Judge reserves decision at emergency hearing on Abdoul Abdi deportation case

The former child refugee from Somalia spent years bouncing between Nova Scotia foster and group homes. The province never got him his Canadian citizenship, and now he faces deportation because of violent crimes he's committed.

Former child refugee from Somalia spent years in Nova Scotia foster and group homes

Abdoul Abdi is now living in a Toronto halfway house. He was paroled after serving prison time for crimes including aggravated assault. (Evan Mitsui/CBCNews)

An emergency hearing was held in a Halifax courtroom this morning to determine whether deportation proceedings should be halted against a former child refugee from Somalia.

The request follows the refusal by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to pause a deportation hearing — scheduled for next month — while the Federal Court hears a constitutional challenge to the decision to deport 24-year-old Abdoul Abdi.

The judge reserved his decision, but said he will rule before the upcoming Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) hearing on March 7, which will determine whether Abdi should be deported. 

"If the deportation hearing proceeds, there will be no consideration of the merits of his case. He has to automatically lose his right to work and his right to health care at this key time in his rehabilitation efforts in Canada," said Abdi's lawyer, Benjamin Perryman.

Abdi came to Nova Scotia with his aunts and sister when he was six. He spent his childhood bouncing between 31 different group and foster homes.

Abdoul Abdi came to Nova Scotia with his sister and aunts from Somalia when he was just six years old. (Submitted by Benjamin Perryman)

Nova Scotia's Department of Community Services was responsible for applying for Abdi's citizenship on his behalf, but did not. He is currently a permanent resident of Canada. 

The federal government now wants to send Abdi back to Somalia because of his criminal history and because he's not a Canadian citizen.

He was released from prison in January after serving four and a half years on charges including aggravated assault.

In Perryman's submissions before Justice Keith Boswell, he said his client admits he committed serious crimes, but that Abdi has served his sentence and has been deemed ready for rehabilitation. 

Benjamin Perryman, Abdoul Abdi's lawyer, said the deportation order would mean Abdi can no longer work — one of the condition's of his release from prison. (Robert Short/CBC)

​Abdi, who is currently on statutory release and living in a halfway house in Toronto, was not at the emergency hearing this morning in Federal Court in Halifax. He is working with a program for youth who are in care in Toronto. 

One of Abdi's statutory release conditions is that he have a job. Violating the conditions could mean his return to prison. 

Addressing the court, Boswell said it is "probably likely" that Abdi's hearing would result in a deportation order, but that it is not a certainty. 

Federal prosecutor Heidi Collicutt told the court Abdi is "prematurely" anticipating a negative outcome at the March 7 admissibility hearing.

She told court the IRB has a mandated duty to hear matters "without delay." She added even if there is a ruling against him, Abdi has some options. Measures such as a temporary work permit could be granted, she said.

People rally in support of Abdoul Abdi at a demonstration in Halifax in January. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

But Perryman told reporters Abdi should not have to fight to regain his ability to work.

"All of these take a significant amount of time and energy," Perryman said. "I think from Mr. Abdi's perspective, he wants to try to reintegrate into Canada, go to work as he is today in Toronto."

"He doesn't want to be spending his time going through bureaucratic processes to try to regain a status that he should have had in the first place. Because Mr. Abdi should be a Canadian citizen, and would be a Canadian citizen if he hadn't been failed by multiple governments." 

Order would strip Abdi of permanent residency

The upcoming IRB admissibility hearing is one that is held when the Canada Border Services Agency believes a person should not enter or stay in Canada. The immigration board decides independently whether a person can enter or remain in the country.

In this case, Perryman said, the board has little leeway because current legislation dictates that non-citizens sentenced to more than six months behind bars are to be deported.

A deportation order doesn't mean Abdi would be immediately sent to Somalia. The government would first have to weigh the dangers of that country versus the threat Abdi posed in Canada.

"The facts of this case and Mr. Abdi's experiences as a child in care are deplorable. He grew up in a very unstable and unsettled environment. And that doesn't justify his criminal conduct, but it does help to explain how he got here," Perryman said.

Perryman said if the request to pause the deportation hearing is denied by the Federal Court, there is no recourse available for Abdi to appeal a deportation order issued by the Immigration and Refugee Board.

Abdi's sister, Fatouma Abdi, pictured at a rally in January, said the situation is stressful, but she remains optimistic. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

Fatouma Abdi, Abdoul Abdi's sister, told reporters outside court her brother is doing well in Toronto. 

"He likes his job, and he hopes to help the youths that he's helping right now not be in the same situation that we both are in," she said.

She added that she is optimistic after today's hearing. 

"It's very stressful, but I have hope. I hope that they correct their mistake and they don't go forward with this deportation." 

The courtroom was full of Abdi's supporters on Thursday morning, including Rev. Elias Mutale of the African Diaspora Association of the Maritimes. 

"We want to show our strength for Abdoul," Mutale said. "He has not had a chance in this country. And as a child who came and was subjected to the difficulties he went through, he really is a wonderful case for Canada's humanitarian compassionate policy."