International Day on the Elimination of Racism

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

“You don't acknowledge an injustice and then refuse to do anything about it”:

In Conversation with El Jones Against the Pending Deportation
of Former Child Refugee Abdoul Abdi

Overview: The following is a transcript between activist, scholar and poet, El Jones, and students of CRIM 4133: International and Comparative Criminal Justice, St. Thomas University, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice instructed by Professor Josephine L. Savarese.

El Jones phoned in from Antigonish, Nova Scotia where she was about to deliver a lecture.   The class proceeded through a questions and answer format. The students were writing out cards for Abdoul during the phone call. El could see their work through Skype.

The Questions and Answers


I don't know a whole lot about you, El. I know you're a poet and an activist. Is it possible to learn a little bit more about your background?

El Jones:

In terms of the activist part, I do a lot of work with prison activism. In fact, I'm going to have to let you go in about 10 minutes. I'm sitting outside a building at St FX where  I'm about to go lecture.

I do a lot of work with people who are incarcerated, but from a community perspective, not sanctioned work by the prison system, work that’s outside of that. We have a radio show that we offer in the provincial prison. [Note: Black Power Hour broadcasts once a week out of CKDU, at Dalhousie University in Halifax. The show's goal is to empower people of colour, but specifically those inside Nova Scotia jails, where Black and Indigenous people are vastly overrepresented.]

We do a lot of community support. That’s how Abdoul knew my name, for example, before I connected with him. Abdoul used to listen to our radio show when he was on remand provincially. I am also involved in general activism work, community advocacy, stuff like that.


Can you tell us why you’re involved in the case?

El Jones:

There’s actually a bit of historical interaction. Do you remember the case of Ashley Smith?

Ashley Smith was a young woman who died inside of a Grand Valley institution ten years ago last year. She had a lot of mental health problems. She was initially imprisoned as a youth for throwing apples at a probation officer and then while inside youth prison she just kept racking up these small charges, so they just essentially kept keeping her in prison. Ashley Smith’s nephew, Jordan Ward, is the person that connects me to Abdoul’s case.

Jordan is himself also doing time. I don’t think he minds if I say this. He has some addiction struggles. In fact, it was quite shocking when he got incarcerated. He had robbed a pharmacy with a pen or something, which they called a weapon. They ended up giving him a federal sentence even though he had gone to rehab, even though he was attending school and holding a job.

He is the person that reaches out and basically says: “You have to do something for Abdoul”. They are doing time together and Abdoul’s sentence is winding down.  Abdoul has been alerted that he is under deportation orders.  Jordan very much felt for [Abdoul’s distress]. He reached out to his mother and to me and asked us to do something in about November 2017.

I connected with Abdoul from there. Jordan had to put him on the phone while he was making calls. In December, it just happens that I heard from Abdoul. We held a meeting at the Halifax Refugee Clinic with Ben Perryman, who is his lawyer, and Emma Halpern who is now with the Elizabeth Fry Society.

After that meeting, Julie Chamagne, Halifax Refugee Clinic, says: “Ahmed Hussen, who is the Minister of Immigration and Citizenship, gave a TED Talk where he actually acknowledged his experience as a Somali refugee claimant”. I get home from that event on Friday and I'm attending this event called the National Black Summit on Monday. I look at the schedule and Ahmed Hussen is on the schedule. I've literally just had a conversation about him. Desmond Cole, a journalist in Toronto, who had previously done a story on Abdoul and had been on the radio show, and I decided to confront the Minister at the National Black Summit. That was the first set of public actions. That was at the beginning of December 2017.

When asked about Abdoul’s family relationships. El responded as follows:

El Jones:
I can't speak for Abdoul, but having spoken to him, I know that something he'd like to prioritize, but it's been difficult.

And of course, this is part of all of these systems, right? He's taken from his family and placed into foster care. Him and his sister remain close, but they are separated in homes at many points.

