Toronto MP Ahmed Hussen 1st Somali-Canadian appointed to federal cabinet

He was the first Somali-Canadian to become a member of parliament. Now, York South-Weston Liberal MP Ahmed Hussen has broken another barrier: he's been appointed as immigration minister.

Somali-Canadians celebrate Hussen's appointment as immigration minister

Canada's first Somali-born MP is the new Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister. Ahmed Hussen takes over from another Toronto-area MP John McCallum. (CBC News)

He was the first Somali-Canadian to become a federal Member of Parliament, and now many in the GTA's Somali community are celebrating as York South-Weston Liberal MP Ahmed Hussen has broken another barrier: he's been appointed as Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.

"It's a really great thing to happen to our community," said Mahad Yusef, the executive director of the Somali Immigrant Aid Association. "It's something that we really needed, not just for the Somali community, but for the whole black community."

Hussen's appointment was announced Tuesday in Ottawa by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as part of an extensive cabinet shuffle. He replaces John McCallum, the veteran MP representing Markham-Thornhill, who will become Canada's ambassador to China. 

Hussen, 41, knows the challenging path to citizenship first-hand; he came to Canada as a 16-year-old refugee from Somalia in 1993.

"Each of us coming into public life are informed ... by the different experiences they bring to the table." Hussen told reporters in Ottawa Tuesday.

"I'm no different in that sense. I'll bring my experience as an immigrant to Canada but also as an immigration lawyer — someone who worked many, many years before running for office as a community activist, a community organizer and a community advocate."

When asked Tuesday if the idea of immigration and taking in refugees is something that needs defending these days in light of the election of Donald Trump in the U.S. and the Brexit vote in Britain, Hussen said Canada is showing the way when it comes to welcoming immigrants.

"I'm extremely proud of the fact that Canadians have always been welcoming to others, people who've sought asylum and ... we've been the better for it. The story of Canada is the story of immigration." 

Mahad Yusef agrees that Hussen's roots in the city's Somali community will be useful in his ministerial duties.

"Ahmed will share his knowledge and expertise and his lived experience. He understands the challenges. He understands the opportunities and he's been, for many years, advocating for immigration issues," said Yusef, who has known Hussen since he settled in Canada. "My feeling is our community is honoured that we have representation in cabinet." 

People who know Hussen said he brings visibility to the Somali Canadian community with this appointment. (CBC News)

Before jumping into politics Hussen was a lawyer, political activist and the national president of the Canadian Somali Congress.

He was also appointed by former prime minister Steven Harper to the Cross Cultural Roundtable on Security — a post he held until 2012. The roundtable was established to create a dialogue between Canadians and the federal government on matters related to national security and the federal government. The roundtable reported to the minister responsible for crafting Bill C-51, the controversial anti-terrorism bill.

Community organizer, Hawa Mire said she's concerned the new Immigration Minister's participation in the former Conservative government's Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security negatively impacted the Somali community. (Hawa Mire )

That concerns Hawa Mire, a Somali community organizer who lives in Hussen's riding. She's worried that Hussen was involved in creating legislation or policies that negatively impact Somalis in Canada.

"We're also talking about how this particular person, who we're holding up as a representation of our community, has also been engaged in programs and practices that are deeply destructive to the most vulnerable in our community," she told CBC Toronto.

Billeh Hamud said the news that his law school colleague Ahmed Hussen has been appointed to PM Justin Trudeau's cabinet is great encouragement for the Somali community. (Courtesy: Hamudlaw)

A former University of Ottawa law school colleague said Hussen has been a role model to Somali youth. Billeh Hamud said when he was setting up his own labour, employment and human rights law practice, Hussen was there to give advice and guidance.

"He's a Canadian. He represents everyone, so he just happens to be Somali," said Hamud. "He just has to be himself, just maintain the hard work he's been doing for a long time."