By Andy Crosby
Various migrant justice groups organized a national day of action on March 6 to stop the deportation of Abdoul Abdi.
Supporters of Abdi held a press conference outside of Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale’s office at 269 Laurier Avenue West as strong winds gusted through Ottawa’s downtown core.
“We are gathered here today to offer our community’s support here in Ottawa for Abdoul Abdi as he prepares for his hearing on admissibility to Canada on March 7,” said Bilan Arte, who identifies as a member of the Black and Somali community in Ottawa.
The action was organized to express support for Abdoul Abdi and his family, and to call on the Canadian government to intervene to stop the deportation proceedings.
“As part of a tri-city action, supporters are gathering today in Halifax, Ottawa and Toronto to demonstrate our love and ongoing support for Abdoul and for many other young people who lack citizenship as a result of negligence from Canadian child welfare services,” said Arte. “We are here to show our federal government… that Abdoul Abdi is not alone, that this government can and must step in to stop the deportation and that we as a community will not waver in our fight for his rights.”
Arte explained that Abdi came to Canada as a government-sponsored refugee at the age of six and that shortly thereafter he and his sister were taken from the family into custody by the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services.
Now 24, Abdi spent the rest of his childhood in government care. While they shuffled him between 31 foster homes, Community Services never applied for his citizenship.
“Like so many children who are taken into care, Abdoul became involved in the criminal justice system,” said Arte. “He served time in prison and the government’s current attempt to deport him represents a double punishment that a citizen would not face,” adding that, “Canada’s immigration system is in need of serious overhaul.”
Arte laid out a number of steps that the Canadian government could take to intervene and stop Abdi’s deportation – as well as to reform the immigration and child welfare system that discriminates against racialized youth.
In particular, Arte implored Goodale to temporarily pause the deportation hearing so that Abdi doesn’t lose permanent resident status while pursuing his ongoing court challenge. Otherwise Abdi will lose access to health care and employment. Arte explained that Goodale has the power to temporarily withdraw the request for a deportation hearing, since no evidence had been accepted into the proceedings by the Immigration and Refugee Board.
The ministry could also ask the immigration division to postpone the deportation hearing until the case is heard by the Federal Court, said Arte.
On March 6, the Federal Court decided to hear Abdi’s case, and set a court date in May.
The following day, on March 7, the Immigration and Refugee Board adjourned the deportation hearing until March 21. This was to allow for time to decide whether or not to further postpone the hearing, to allow for the Federal Court case.
Abdi’s Halifax lawyer Ben Perryman told CBC News the Federal Court could consider other aspects of Abdi’s case outside the scope of the Immigration and Refugee Board, including his experience in Nova Scotia’s child welfare system, as well as the bleak prospects of his return to Somalia.
At the press conference, Indigenous activist Jocelyn Wabano-Iahtail referenced the tragic death of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine, who was also in the care of the “child welfare industry.”
“Child welfare has been consistently, holistically negligent in the care of our Indigenous and Black children,” she said. “The colonial legal system is not one to be hearing cases and delivering verdicts when it is incapable of living and breathing justice.”
Abdi’s supporters are calling for systemic changes, including modifying the Citizenship Act to make it easier for children in government care to apply for citizenship. They also say better training and resources should be provided to child welfare workers responsible for applying for the citizenship of those in their care.
According to Arte, the Canadian government could also modify guidelines to clarify and consider international human rights law when deciding to deport a long-time permanent resident. A person’s experience as a permanent ward of the state should be a significant factor that weighs heavily against deportation as well, Arte argues.
This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 10, No. 6 (Mar/Apr 2018).