This speech was delivered by Julie Chamagne, director of the Halifax Refugee Clinic, at a rally in support of Abdoulkader Abdi, on the occasion of the Justin Trudeau Town Hall in Lower Sackville on Jan. 9.
I am the director of the Halifax Refugee Clinic. We are a non-governmental, not-for-profit, grassroots organization dedicated to legal and settlement services for refugee claimants and other persons in need of protection. I want to talk to you today about Abdoul’s case and the intersecting issues it stems from and gives rise to.
So, I was on the government of Canada website yesterday looking at travel advisory warnings and under Somalia and it said: avoid all travel to Somalia. If you are currently in Somalia despite this advisory warning, you should leave immediately. This is the warning that our government gives to us, as Canadian citizens, to protect us and keep up safe.
And now to contrast, the case of this young man, a Canadian by all intents and purposes. A child refugee from Somalia who came to Canada and spent the next decade in quote-unquote “care”. This case is tragic but not unique. It is borne, like others, out of many intersecting failures of the state. Abdoul is proudly…nay, shamefully “made in Canada”. I will not go over his story in detail, we know it by now. Abdoul was this wide-eyed boy of 6, this image we have all been seeing in the media, when he arrived in Canada. And then, he was apprehended at the age of 7 by the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services.
The moment he went into the department’s care, they were the only entity who could apply for citizenship for him and they breached this duty of care towards him as his legal guardian and their obligations under international law.
Fast forward 18 years, 18 years spent almost entirely as a ward of the state in one way or another, from abusive foster home to group home to shelter to incarceration, his conflicts with the law stemming from a traumatic childhood spent in care.
As he was due to be released to a halfway house on Jan. 5th, he was detained on immigration grounds. His lawyer Benjamin Perryman managed to get a postponement for a month of the hearing that will automatically strip him of his status in Canada but if nothing is done before then, deportation proceedings will commence. Abdoul has paid his debt to society and is facing deportation to Somalia – this is already the unjust policy of “double punishment.” On top of that, he is now being punished once more for being a non-citizen through immigration detention, in segregation no less.
What we need to do
We need to right the wrongs that our society, our province and our country are responsible for and keep Abdoul Abdi safe in Canada, his home.
We need to acknowledge and examine our role in these oppressive systems here in Canada. Systems that traumatize and marginalize and criminalize indigenous, black and racialized youth and then punish them unduly, as if criminality were intrinsic to them.
We can’t decry war and injustice and racism and islamophobia and white supremacy and poverty and colonialism and oppression and then cast away people who have been so deeply affected and suffered from these very things.
Abdoul came as a child, fleeing a fragmented, unstable, hostile place with no rule of law.
And on that, we also need to take responsibility for our role in Somalia, through colonialism, economic exploitation and military intrusion in enabling instability and contributing to the situations that create refugees like Abdoul.
We ask CBSA and the Immigration Division to consider Abdoul for release from detention and suspend deportation proceedings until these important issues are resolved in the Federal Court and through new government policy.
We urge the province of Nova Scotia – the Department of Community Services – to move quickly to create policy to immediately apply for Canadian citizenship for non-citizen children in care so that this can’t happen again.
We have a message for our minister of immigration, Ahmed Hussen, himself a Somali refugee, having come to Canada and made an asylum claim in his teens. We urge you to intervene in this case, Minister Hussen. Minister Hussen, you have advocated for your community members and recently talked about Canada’s challenges in addressing systemic racism and being truly inclusive. You have talked about your own experiences with racial profiling and discrimination and humiliation. You talked about Canada needing to be vulnerable as a country and exposing our flaws so that we can correct them. Abdoul’s case is an egregious systemic flaw and needs to be corrected.
And to Justin Trudeau – your words of inclusion and welcome to those fleeing persecution are truly important, certainly after such a preceding dark decade for refugee rights under Harper. Rhetoric and language is meaningful and powerful. Images of open arms and cozy winter coats and refugee success stories are so valuable to change minds and hearts. But without acknowledgement, action and accountability for people like Abdoul, this is an incomplete narrative of the refugee experience in Canada. This government will be responsible for deporting a young man, a young man who has known nothing but this country (and certainly not the best of this country by far) this same state that has neglected its very basic duties towards him, exiling Abdoul to one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Is it very trite but bears repeating that the true measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable members. If we deport Abdoul back to Somalia we will be punishing him for our own failures.
To Abdoul, to his sister and his daughter and his niece and his aunts, we say that we stand with you and we will fight for you – in the tribunals and courts, in the media, in the streets.
Please write to the Ministers and keep this momentum up – Abdoul’s admissibility hearing is in a month and he has a detention review hearing next week. We need to show that we will not let him go.
Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
Hon. Ahmed D. Hussen
365 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 1L1
Minister of Public Safety
Hon. Ralph Goodale
House of Commons
Ottawa, Canada, K1A 0A6
Email : Hon.Ralph.Goodale@Canada.ca
Phone: 613-944-4875 or 1-800-830-3118
Julie Chamagne is the director of the Halifax Refugee Clinic