BY ANDREA GUNN |HERALD NEWS,
The sister of a man facing deportation to a dangerous country he fled at the age of six says he’s the victim of a system that set them up for failure, and experts agree they’re not alone.
Abdoul Kadir Abdi, 23, is about halfway through a federal sentence for aggravated assault and assaulting a police officer, as well as subsequent infractions while incarcerated. Today, Abdi, who arrived in Nova Scotia as a refugee in 2000, is facing deportation back to his home country of Somalia where he doesn’t have any family, cannot speak the language, and fears he will be killed.
In June a federal court judge will determine whether or not to overturn a hearing referral ordered by the Canadian Border Services Agency that will likely result in deportation on the basis of criminality — one of a number of reasons a person can be deemed inadmissible to Canada.
Speaking to The Chronicle Herald from Dartmouth, where she currently resides, Fatouma Alyaan is adamant that she makes no apologies for her brother’s criminal behaviour, but said it’s unfair of the government to even be considering deportation.
Alyaan vividly remembers the horrors of her home country, where several members of her own family were murdered.
“I remember back home seeing people right in front of us getting their heads cut off, getting their hands cut off. I remember that like it happened today,” she said.
“I don’t think they realize as soon as he gets off that plane my brother is going to die.”
When Alyaan and her brother fled to Canada with her two aunts as children, they were almost immediately put into provincial care by Nova Scotia Community Services, where they would bounce between group homes and foster care for their entire childhood. In provincial care, Alyaan said, she and her brother were swiftly stripped of their culture, and were punished for speaking their native language.
Not once, she said, did they receive therapy for their traumatic childhood or the abuse they later suffered at the hands of their foster family. No one ever applied for citizenship on their behalf, which is why Abdi, as a permanent citizen, is facing deportation despite spending practically his entire life in Canada.
“They ripped us from what we knew and just threw us in a new culture without nothing; we never had the right supports.
“They took full custody of us and they failed us in every way you could possibly think.”
Benjamin Perryman, the lawyer representing Abdi in his federal court case against public safety minister Ralph Goodale, said the treatment Abdi has received would shock the conscience of many Canadians.
“When Mr. Abdi became a permanent ward of the state, the state assumed the responsibility to protect him,” Perryman said.
“He was never adopted. He was not afforded an education. And, crucially, the government never applied for citizenship on his behalf, something only they could easily do.”
If Abdi’s inadmissibility hearing referral — which cites Abdi’s multiple, very serious crimes and a lifelong pattern of criminal activity — is not overturned in federal court, Perryman said he likely will be issued a deportation notice, as the Canadian Border Services’ immigration division, which will conduct the hearing, cannot consider his individual circumstances outside what is in the referral.
Following that, Abdi will be assessed by the government on his danger to the public versus the individual danger he will face if he returns to Somalia.
Currently, the government deems it too dangerous to send its own officials to Somalia, and there is a deferral on removals to parts of the country (Middle Shabelle, Afgoye, and Mogadishu). Abdi could potentially be deported to other areas, or have his deportation delayed until the deferral is lifted.
If federal court does overturn the CBSA’s inadmissibility hearing referral, the agency can decide not to revisit the case, but Perryman said if they do, at least Abdi will have another opportunity to present his side, this time with the help of a lawyer. Initially, Abdi, who has a Grade 6 education, only provided a two-page letter as his submission and said in an affidavit he didn’t understand why he was writing the letter or the gravity of his situation.
Not an isolated case
Prominent Nova Scotia immigration lawyer Lee Cohen said Abdi’s case is not so much one of a child falling through the cracks, but evidence of a cruel system.
“There’s an expectation placed on foreign nationals who come to Canada, regardless of the circumstances leaving their countries of origin and arriving here to somehow intuitively know they need to become a citizen, and that if you find yourself on the wrong side of the law, you’re going to be removed from Canada,” Cohen said.
Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, said cases like Abdi’s are all too common, and with an influx of new Syrian refugees it’s even more crucial for governments to get it right.
“The idea that we should take someone as a child and then decide that we no longer want them when they’ve actually done all their growing up in Canada if they have gotten involved in crimes is quite unfair,” she said.
“It’s really up to us as a country to take responsibility for what they have become. It certainly wasn’t their country of origin if they’ve spent most of their life in Canada.”
A start, Dench said, is a recent motion passed by the Senate that would allow minors to apply for citizenship in Canada on their own once they reach age 14, as well as loosening language requirements for minors.
While cities with higher immigrant populations are better equipped to deal with such cases, Dench said there’s a huge gap in supports for young newcomers in many parts of Canada, including Nova Scotia.
“It’s a complex issue. There are many agencies that are simply unaware of these things. You have children that go all the way through and some of them don’t even have permanent residence status,” she said. “We haven’t gotten anywhere near resolving this.”
Dench said a push to clear up immigration citizenship issues for youth and provide the right supports for child refugees across the country needs to see national momentum, and individual provinces must be proactive in facilitating solutions and offering support for children in care.
Although a spokesperson for Goodale said last week the department was not prepared to comment on a case before the courts, Perryman said the government is still pursuing Abdi’s deportation and it’s entirely within the minister’s abilities to put a halt to the process.
In an email, Nova Scotia Department of Community Services spokesman Glenn Friel said placement of a newly arrived child into care would be a very rare occurrence. Those who are, he said, are assessed to determine what services are needed to mitigate the impact of any previous trauma. He also said the department is committed to ensuring children remain connected to their culture.
“We are currently reviewing our policies related to children in care of DCS in relation to those situations where such a child is not a Canadian citizen at the time an order for Permanent Care and Custody is issued,” Friel said.
Meanwhile, Alyaan is pleading for the federal government to give her brother another chance.
“My brother is the most kindhearted person you’ll ever meet. He doesn’t want his daughter to go through anything we went through,” she said. “He just wants to be there for her, raise her and give her a good life and a different path from what we had.”