Canada cancels impending deportation of Abdilahi Elmi to Somalia

World
Supporters of Abdilahi Elmi, right, argue sending him back to Somalia would amount to a death sentence. (Submitted)

Canadian authorities have cancelled Monday's scheduled deportation of a former Somali refugee and foster child detained at the Edmonton Remand Centre, his lawyer says.

The move came just hours after the United Nations asked the federal government to delay the deportation of Abdilahi Elmi.

"I have just received confirmation the CBSA (Canadian Border Services Agency) has now cancelled his removal," Idowu Ohioz, Elmi's lawyer, told CBC Friday afternoon, adding that he received a one-line email.

"At least he's got a temporary reprieve so we will strategize and continue the fight."

The CBSA decision took on added importance after a federal court on Friday afternoon rejected his application for a stay of removal.

That court ruling came on the same day the United Nations sent an email to Elmi's supporters calling for a delay while the UN Human Rights Committee reviews the case.

"The state party [Canada] has also been requested not to deport Mr. Abdilahi Ahmed Elmi to Somalia while his case is under consideration by the committee," wrote special rapporteurs Yuval Shany and Christof Heyns.

The UN committee has also requested further information on the situation of returning refugees to Somalia.

Three lawyers made an application to the UN on Elmi's behalf Thursday, the same day his lawyer argued in federal court for the stay of removal.

The UN response has left advocates optimistic.

"Our understanding is that Canada has a good record of complying with the interim measures," said Elmi's lawyer, Idowu Ohioz. "We are hoping that Canada will comply with the interim measures granted to Mr. Elmi."

Scott Bardsley, spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale's office, said the ministry is unable to comment specifically on Elmi's case for privacy reasons.

"Interim measures requests from the Human Rights Committee are always considered by Canada," he wrote. "While Canada generally provides time to further assess a case prior to removal, each request is carefully considered on a case-by-case basis."

On Thursday, Ohioze argued in federal court that the danger Elmi faces in Somalia outweighs the risk of keeping him in Canada. Elmi is set to be deported to the Somali port city of Kismayo, where gunmen stormed a hotel last month and killed 25 people, including Somali-Canadian journalist Hodan Nalayeh.

In a recent series of news conferences and interviews, Elmi's family and supporters said sending him back to the country he fled as a child would amount to a death sentence.

They argued that the government of Ontario, where Elmi became a ward of the state, failed to secure citizenship for him.

Elmi has a lengthy criminal record that includes various assault charges. A criminal sentence of more than six months makes non-citizens eligible for deportation.

Elmi, who is currently in custody at the remand centre in Edmonton, had been scheduled to be removed on Monday, Aug. 26.

Faduma Isse made an emotional plea earlier this week to stop the deportation of her son back to the country he fled as a child. (Greg Bruce/CBC)

'He's hopeful'

Ohioze said his client is doing well but feels apprehensive as he waits for the Federal Court ruling.

"He's hopeful," said Ohioze. "We've only set a low expectation from day one since I was retained a week ago. I made everybody understand we have a difficult task ahead of us, given the test that we need to meet. But he's also hopeful that the court will look at the unique circumstances of his case and come to the conclusion that his stay should be granted so he can proceed with the federal court judiciary review application."

Elmi arrived in Canada in 1994 after fleeing Somalia and living in a refugee camp. The Ontario government soon apprehended him from mother and became a ward of the province.

By age 16, he was living on the streets, where he began committing crimes. Advocates say his actions were fuelled in part by substance abuse in response to the trauma experienced as a child.

Ohioze said the Ontario child welfare system never applied for status on his client's behalf and by the time Elmi applied in 2010 he was informed he had run out of time.

Advocates say his case shares many similarities with former refugee and foster child Abdoul Abdi, who won a last-minute reprieve last year.

A federal court judge set aside the decision to send Abdi to a deportation hearing arguing the government had not considered that he was "a longtime ward of the state."

Days later, Goodale said the government would respect the decision and not push forward with Abdi's deportation.