In many ways they have to fight to maintain that closeness. Fatouma, his sister, told me that they used to run away to see each other. One of the contacts Abdoul had with the police is stealing a car from a family when he was eleven and driving around the city looking for his sister.

Fatouma, his sister, has also told me that the reason why they don't speak their language is because when they were first put into group homes, they were punished for speaking Somali. So they were put on time-out if they were speaking with each other, because the view was “oh, you guys are probably plotting to escape”. They would be punished for speaking Somali.

That relationship has already been difficult enough. Just the brother and sister keeping a relationship, and of course they were taken from the aunt who identifies as his mother. That is also a challenging relationship. You see in this next generation of the kids those kids who are losing their parents through incarceration or through contact with child protection services. You see this really cyclical nature that once people get involved in these systems, it goes generation to generation to generation, You see this repeatedly with kids who are in contact with the youth system or with the foster care system or people who are in contact with incarceration, that it goes into the next generation.

Particularly, once you have a criminal record, they'll show up at the hospital, child protection will show up to either monitor you or surveil over you or take your child. You're seeing that in Abdoul’s case as well.


Abdoul is really Canadian. He spent the majority of his life here. The time that he spent in Somalia - he wasn't old enough to remember it in the first place. As a Canadian citizen trying to adapt to that culture and that type of society [he will struggle];that came up as a large point for us in class.

El Jones:
Yeah, it’s quite complex. Abdoul has never lived in Somalia. He was born in Saudi Arabia. His mother was Somali; I don't think his father is.

There's quite a bit of confusion about his origins. It matters because there's a clan system in Somalia. It’s:  1) he doesn’t speak the language and 2) he is not a practicing Muslim and has things like tattoos that physically identify you as not a practicing Muslim.

He is visibly North American, which is a huge problem. He doesn't have a clan relationship because that runs through the father. It is also a problem in Saudi Arabia. The government has said that they might try to deport Abdoul to Saudi Arabia. However, you can live in Saudi Arabia for generations and not be a Saudi citizen. Your father has to be a Saudi citizen. It’s unclear if he even has citizenship in Saudi Arabia, but he also was not born in Somalia, so he may be stateless. Abdoul has none of the very necessary clan ties and stuff. Even were he to speak the language, you need those ties as well.

This is actually one of the human rights issues in the case. I know that Ben Perryman [Abdoul’s lawyer] has been pursuing that issue in terms of finding out about that system because it is key for safety, for jobs, for being able to access resources in Somalia. Abdoul simply doesn't have that.

Essentially it would be subjecting him to a very insecure and unsafe life going into those circumstances?

El Jones:

Even in the best circumstances, he has no family there, no language, none of the culture. And then on top of that, people know that people are deportees and they know that deportation happens for a reason. It's very dangerous also for those deportees. There are cases of people being sort of lined up on the runway and shot because people argue “we don't want you here, you know?”

People know that these are the kind of people that our countries, “our countries”, I'm putting that in quotes, didn't want. That's very precarious as well. Somalia is on our list as one of the most dangerous countries. They get around that is by saying that only certain parts of Somalia are too dangerous. They deport into certain areas. In fact, the border agents aren't able to even go into Somalia. They actually drop them off at the border and pay human traffickers to take them across.


That's what I was going to say. Certain parts– it’s only certain parts that are unsafe, yet Canada won't even go into Somalia as a whole.

El Jones:

Of course, our Minister of Immigration is a refugee claimant from Somalia. He usually refers to himself as a refugee, but he wasn't a government sponsored refugee. He was a refugee claimant, meaning that he arrived so called “illegally”. I don't ascribe to these ideas of people being illegal. But by his own system, Canada’s immigration system, he came illegally to Canada. He made a refugee claim based on “a well-founded fear of persecution”, requirement under the law. His life was in danger and that claim was accepted by Canada.

Our own Minister of Immigration, Citizenship, and Refugees claims Canadian status based on it being too dangerous for him to go to Somalia. And of course, the Minister had family there, right? He has much more support than Abdoul would have in Somalia. He spoke Somali, he was from Somalia, whereas Abdoul is not. That's one of coincidences of this system: that we literally have an Immigration Minister who himself is a claimant based on the dangers of Somalia.

