Members of Canada's Somali community are expressing outrage that Somalia's new police commissioner is a former Canadian refugee claimant who was identified by Ottawa in 2011 as a suspected war criminal.

Mohamed Hassan Ismail Farah came to Canada via the United States in 1991 following the downfall of the Siad Barre government. In Canada, he filed a refugee claim based on fear of being persecuted “because of his clan membership and his employment in the Somali Police Force under the Barre regime.”

Mohamed Urdoh Somalia author

Mohamed Urdoh, the Toronto-based Somali-Canadian author of The Tree on the Moon, recounts war crimes committed in Somalia by the Siad Barre regime in his writings. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

“It’s very shocking, I can’t believe it,” said Mohamed Urdoh, a Toronto-based Somali-Canadian author and journalist specializing in human rights research.

Farah "was involved in activities which led to extortion, to executions, to forcing people to sign false confessions and oppressing ordinary citizens,” said Urdoh, who was one of the researchers involved in CBC’s the fifth estate 1992 documentary Crimes Against Humanity, which exposed Farah’s history as an interrogator in Somalia.

Federal court documents show that after reviewing his claim for asylum, the Immigration Refugee Board concluded Farah “had been responsible for the ruthless torture of prisoners.”

In 1993, the board excluded him from protection as “there were serious reasons for considering that he had committed a crime against humanity.”

Although Farah was slated for removal from Canada, he was not deported. There is also no clear evidence that he continued to reside here. However, in 2011, the Canada Border Service Agency named Farah among a group of 30 men who had allegedly "violated human or international rights under the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act or under international law."

CBSA wanted list

The CBSA did not provide information on when Farah’s profile was taken down from the wanted list. A spokesperson for the border agency explained that a profile is removed from its "Wanted by the CBSA" website “30 days after an individual’s apprehension or location abroad.”  

The CBSA’s decision to name and identify suspects in 2011 generated controversy, with critics and human rights advocates calling it a violation of individual rights and international law.

Last December, Canada’s privacy commissioner said the CBSA misled the public by labelling all the people on its list as war criminals. CBC News did not publish the names or photos of the individuals on the wanted list at the time.

In a meeting held in Toronto's east end this week, members of the Somali-Canadian community gathered to express their shock at Farah's appointment.

“We represent thousands of innocent souls that have been killed and thousands more who are suffering today from atrocities done by the brutal regime of Siad Barre,” said Hassan Guled, who chaired the session in Scarborough.  

Saeed Sheikh Mohamed, whose 14-year-old brother was one of several young school boys arrested and tortured in February 1982 under the Barre regime, told CBC News he is dismayed by the news.

“I feel sad to hear that somebody who tortured my people could be nominated in a high ranking position in the government … that’s unbelievable, it’s something that we cannot accept at all," Mohamed said.

He added his family was lucky because his brother was not killed.

“They were tortured, sometimes throwing them in water, sometimes beating them. He lost one or two of his front teeth,” recalled Mohamed of his brother and his friends.

PM's Canadian connection

Farah was appointed to the position of police commissioner by Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed, who holds dual Somali and Canadian citizenship. The appointment followed last month's series of attacks to the presidential palace in Mogadishu by Islamist al-Shabab militants who managed to penetrate the heavily fortified compound.

Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed Somalia prime minister

Somalia's Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed, who holds dual Somali and Canadian citizenship, appointed Mohamed Hassan Ismail Farah as police commissioner following last month's series of attacks to the presidential palace in Mogadishu by al-Shabaab militants. (Ismail Taxta/Reuters)

The recent attacks in Somalia are a part of increasing instability in the region, as Islamic extremist groups gain more traction.

Yusuf Mohamed Hasan, the editor of Somaliland Sun, based in Somaliland, says that Canada should take a leadership role in opposing the appointment of Farah — as both he and the prime minister who appointed him have Canadian roots.

“This Somali government is propped up by the international community, it is not an elected government,” says Hasan and adds that international support for a dysfunctional government could result in groups like Al Shabab gaining more support from people disillusioned with those in power.

Meanwhile in Toronto, many Somali-Canadians held little hope that the Canadian government will respond to their plight.

“I hope that something comes out of this meeting,” said Elmi Gasobe, whose older sister was arrested and detained among a group of nurses by the Barre regime to prevent them from providing medical aid to the insurgency.  

“Even if the Canadian government doesn’t do what its supposed to do, we will do what we’re supposed to do," Gasobe said.

"We’ll continue to track those criminals and bring attention to what they have done.”