Faduma Isse lost her son once before — to foster care 21 years ago — and now she fears she will lose him for good as he faces deportation from Canada.
Abdilahi Elmi, 34, who never acquired citizenship while under the care of children’s aid in Toronto and who recently served a six-month sentence for assault, is scheduled to be sent to Somalia next week.
“He has no family and doesn’t know the language and culture there. I don’t approve of his mistakes, but he would die if he’s sent back to Somalia,” Isse told a news conference Monday in Toronto, pleading with Ottawa to stop her son’s removal to one of the world’s most dangerous countries.
“It’s going to be a death sentence for him. Please help him.”
Born in Somalia, Elmi was separated from his parents during the war and raised by his grandmother in a refugee camp before he was reunited with his mother in Toronto when he was 10. When he was 13, he was placed in foster care. By 16, he was living on the streets and started getting in trouble with the law.
Although Elmi, who later moved to Edmonton, had refugee status in Canada, his mother said children’s aid officials did not help him acquire permanent residence, a necessary step toward his citizenship, which could have spared him from deportation now.
“They have taken my son from me and failed him by not continuing the (immigration and citizenship) process for him,” Isse said.
Elmi was convicted of physical assault and served a 182-day jail sentence last year. In June, Canada Border Services Agency concluded he was “inadmissible” in the country because of his criminal past. Elmi is in custody in Edmonton, scheduled to be deported to Somalia on Wednesday while his lawyer Idowu Ohioze is fighting his removal before the federal court.
Robyn Maynard, an advocate for the family, said border officials plan to take Elmi to Kismayo, wherea a terror attack in Kismayo in July left 26 people dead, including Canadian journalist Hodan Nalayeh.
She noted similarities between the Elmi’s situation and the high-profile case of Abdoul Abdi, another former Somali child refugee, who faced deportation after he served in prison for multiple offences. Abdi never acquired Canadian citizenship while growing up in foster care in Nova Scotia. However, he successfully fought to stay in Canada after Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale stepped in and dropped the case.
In separate news conferences in Toronto and Edmonton on Monday, Elmi’s supporters asked Canadians to sign an online petition to demand Goodale to intervene and grant citizenship retroactively to former refugee children who were in state care.
“Elmi faces not only incarceration but deportation. This is an injustice that’s the result of neglect within the provincial child welfare system . . . The state has the responsibility to ensure he had the right to have rights. He was denied the very right to have rights. Because of this, he has been living as a refugee for 24 years,” said Maynard, author of Policing Black Lives.
Citing a report by the Ontario Human Rights Commission last year, Toronto social worker Naiima Farah said Blacks are overrepresented in the child welfare system. A Toronto Star study in 2014 found Blacks made up 8 per cent of the city’s population but accounted for 41 per cent of those in the care of Children’s Aid Society of Toronto.
“The No. 1 reason isn’t because of physical abuse or anything like that. It has to do with poverty. It’s a structural issue,” said Farah, whose family also survived the war in Somalia.
“Our PM not too long ago came to Toronto and expressed his commitment to immigration rights, including that of children. Yet, we have a case before us and there’s overwhelming silence.”
Added University of Toronto professor and chair in human rights law Audrey Macklin: “Mr. Elmi and others in his situations properly belong to the country that formed them and that country is Canada.”
Goodale’s office said it cannot comment on Elmi’s case due to privacy concerns, but insisted Canada has a robust assessment process and multiple safeguards in place to balance the interests of both Canadians and the subject of removal.
“The minister’s delegate must balance the risk in returning the person and the danger the person poses to the public if they remain in Canada,” said Goodale’s spokesperson Scott Bardsley. “Once all avenues of appeal are exhausted, CBSA must enforce removal orders as soon as possible.”
The Toronto Children’s Aid Society declined to comment but said child welfare officials have only been able to apply for citizenship on behalf of a minor in care after 2017 when Ottawa removed the age requirement for citizenship applications. The Child Welfare Immigration Centre of Excellence was only launched at Peel CAS last year to assist the sector to build capacity around the issues of immigration and citizenship for clients.
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Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-based reporter covering immigration. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung