced around among not one or two or a dozen homes but 31 of them, some, he says, abusive situations. A study last year by Ontario’s Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth linked foster care experiences to later outcomes of homelessness and criminality, among others.
Abdi, too, got sucked into illegal activities.

When he messed up, he faced the consequences. About four years in prison for multiple offences, including aggravated assault.

He is also paying the price for errors by the system.

On Jan. 4, no alarm bells were sounded in the labyrinthine corridors of power in Canada, when Canada Border Services Agency officers arrested Abdi as he left prison after serving his sentence and was at the gates of a halfway house.

They were going to deport him, they said. Send him packing because it turned out the kid who grew up in Canada was not a Canadian citizen. His crown parents — the Department of Community Services — had never applied for a citizenship for him.

Where was he being banished? Not to Saudi, his birthplace, which might have been the logical though still unjustifiable choice, but to Somalia, the place of his mother’s ethnic origins, a place so dangerous that Canadian officials and planes don’t go there. A place whose language Abdi does not speak, and where he knows no one.

Repeatedly abandoned as a child, Abdi is now an officially unwanted adult.

It has taken a village, for us to hear of Abdi.

More accurately, it has taken a set of extraordinarily large-hearted individuals, many of whom have never met Abdi, but who are tied together by a passionate rejection of injustice to bring his story to the forefront of our nation’s conscience.

Last month, Halifax poet laureate and activist El Jones chronicled in the Halifax Examiner just one week of the collective action taken for Abdi.

In it she wove the stories of disparate lives criss-crossing through past injustices. How Jones came across Abdi via Coralee Smith, the mother of Ashley Smith who died in 2007, asphyxiated from a ligature tied around her neck as correctional officers watched.

How Abdi’s sister Fatouma courageously challenged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a town hall in Nova Scotia, thereby ensuring national attention on this case.

How Jones and journalist/activist Desmond Cole questioned Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen at a National Black Summit in that city, and endured criticisms of being disruptive and rude and not supporting a fellow Black minister.

“As though,” Jones writes, “having a Black man sign the deportation papers is progress.”

She writes of Abdi’s “fantastic” lawyer Ben Perryman who finds himself suddenly under the glare of media spotlight.

And of the near-misses, the small successes, the support and amplification from Black Lives Matter and academics/activists Rinaldo Walcott and Idil Abdillahi, and student activist Masuma Khan among others.

Here is an important thing:

“All of us have jobs, and school, and families,” she writes. “This isn’t even the only thing we’re advocating on this week, because there’s always more suffering, more rights being denied, more people in need.”

Yet Jones writes of hope, and of love that carries them forward.

Their undertaking serves to underline the inhumanity of the decisions that mark this case.

Federal minister of public safety Ralph Goodale refused to pause a deportation hearing while Abdi’s lawyers mount a constitutional challenge to his deportation. At its hearing on March 7, the Immigration and Refugee Board will not review the complexities of the case to decide if Abdi can enter or remain in the country, his lawyer told the CBC. His criminal record will inevitably lead to a deportation order, he said.

A deportation order would automatically strip Abdi’s permanent resident status.

No PR status means he can’t keep his job, means he risks going back to prison; being employed is a condition for his release.

And round and round it goes.

This is the face of institutions ganging up against vulnerable individuals. Earlier this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told an audience in Quebec it’s time to recognize anti-Black racism exists in Canada. “Canada can and must do better,” he said.

What are we waiting for?

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Ottawa police identify Northview Road homicide victim as Egal Daud

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CBC — Ottawa police have identified the man found dead inside a vehicle in Nepean Sunday as Egal Daud, 30, and say he was fatally shot.
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Daud’s body was found inside a parked car on Northview Road, near the intersection of Baseline and Merivale roads, around 10 a.m.
The Ottawa police major crime unit, which is leading the investigation, said his body may have been there since Saturday.

Staff Sgt. Bruce Pirt added on Sunday police didn’t yet know if the shooting happened there, or if that’s just where the vehicle was left.

Anyone with information is asked to call the major crime unit at 613-236-1222 extension 5493 or give an anonymous tip via Crime Stoppers or the Ottawa police app.

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