It is Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale that is mostly in charge of this, overseeing the system where a deportation could happen to a country he can’t  go to.


What's somethings you think are really important to be shared on the news and social media.?

El Jones:

I think the most important piece– the most strategic pieces are around the foster care, right? Because [this factor] makes his case unique.

Canada deports people all the time. You only have to have six months of incarceration before you're eligible for deportation. In Abdoul’s case, the state was supposed to get him citizenship. When Ben Perryman, the lawyer, does a freedom of information request, it turns out that there's a policy gap. They don't have any policy on seeking citizenship on behalf of children in case and they don't anticipate closing that until 2019.

These kids are essentially in limbo. The government is acknowledging that there's a failure– they will all say that. Trudeau said that after Fatouma confronted him at a Town Hall Meeting. When Abdoul’s sister got up in front of Trudeau at the Town Hall Meeting in early January and said, “Why are you deporting my brother? Would you deport your own son?” Trudeau says the province failed Abdoul.

Minister Hussen said that recently at a Town Hall he held in Halifax. They all acknowledge it, but at the same time they are sort of shrugging their shoulders and saying, “We failed, but…” Abdul continues to be punished for a failure that isn't his own failure; it was a failure of the system.  

These kids are taken into care to, so called, “protect” them, but they've been denied the protection of the most basic rights. If you don't have citizenship, you're being denied, as Ben would put it, the right to even have rights.

It’s difficult because, of course, he did commit a violent crime. So, for a lot of people, that's: well, he's a criminal, so ship him out or let him go. The point we always make with that is Aboul did his time. He took responsibility, he was accountable, he's paid the price and had everything happen as it should have in terms of his citizenship. He would now be rebuilding his life like any other person who serves time, because many Canadian citizens, also commit crimes, right?

This kind of way of being declared a public danger was initially developed for things like murderers, drive-by shootings, gang activity and is now being applied to small things. They’re using quite a broad brush to paint people as public dangers, which then allows them to go through this whole system.

The other point that Ben Perryman is making is the lack of process. Every time Abdoul’s case gets heard in federal court, he's winning, but CBSA doesn't follow those processes. All they have to do is say that you committed a crime and you're not a citizen and that's basically an automatic triggering of these processes and that's how you lose your admissibility. But Ben's pointing out there's all these other issues of the Charter, the rights of minors. There are issues in international law which involves, under the UN, for example, an obligation to provide special protection to non-citizen children and care. These issues aren't even being heard under the border services proceedings. They literally like, “OK, so did you commit a violent crime? Yes. Are you a citizen? No. OK, so deport”. There's very serious human rights issues that are being addressed here that the processes that are in place essentially don't address. One of the things I'm pushing for is to have this case heard in court where the issues can be given a full hearing by an actual judge and not this very automatic process that doesn't take any of these things into account.

The other thing is, of course, Abdoul has a job now and the admissibility hearing will strip him of that ability to hold his job, which is also a condition in his parole. His job is actually working with kids in care and working with policy makers, in particular, to address what we call crossover, which is the phenomenon of the kids moving between the youth justice– the foster care system and the criminal justice system. Essentially they're saying, “there is this failure of the system, we didn't address these problems. Abdoul's in a job where he's in a position to address this and they want to strip him of that job”.

When does Abdoul get a chance? He's not given a chance as a child; he’s sent to thirty-one homes, he only has a great six education. He's failed in all these ways. Nobody gives him therapy or mental health care. The failures go on and on and now having sent him to prison, having done his time, we can't even allow him the chance to just hold the job, reconnect to his child and live his life. We have to continue punishing him. He's being punished, not even double, he gets prison and deportation and then this sort of triple punishment of losing his healthcare and losing his status and losing his rights.

