HALIFAX — Refugee advocates have launched a last-minute appeal for an Edmonton man facing deportation to Somalia because he has a criminal record, saying the case of the former child refugee is similar to that of a Nova Scotia man who was allowed to stay in Canada.
Supporters held a news conference Tuesday in Halifax, where they said it was important to remember that 34-year-old Abdilahi Elmi fled Somalia as a child and was later taken into foster care in Ontario — but provincial officials failed to fill out paperwork that would have granted him permanent residency.
“This is a violation of human rights,” Halifax activist El Jones told a group of about a dozen protesters who crowded into the narrow hallway outside the constituency office of Halifax Liberal MP Andy Fillmore, who was away at the time.
Elmi’s lengthy criminal record includes assault charges, which is why he is facing deportation as a non-citizen.
On June 26, the Canada Border Services Agency decided Elmi should be deported to Kismayo, Somalia some time later this month.
“The removal of convicted, repeat offenders is an enforcement priority,” the CBSA said in a statement.
Spokeswoman Mylene Estrada-Del Rosario said Elmi “has committed extensive crimes within Canada and is considered a danger to the public.”
However, Jones said the federal government should review the case because Elmi’s circumstances are similar to those of Abdoul Abdi, another former child refugee from Somalia.
In July 2018, Abdi was allowed to stay in Canada after a Federal Court judge in Halifax set aside a decision to refer Abdi’s case to a deportation hearing.
“Here we are, a year later, and we see that this is still continuing for people who have been in the child welfare system,” said Jones, who also worked on Abdi’s case. “It’s a very simple ask: why can’t we change the law? It’s past time to change the law to ensure that all children in care receive their citizenship.”
Federal Court Justice Ann Marie McDonald ruled last year that a delegate of federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale failed to consider the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in arriving at her decision to refer Abdi’s case to a deportation hearing.
McDonald also noted the delegate was required to weigh the objectives of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act with the values of the charter, and that her decision was unreasonable.
Abdi’s deportation hearing was stayed by Goodale. The court ruling resulted in changes to Nova Scotia’s child welfare rules.
Abdoul Abdi’s sister, Fatuma Abdoul, said she believed the resolution of her brother’s case last year meant former child refugees without citizenship would no longer face deportation for criminal activity.
“Obviously, nothing has changed,” she said. “We’re making a plea for (Elmi) and trying to save his life.”
Elmi’s supporters say he should also be granted a reprieve because he faces “certain death” in Somalia, where he has no relatives and doesn’t understand the language.
Jones confirmed refugee groups have joined forces to file a judicial review of Elmi’s case.
“No one is saying that he didn’t commit criminal acts,” she said. “We’re saying that the payment for that should be prison and not deportation.”
Elmi arrived in Canada in 1994 at the age of 10 and was granted refugee status, but he was taken into foster care when he was 13 and was living on the streets by 16. Suffering from substance abuse issues, he got in trouble with the law and was charged with assault-related offences.
By Tuesday afternoon, an online petition had posted more than 3,400 names. The change.org site includes a letter from Elmi, in which he says alcohol had clouded his thinking.
“My future has been just living day to day in a cell, year after year,” he wrote.
“This is not life at all. I want to be a better person … I know that I have made a lot of mistakes in my life that I can’t take back and I am not a bad person. I am a kind, helpful, and loving person.”
Robert Wright, a prominent Halifax social worker, said Canada has an obligation under the charter and international law to protect the rights of vulnerable children.