Saeed Jama is awaiting his fate. He’ll be deported soon, perhaps Tuesday, because he’s a convicted drug dealer whose time in Canada has run out.
But Mr. Jama’s case is complicated. He is being sent to Somalia, a country he wasn’t born in, has never lived in and says he has never been to, one the Canadian government calls “extremely volatile” and suggests no one travel to for any reason. He’s effectively stateless, a Saudi Arabia-born, Canada-raised child of Somali refugees – and an example of how the federal government’s tough-on-crime agenda, including a crackdown on illegal residents, can bump up against some thorny realities.
Mr. Jama is among what some fear is a lost generation of Somali-Canadian young men. About two dozen have been killed in Alberta over the past half-decade, overwhelmingly Canadian-raised and involved in drugs. Somalis call them the ciyaal baraf, or children of the snow. It’s a kind of insult – neither truly Somali nor truly Canadian.
His deportation order was issued last fall, two years after he got out of prison. In a June interview with The Globe and Mail, the first of several, Mr. Jama said he was resigned to his fate – due to report to Edmonton’s airport on July 22. But something chewed at him. He’d held down a job and swore he wasn’t dealing drugs. And yet his fate was inevitable. He couldn’t atone.
On July 22, his family came to the airport to say goodbye, but he didn’t show up. He would later ask “if we seriously thought he would come to [the airport] to be deported back to his country,” immigration official Darko Kozobaric wrote in one report. But his family says that’s the issue – Somalia isn’t his country.
So Mr. Jama was on the run. He’d occasionally visit family, but quickly leave in case police showed up. Time ran out on Oct. 31, when Mr. Jama, his brother and another man were pulled over around 10:40 p.m. along one of Edmonton’s troubled corridors, 118th Avenue. The officers were from an Edmonton police unit that, essentially, drives around sketchy neighbourhoods enforcing traffic laws with the hope of stumbling across hardened criminals. Police say the young men weren’t wearing seat belts. They say they were.
Mr. Jama wasn’t carrying ID and lied about his name, a lie his younger brother corroborated, but a tattoo on his hand gave him away. Police arrested him, with immigration officials writing “serious criminality” and “danger to the public” on his file. He has four convictions on his criminal record, including possession of crack for the purpose of trafficking, resisting an officer, possession of stolen property and breaking bail conditions.
Edmonton police combed through his phone – they say they don’t need a warrant – and federal officials used the information against him, telling the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) that Mr. Jama’s calls and texts were “consistent with a drug trafficker.” But police also say the three young men had no drugs on them that night.
On Nov. 2, Mr. Jama appeared in court. It was an unceremonious end. He had no family there and, by choice, no lawyer. It was just the 23-year-old in a blue jumpsuit and white Velcro sneakers, his ankles chained. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s office was applying to keep Mr. Jama in jail until they could deport him. Canadian Border Services Agency case officer Mandeep Randhawa outlined the criminal record, and Mr. Jama gave in.
“I don’t mind going back home,” he told the court. “I’m sorry?” an IRB official replied. “Can you guys just send me back home to Somalia?” Mr. Jama said. He was kept in custody.
Mr. Kenney declined repeated requests for comment. His press secretary said in an e-mail that, to stay in Canada, Mr. Jama “should not have chosen a life of violent crime.”
Bashir Ahmed, a local Somali leader who met with Mr. Jama in June, was surprised but not sympathetic when he learned of the arrest. He is pushing governments to make changes he hopes will steer young Somali-Canadians away from crime, including a right for parents to send misbehaving young people back to Somalia. That’s where he thinks Mr. Jama should go. “It’s a very sad case and I’m very disappointed. If he’d have followed our advice, he would have gone peaceful [at the airport]. He would not affect his brother. He’d have a chance to come back to Canada,” Mr. Ahmed said. “I wish him all the best, but it’s up to Immigration.”
Court heard Mr. Jama would be deported Nov. 26, but officials now tell him it could be as soon as Tuesday. Neither Mr. Jama nor his family will get notice. In various responses by eight communications officers, federal officials told The Globe that Mr. Jama faces no significant risk in Somalia. Canada does not deport people to Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Iraq or Zimbabwe.
Mr. Jama’s family, who got residency in 2001, is hoping for a last-minute stay of deportation from Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, whose spokesperson refused comment. “I am really sad, emotional, because if he goes I won’t know about him,” said his mother, Khadro Mohamed. “I ask Immigration to stop this action. That’s my point. It’s wrong, it’s wrong, it’s wrong.” Mr. Jama acknowledges it’s unlikely.
The family’s daughters have thrived in Canada, while Mr. Jama’s older brother was also deported; he’s now in Ethiopia. Their younger brother is in custody, too – after lying to police about Mr. Jama’s name during the traffic stop.
In several jailhouse interviews, Mr. Jama had an easy air about him. He’s repentant. He hasn’t talked to his girlfriend since his arrest (”What’s she going to do? Follow me to Africa?”). He’d hoped to stay on the run in Edmonton, working at a warehouse to save up cash because he has no employment prospects in Somalia. He’d hoped officials would let him stay. “They should have just looked at what I was doing after I got out.”
Now, he may try to sneak back into Canada. “It’s not hard to come back – I’m talking about illegally,” he said. Because, he says, where else would he go?