It’s unfortunate that the language of the law is so broad and then specific and essentially like when you said: “have you committed a crime, are you a citizen, OK, deported,” Like it doesn't take in considerations and it doesn't necessarily have to be. That’s what’s sad about it. It's like so broad and generalized that, I don't know, It's hard, like it's hard when people have these situations and it's often not heard or taken into consideration.

El Jones:

I guess the last thing I'll say is, Minister Hussen did acknowledge and use the words “anti-blackness” to describe what has happened, because we know black kids are disproportionately taken into care. We know black kids are failed in care so they don't receive culturally competent care. They’re criminalized within care. For example, the police might be called if you roll your eyes at a worker, so they’re criminalized. Within that, they experience very high rates of crossover into the criminal justice system and then of course become criminalized in the immigration system as well. And so he uses this word anti-black racism to accurately describe this. This is a very representative case of the way black kids are failed by Canada, but then essentially he's like, but we're not doing anything.

So, this is one of the things we're saying -  you can't say it's anti-black racism and then stand back. You don't acknowledge an injustice and then refuse to do anything about it. If you can name this as anti- black racism, obviously then, you need to stop what you're doing. That's been one of the infuriating things. This word is being thrown around: anti-black racism, which Abdoul absolutely exemplifies, but then people have basically been saying, “oh well, it's anti- black racism”. As if saying it means anything.

What are the chances that he won't be deported,  in your personal opinion?

El Jones:
I think they are good. My reading of Minister Hussen’s appearance in the Town Hall, was that he more or less promised us, without promising, he more or less said: When I have the chance to do a compassionate intervention. I, you know, have that opportunity. But uh, that's– the average time for those appeals is 2-3 years, and the problem is that in that time you completely without status, so you cannot work, you cannot access healthcare, you’re not eligible for school funding. Like all of these things prevent you from having any kind of status, so I don't actually believe he'll get deported. I have quite a lot of faith that he won't. It's just been too serious of a case, but the issue is why we have to wait for things to hit that critical point when it's a clear human rights issue. Why do we have to make him suffer for three years when there's clear issues of human rights involved?

El Jones:

I will say that we encourage people [to make changes]. The tweeting, the writing letters, it does help; it keeps the pressure on.  Anything to keep this on the Minister's radar so they know that Canadians are serious about this.

Thank you for really caring about this issue. It means a lot to Abdoul. He follows everything online as well. So, um, he sees when people tweet about him, he sees what people post about him. Um, and when people aren't, he also sees that. So, to just keep up that kind of publicity and that support for Abdoul is really important. It is very, very difficult for him. We encourage people to visibly express support so that he knows what's going on.


These are the letters that we're writing: “There is a warm meal and a hug for you in Fredericton, Abdoul”. “No justice, no peace”. “We the people are behind you”. “We are with you”. “Be Strong”. “Hang in there”. “Thinking about you and wishing you the best”.

El Jones

These are wonderful. He will really appreciate that. One of the stories he tells me, one of the first times I speak to him after he comes out of prison, he talks about being held in immigration detention and he's in a cell and the cell is just covered in the names and dates of people, we'll say like: 2006 January 16th, and a name and he realizes that it's, the names of people who have been deported. To Abdoul, they read as his death date and he just imagined his name going on this wall. He thinks of himself as being in a tomb or in his own grave because he sees being deported as a state beyond death.

He believes he won't be remembered when this happens, that he'll fall off the face of the earth. He asked me if I'd even remember he existed once he's deported. This is one reason why we feel acknowledging him and recognizing him is so important so that he knows that he is a human being, that he has value and people recognize him.

Thank you so much.

Everyone, in response:

Thank you so much!!

Submitted by Professor Josephine L. Savarese

Josephine L. Savarese is an Associate Professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at St Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Her most recent publication is on activism after deaths in custody.  It is: “Leaving a Light on for Ash: Explorations into the Activist Mothering of Coralee Smith (Mother of Ashley Smith, 1988-2007),” Journal of the Motherhood Initiative for Research & Community Involvement 8, no.  1/2 (2017): 99.

