Canada’s new exiles

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Just days ago, Canada decided to deport Saeed Jama to Somalia. He was convicted of possession of crack for purposes of trafficking and possession of stolen goods. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney remarked that Jama “should not have chosen a life of violent crime.” For the record, Jama was not convicted of any crime of violence. He finished serving his sentence more than three years ago and has not re-offended.

This past March, with much less media attention, Canada deported another young man, Jama Warsame, who shares a remarkably similar story to Saeed Jama.

Both men were born in Saudi Arabia to Somali refugees, arrived in Canada as children, have never set foot in Somalia, and can’t speak a Somali language. Saudi Arabia does not grant citizenship on the basis of birth on Saudi soil, so neither are Saudi citizens. They are Somali citizens because they were born to Somali citizens. Their parents never applied to obtain Canadian citizenship on their behalf. Both men accumulated criminal convictions. It is not uncommon for immigrants and refugees who arrive as children to assume they are citizens, or never put their minds to the question until the government moves to deport them.

Canada proceeded with Warsame’s deportation to Somalia in March 2012, despite the fact that doing so violated Canada’s legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In 2011, the UN Human Rights Committee unanimously found that Canada’s proposed deportation of Warsame would violate his right to life and right to freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

In relation to the right to life, the UN accepted that, as a Canadian kid, dropped in the middle of Somalia, with no language skills, and limited clan or family support, Warsame would be a sitting duck for forced recruitment by armed groups such as Al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam and even the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and their allied forces. In short, he faced a real risk of real harm.

A majority of the UN Human Rights Committee also found that the deportation would breach Warsame’s right to family life, as well as his right to enter and remain in his “own country.” One might wonder how Canada can be Warsame’s own country when he isn’t a Canadian citizen. The majority of the Human Rights Committee reasoned that in all functional respects, he belongs to Canada: he was brought here as a child and his formative years were spent in Canada.

Metaphors can be risky, but here we might analogize the situation to adoption: who is Warsame’s or Jama’s national parent — the country from which he has a blood connection, but has never seen, or the country that raised him since childhood? The Human Rights Committee sensibly chose the latter.

At present, Canadian law effectively permits the automatic deportation of non-citizens convicted and sentenced to two years imprisonment or more, with no consideration of the personal circumstances of the individual or compelling reasons not to deport. Under proposed legislation (Bill C-43), the government will reduce that interval to six months. To give one an idea of the kind of offences that can lead to six month sentences, consider that under the recent omnibus crime bill, possessing six marijuana plants now carries a mandatory minimum six month sentence.

If Bill C-43 passes, it will not matter whether the individual arrived last year or 30 years ago, as an infant or as an adult, or whether the person ever set foot in their country of nationality — six months and you’re out. Canada should not be deporting long term permanent residents without independent consideration of not only the offence, but also to the individual’s connection to Canada and the real impact of deportation.

Governments around the world have abandoned the barbaric practice of exiling citizens. Whatever one thinks about Jama and Warsame, they are products of Canada, and sending them to a country they have never set foot in, a country so dangerous that Canadians are advised not to enter, is vindictive and inhumane. It is not deportation; it is exile.

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