A 23-year-old former refugee from Somalia waited in a segregated cell in New Brunswick Tuesday night as about two dozen of his supporters called attention to his case at the prime minister's town hall in Lower Sackville, N.S.
Abdoul Abdi came to Nova Scotia at the age of six, along with his aunts and sister, but spent much of his childhood in the care of the province and shuffled among foster homes.
Nova Scotia's Department of Community Services never applied for him to become a Canadian citizen, and he's now facing possible deportation because of his criminal past, according to his lawyer Benjamin Perryman.
Abdi, who was recently released from prison after serving time for charges including aggravated assault, is currently being detained on immigration grounds by the Canada Border Services Agency.
His supporters want government officials to release Abdi, let him stay in the country he's spent much of his life in and overhaul how non-citizen children are dealt with.
Abdi and his sister were almost immediately taken into the care of the province when they arrived in 2000.
"I don't think it's right," said Abdi's older sister Fatouma Abdi. "The government didn't get us our Canadian citizenship and now they're trying to give my brother a death sentence. If he goes back home, he will get killed."
Re-arrested on Thursday
Perryman said his client pleaded guilty to the charges and served roughly four years in prison. He was released on Thursday and was on his way to a halfway house, but was met at the gates by CBSA officials.
"He is responsible for those crimes and is serving his sentence. But Canada has a responsibility for its part in creating this person, for its part in making this person vulnerable," said Perryman.
That responsibility includes the fact that Abdi was shuffled between 31 different homes while in the protection of child services, said Perryman.
A spokesperson for the Office of the Minister of Public Safety declined an interview and said it could not comment on specific cases due to privacy reasons.
Children fall through cracks
"He's completely made in Canada, and he's made by the neglect and abandonment of a Canadian system, and this very system is the same one that's going to remove him," said Julie Chamagne, executive director of the Halifax Refugee Clinic.
She said Abdi is not the only child to have fallen through the cracks, and she wants the Department of Community Services to take a serious look at how it treats non-citizen children.
'We need to acknowledge and examine our role in these oppressive systems here in Canada...' - Julie Chamagne, Halifax Refugee Clinic
"We need to acknowledge and examine our role in these oppressive systems here in Canada that traumatize and marginalize and criminalize especially Indigenous, black and racialized youth and then punish them unduly," she said.
A spokesperson for the Department of Community Services said it cannot comment on specific cases due to confidentiality.
In an email, Bruce Nunn said placing newly arrived children into care "would be a very rare occurrence in Nova Scotia."
He said the department is developing policy right now related to children who aren't Canadian citizens.
'It's hell,' says sister
Fatouma Abdi said there's nothing back in Somalia for her brother, who doesn't speak the language or have family there.
Abdi has a daughter, and his sister said he has nephews and nieces who miss him.
"It's hell," she said. "I worry every day what's going to happen, and I feel helpless because no one wants to listen. So I'm here today to try to get Justin Trudeau to listen and everyone else to listen."
Perryman said Abdi's first attempt to get out of detention failed on Monday, and that he's had very limited contact with his client.
"I did speak with him yesterday, and he reported to me that his conditions are terrible, and that from his perspective, he would be better off to be back in jail. He doesn't understand why he's being treated in this fashion," he said.