The interview with El Jones was transcribed by Joshua Sallos, a student at St. Thomas University.

Update From El Jones: 19 March 2018

 Abdoul returns to court on March 21st, which is also the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. This day is recognized in remembrance of the Sharpeville Massacre in South Africa, where Black South Africans were protesting the pass laws.

Leading up to March 21st, challenge Canada on how anti-Black racism is active in Abdoul's case, perpetuated through the child welfare system, the youth justice system, the criminal justice system, and the immigration system.

We can draw a direct continuum between our comrades in South Africa and Abdoul today. Just as Black South Africans were treated as non-citizens in their own country, Abdoul, despite being raised in Canada and considering himself Canadian, is treated by our government as though he doesn't belong here. Black South Africans were removed from their homes just as Abdoul was taken away from his home.

Paperwork and law was used to control, criminalize and surveil Black South Africans, just as Abdoul today is a victim of process, of paperwork undone, and is subject to check-in and surveillance. The laws may not be as explicit, but the anti-Black racism, the stripping of rights, the control of movement are all being experienced today by Abdoul in Canada - a Canada that specifically targets Black bodies as a danger, as not really Canadian, and as a contamination upon the "good" whiteness of Canada.

Ask Canada to uphold our duties under international law to non-citizen children in care. Recognize that eliminating racism means that Abdoul cannot be disposable, and that continuing to victimize and abuse him through the courts marks a complete failure of justice and human rights. To strip Abdoul of his residency on the 21st is a terrible irony, and puts into stark relief the difference between Canada's claims to be a beacon of human rights, and the realities for Black people living here. #FreeAbdoulAbdi #StoptheDeportationNow @RalphGoodale @AhmedHussen

Reflections on the 2018 Kawaskimhon National Aboriginal Moot

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Breanne Martin, Kelly Duquette, Ryan Stiles
Kyle Brooks, Jamie Lickers, Maria Lucas

uOttawa Faculty of Law students Maria Lucas, Breanne Martin, Ryan Stiles, Kyle Brooks and Kelly Duquette all participated in the 2018 Kawaskimhon moot- a consensus-based descision-making exercise.

Huge thanks to coaches Graham Ragan and Jamie Lickers who supported the team.

Reflections on the 2018 Kawaskimhon National Aboriginal Moot

Maria Lucas
JD Candidate uOttawa Faculty of  Law

On March 2nd, 3rd, and 4th 2018, I had the opportunity to participate in the Kawaskimhon National Aboriginal Moot. Kawaskimhon is a Cree word roughly translated to “speaking with knowledge”. The moot is a consensus-based, non-adversarial moot that incorporates Indigenous legal traditions alongside federal, provincial, and international law. This year’s topic of negotiation was the protection, control, and trade of Indigenous cultural heritage. Parties to the negotiation had to develop a legal framework that would ensure the protection and control of Indigenous cultural heritage at both a local and national level. My team represented the Indigenous Bar Association as an intervenor in the negotiation. Our role was to ensure that Indigenous legal traditions were recognized and permitted to operate within or alongside the legal framework the parties developed.

One of the most valuable lessons I took from this experience is that inherent in negotiation is compromise. If parties walk away from the negotiation table feeling like they lost something to the other, then it was a successful negotiation. In this way, I thought that the Kawaskimhon National Aboriginal Moot accurately reflected what can occur in Indigenous-Canadian negotiations with respect to Indigenous land claims, modern treaties, and self-government agreements. However, while compromise may be inherent in these negotiations, I do not think that the compromises should be of such a degree that they detract from Indigenous people’s inherent sovereignty and laws. Indigenous people’s sovereignty and laws must always inform Indigenous-Canadian relations if the nation-to-nation relationship is to be restored in Canada.

New blog from Prof. Joanne St. Lewis

uOttawa law`s Prof. Joanne St. Lewis recently published this op-ed on the role of race and racism in current debates on the federal budget.
Designed by Rachel Gold.