Ottawa

Feds deny Ottawa Somali centre funding claiming it's not Black enough

Leaders with Ottawa's Somali Centre for Family Services, which is run and managed entirely by Black people, say they can no longer trust Employment and Social Development Canada after the federal department rejected the centre's funding application for not being sufficiently Black-led.

Minister calls reason for rejection 'completely unacceptable'

Mohamoud Hagi-Aden, founder of the Somali Center for Family Services in Ottawa, said the reasoning for the rejection left him in disbelief. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Leaders of a Somali organization in Ottawa say their relationship with Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) has been severely damaged after the department rejected its funding application by arguing it's not Black enough.

"At this day and age, to come across something like that was very, very, very shock[ing] and somewhat uncalled for," said Mohamoud Hagi-Aden, one of the founders of the Somali Centre for Family Services. The centre is among hundreds of organizations the government rejected, claiming they failed to meet its Black leadership criteria. 

Hagi-Aden said he was in disbelief when he read the rejection letter, which claimed his organization was not sufficiently led by Black people. The centre's founders, management and board are all of Somali background, according to the centre.

"The people who have been making these decisions [are] either from another planet, or they're not from the [Black] community," he said.

The letter recently sent by my department to unsuccessful applicants for funding was completely unacceptable.- Families, Children and Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen

Executive director Abdirizak Karod applied last summer for the federal funding, called the Supporting Black Canadian Communities Initiative, after learning it was for Black groups looking to improve their work and community spaces. He said he wanted to use the funding to buy laptops for clients so they can access services and training remotely, as well as refurbishing the organization's 28-year-old office building.

The funding guidelines say the groups must be focused on serving Black communities, and that at least two-thirds of the leadership and governance structure must be made up of people who self-identify as Black. 

"I got an email saying our organization is not a Black-led organization," Karod said. "I didn't believe that what I [saw]. And believe me, I read it three times." 

Abdirizak Karod applied for the Supporting Black Canadian Communities Initiative funding last summer. His application was rejected this month. (Somali Centre for Family Services/Facebook)

A letter to the centre dated Jan. 12 states that "information provided did not meet this eligibility criteria or was insufficient to clearly demonstrate that the organization is led and governed by people who self-identify as Black."

A second letter was sent the next day to correct the first letter. It said the group was rejected because "ESDC did not receive the information required to move forward with your application."

"They never tell us why we got rejected. They never tell us anything," Karod said, explaining how he answered all the questions on the application. 

"How we can trust this department again?" he asked. "I can't trust them.... It was not an honest mistake."

Letter 'completely unacceptable': Minister

ESDC declined an interview with CBC News, pointing instead to the minister's Twitter thread.

"The letter recently sent by my department to unsuccessful applicants for funding was completely unacceptable," Families, Children and Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen tweeted. "As soon as it was presented to me, I quickly demanded a retraction and met with my officials to discuss how such a mistake could have happened in the first place."

Hussen, who was born in Somalia, said he will "make sure it never happens again," and vowed to work with Black-led organizations to improve.

 

But the statement isn't good enough, according to Hagi-Aden.

"How will [ESDC] repair the damage they've done to the Black community? We have so many barriers and so many difficulties," he said. "The trust that we had in the system has been so severely damaged."


For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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