Nova Scotia will be reviewing the cases of children who are in the care of the province and don't have citizenship, Premier Stephen McNeil said Tuesday as the province is being criticized for its handling of the case of Abdoul Abdi.
Abdi is a 23-year-old former child refugee who came to Nova Scotia at the age of six, along with his aunts and sister, and is now facing deportation to his native Somalia due to a criminal record and a lack of Canadian citizenship.
Abdi spent much of his childhood in the care of the province and shuffled between 31 foster homes, according to his lawyer Benjamin Perryman, and Nova Scotia's Department of Community Services never applied for him to become a Canadian citizen.
Abdi was recently released from prison after serving time on charges that include aggravated assault. He is currently being detained on immigration grounds by the Canada Border Services Agency and could be deported despite having no remaining ties to war-torn Somalia.
"There will be a complete review of not only this case, but any cases that would require the kind of support that … I'm hearing about with this particular gentleman," said McNeil, who didn't specify what exactly the review would do.
"I've asked — not specific to this case but all children in care — what are the options that we are providing and laying out to all children in care, and then it is up to those children as they grow into teenage years to decide whether or not they take advantage of those options."
The premier also said he doesn't know the specific details of Abdi's case, but when a child is in the province's custody, it has a duty to provide a safe and nurturing environment.
Children in care are offered a "myriad" of support options, he said, but didn't detail what those are.
McNeil also said the province can't force children to obtain citizenship.
"We can't force a child … I don't think you would want the government to be forcing something upon a particular [or] any citizen," he said.
McNeil said the province provides people with support and the options to gain citizenship, but it's up to the individual to make that decision.
Abdi was released from prison last Thursday and was on his way to a halfway house when he was met at the gates by CBSA officials, Perryman said.
"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.
Prime minister weighs in
At a town hall in Hamilton on Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said child-protection officials made a mistake in not helping Abdi get his citizenship.
He said the situation shows the need to have an immigration system that's fair to everyone, but also "leaves room for compassion and for reflecting on individual cases and for making judgment calls around how we move forward in the right way," according to a transcript of his remarks.
Trudeau said he's confident Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, who also came to Canada as a refugee from Somalia, would make the right decision in the case.
Abdi's 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, she said, as well as nephews and nieces who miss him.