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Why Turkish diplomats are pressuring Canada’s Somali diaspora



Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the crowd, who are celebrating the results of the referendum, at the Presidential Complex in Ankara, Turkey on April 17, 2017. (Kayhan Ozer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

McClatchy — Early last August, a group of Somali community leaders was invited to the Turkish consulate in Toronto to meet with some Turkish parliamentarians. The meeting was one leg of a Canadian tour for the visiting politicians, which also included trips to Ottawa and Montreal, and the theme of the tour was the July 15 attempted military coup in Turkey.

The Turks, armed with a narrative worthy of a John Le Carre novel, laid out the details of how a secretive cult, with tentacles stretching around the world, had, over decades, infiltrated the power centres of the Turkish state, culminating in the violent attempt to overthrow the democratically elected government.

The group of 20 or so Somalis who were present greeted the Turkish delegation warmly. In 2011, Turkey rescued Somalia from a punishing famine and has continued to provide the Somalis with hundreds of millions of dollars in aid. “Anybody who cares about Somalia, cares about Turkey,” one attendee, Issa Muse, stood up and proclaimed.

The Turkish government has also cultivated a strong relationship with Canada’s Somali community, the largest Somali diaspora in the world. Liberal MP Ahmed Hussen, who arrived in Canada as a refugee from Somalia in 1993, was present at the Toronto meeting. He had developed close ties with Turkey’s ruling elite during his tenure as president of the Somali Canadian Congress.

Normally, a meeting like this would hardly raise eyebrows, but there was nothing normal about Turkey in August 2016.

The coup attempt, which left hundreds dead and saw tens of thousands of civilians flood the streets to confront the putschists, left deep scars. In its aftermath, the ruling AK Party, led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, declared a state of emergency and launched a massive purge to weed out what it described as the terrorist “parallel structure” responsible for the attack, the Gülen movement.

Hussen was in Istanbul on the night of the coup attempt, reportedly on vacation with his mother. But, according to local sources, he was also there as a guest of some high-level AK Party politicians, including Kenan Sahin, the mayor of Istanbul’s Pendik district, and Cemalettin Kani Torun, the deputy chairman of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Commission. The next day, he described what he experienced that night to Canadian media in glowing terms.

“The preservation of democracy is very important,” Hussen told Global News, “and to witness regular people—students, workers, regular folks in Istanbul—come out in the thousands and peacefully defend democracy and also celebrate the preservation of democracy was quite special to me.”

Others saw something very different. Some observers noted that nightly “democracy” rallies organized by the AK Party were infused with rhetoric that would make most democrats cringe. Erdogan was lauded as the saviour of the nation; songs were written in his honour and looped in public squares for hours on end.

The international community watched with trepidation. Within days, thousands had been arrested, including judges and bureaucrats accused of being members of the “Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organization,” or FETO.

Foreign journalists, including a Maclean’s reporter, were harassed and detained, while many of their local counterparts were thrown in jail.On April 16 this year, Turkish citizens voted in a referendum on a package of constitutional amendments that would transform Turkey from a parliamentary democracy into a highly centralized presidency, securing Erdogan’s dominance. By then, Gülen supporters all over Turkey were on the run.

The AK Party had also turned up the heat internationally. After the coup attempt, Gülen supporters in Europe and elsewhere, including Canada, had been put under heavy scrutiny by Turkey’s intelligence services. Some European Union governments took exception to Turkey’s referendum campaigning in their cities, arguing that AK Party leaders were using language that sowed discord among Europe’s large Turkish diaspora, including calling a “No” vote a vote for the “terrorists.”

The international community, including a small team of election observers from the EU, warned that the referendum results not only violated the basic principles of fairness, but would also lead to a dismantling of Turkey’s democratic institutions. Erdogan, with his signature bravado, accused Europe of having a “crusader mentality.”

In reality, the coup attempt gave Erdogan the tools he needed to ensure a referendum win. It set in motion a more aggressive Turkish foreign policy and it ignited an AK Party push to extend its influence—and pursue its enemies—around the world, including in Canada.
The August gathering of Somalis at the Turkish consulate in Toronto—to discuss a coup attempt led by Turks in Turkey—seemed odd to some of those who were present. “It was strange,” Omar Hassan, chairman of the Somali-Canadian Business Council, told Maclean’s. “The Turkish delegation referred to the Gülenists as terrorists and everyone clapped. Hussen talked about the close relationship between Turkey and Somalia but never contradicted the ‘terrorist’ label.”

