Canada’s institutions repeatedly failed former child refugee Abdoul Abdi
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?