A spokesperson from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, where Hussen has since been appointed minister, told Maclean’s the meeting was only one of many Hussen attended that day. “He arrived late from another meeting,” Bernie Derible said. “And he didn’t stay until the end. He said a few words and he left.”

Derible added that there was nothing out of the ordinary about Hussen’s visit to Turkey in July. It was a trip that Hussen, who was not in Cabinet at the time, paid for himself and made in a personal capacity. “The minister is one of those guys,” he said. “He meets with people. He talks to local elected people. But there was nothing they talked about in an official capacity.”

Hassan, who has close ties to Gülen-run organizations in Canada, says he was nonetheless disturbed by what he witnessed at the meeting. The Somali prime minister at the time of the coup attempt, Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, who is also a dual Canadian-Somali citizen, had sided with the Turkish government. Within days of the failed putsch, Gülen-run schools and a hospital in the capital of Mogadishu were seized and turned over to the Turkish embassy.

Years of AK Party financial support to Somalia had paid off, Hassan said. “And it felt to me like, at that meeting, Turkey was trying to pressure the Somali community into marginalizing the Gülen community in Canada. And Hussen did nothing to challenge that.”
The Turks, however, were facing a less amenable audience elsewhere. Judy Sgro, the MP for Humber River-Black Creek in Toronto, home to the Gülen-affiliated Nile Academy school, told Maclean’s in October last year that Turkey should stop harassing Canada’s Turkish diaspora and “focus on the people living in Turkey.”

“This is such a wonderful community,” she said of the Nile Academy’s staff, students, and parents. “I’ve been visiting them for years and I can’t say anything negative. Their values are Canadian values.”

Still, a senior diplomatic source in Canada told Maclean’s that Turkey has been using whatever leverage it can find to sideline its critics in Canada, including putting pressure on other diaspora communities, like Somalis, who have close ties to the Turkish state.

The diplomatic mission in Toronto, he added, speaking on condition of anonymity, has been monitoring senior Gülen members and reporting their activities back to Turkey, a charge the Germans have been levelling against the AK Party in their country for at least a year.
Unlike Germany, Canada does not have a significant Turkish population. But, despite their small numbers, Gülenists in Canada play an outsized role in the Turkish calculus, the senior diplomat said, because of the close proximity of the U.S.-based Fethullah Gülen, the reclusive cleric who heads the group. Turkish authorities worry that Canada may provide safe sanctuary for him in the event the Trump administration decides to extradite him back to Turkey.

So far, Canada has tried to stay out of Turkey’s intrigues, though it has accepted the asylum claim of one Turkish diplomat, the former vice-consul at the Turkish consulate in Toronto, Gökhan Toy, who is accused in Turkey of being a member of FETO.

“Canadian governments, both the Liberals and the Conservatives, do not want to rock the boat,” the senior diplomat said. “Turkey is a key NATO ally and essential to the fight against ISIS. Canada doesn’t have a lot of influence over the Turkish government to begin with, so why would it raise tensions? There is nothing to be gained.”

Others, however, warn that if Canada does not take a position soon, it could find itself at the mercy of Erdogan’s authoritarianism. The spying allegations are particularly worrisome, according to one security expert in Istanbul, who also requested anonymity.

Under Erdogan, he explained, Turkish intelligence agencies have been given sweeping powers to conduct operations at home and abroad with little to no oversight. Under the new presidential system, control of the intelligence community will likely shift to the president, who has already demonstrated his penchant for using it against his perceived enemies, particularly in Europe.

“Canada should not be so confident that it has been spared,” the expert warned. “As Turkey loses its diplomatic legitimacy in western countries, it will rely more heavily on secret channels to pursue its interests. We’ve seen this process before, in Iran for example. When the revolutionary regime came to power, it did so without the support of most of the international community. So instead of dealing openly with the world, it went underground. It relied on its spy agencies to get the information it needed. Turkey is heading in the same direction.”


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



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



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



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.

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