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Who killed Abdurahman Ibrahim Hassan? Black Lives, Racisms, Police & Immigration.

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Abdurahman Ibrahim Hassan
Abdurahman Ibrahim Hassan

A week ago, Abdurahman Ibrahim Hassan, a 39 year old Somali man died in immigration detention custody after being denied adequate medical care, and then being ‘restrained’ by border and prison officials. Hassan, as he was known to his friends, came to Canada from Mogadishu in 1993 as a teenager. He was granted refugee status, but according to family members, didn’t gain permanent resident status because of his mental illness.

“He was moved from school to school. No one knew how to deal with him. He finally dropped out and we kept him at home,”  Deina Ibrahim told the Toronto Star. “Being bipolar, he had his good days and bad days. On a bad day, he got agitated and people would call police on him. He was just in and out of hospital a lot.”

The resulting criminal convictions meant that Hassan’s asylum status was revoked, and he was jailed for three years, pending deportation. In prison, Hassan, faced immense abuse. According to fellow immigration detainees also jailed without charges or trial, Hassan was placed in segregation for over a year, and possibly beaten by the guards so badly that he was limping, and could not longer straighten his back in the days leading to his death.

Yesterday, June 19th, all immigrant detainees in the prison Hassan was jailed in, over a 100 people went on a one day fast. One of them, 50 year old Francis Davidson who has been in Canada 27 years and has been held in detention for the past 4 years issued this statement, “Immigration detention is getting way out of hand. They are locking us up and forgetting about us. I have seen 4 people held in detention with me pass away while in CBSA custody, there is no end to detention and I am worried the next one will be me. I want immigration detention to end now. People have families. I have family and friends who care about me. I need to get these stories out and I need to get more stories out.”

These stories must get out. Hassan is the 12th person to have died in immigration detentions since 2000 and not a single recommendations from investigations or inquests into those deaths has ever been implemented. Canada Border Services Agency and the Ontario government are directly to blame for Hassan’s death and they must be held accountable.

In the short term, it is imperative that the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) interview the detainees who witnessed his treatment and a Coroner’s Inquest take place on his death. As well, there should be an end to immigration detention, starting with a 90-day limit on detentions, and an overhaul of the judicial oversight process. Provincial governments, like Ontario, should also stop profiting for the imprisonment of these migrants. Please sign the petition in support of these demands here.  

The interconnected structures, laws and policies that brought Hassan to Canada as a refugee, exacerbated his mental illness, denied him permanent resident status, and jailed him indefinitely are most responsible for his death. Author and activist Harsha Walia has detailed some of the critical global political and social trends that are causing migrants to seek refuge abroad in an article today, so below I detail the specific Canadian laws responsible for Hassan’s death.

Racist Policing and Criminalization

Racist policing, particularly the practice of carding means that police across the country regularly stop Black and Brown people. When Police do a warrant search or call immigration, and learn that the person does not have immigration status, they are handed over to immigration enforcement and often swiftly deported. 

The Toronto Police’s racist carding policy is well documented (read about it here on the website of the Network to Eliminate Police Violence), but is by no means an exception. In 2013, Transit Police in Vancouver reported 328 people to CBSA. One in five of those reported to CBSA faced a subsequent immigration investigation including deportation. This suggests that the other 80% were racially profiled based on their assumed legal status and country of origin. Only 1.5% of all those referred to CBSA even had immigration warrants out.

Similarly, when racialized people call the police, sometimes the Police will ID everyone involved, and upon finding out about someone's lack of immigration status, they will be handed over to border guards, eventually resulting in their deportation. In 2011, Lilliana Fontes was forced to fight off her deportation after police discovered her lack of immigration status while investigating her ex-partner for domestic abuse against her.

Double and Triple Punishment

An asylum seeker, refugee claimant, a student or a migrant worker applying for permanent residency status to Canada can be rejected if they have been sentenced for any crime. Even if no jail time is served, a guilty verdict means that one cannot live in Canada permanently.

This, racialized migrants face double punishment. First through serving a jail sentence or getting a conviction on their record, and second by being denied immigration status or having their immigration status revoked as a result of this conviction. 

So even though Hassan had gained refugee status in Canada, the fact that he got a criminal conviction before his permanent residency paperwork was processed meant that he could not get his permanent resident card. This likely made his life more precarious, and worsened his mental health, thus creating a deadly cycle leading to his untimely death.  

But even if he had gotten permanent residency, that would not secure his stay in Canada. Had he received a six-month jail sentence, under current laws his permanent resident status would have been revoked.

According to Solidarity Across Borders, a study of the Immigration and Refugee Board Appeals Division illustrated that the top representing countries based on appeal cases where migrants are trying to stop their deportations on double punishment grounds are Jamaica, Iran, India, Vietnam, Guyana, and Trinidad.

To add to current laws, Bill 60, which entered first reading on May 12, 2015 and which will likely become a key Conservative immigration election plank, aims to give the government more powers to revoke immigration status of accepted refugees for committing a crime.

What’s critical here is that racialized people, particularly Black people and people with mental health concerns are over-targeted by police, and are more likely not to be able to afford counsel, and thus file guilty pleas, and serve criminal sentences. As a result poor Black and other racialized people, as well as people with mental health concerns, are being shut out of full immigration status in Canada at a far greater rate.

Some people, predominantly racialized, many of them Black, are punished three times. That is first for the crime or supposed crime, second by getting a deportation order, and third by being imprisoned in maximum-security jails often indefinitely, which is what happened to Hassan.

Indefinite Detention and Deportation

Michael Mvogo, who has been in jail for nearly a decade, is one of approximately 150 people across Canada that has been detained for over six months pending deportations. Anti-Apartheid hero Mbuyisa Makhubu has been jailed indefinitely for over a decade without charges or trial. Hassan had been in jail for over 4 years when he died. Glory Anawa and her son Alpha have been imprisoned for nearly two years - Alpha has spent his entire life in jail. Unlike the European Union or the United States, Canada does not have a term limit on detentions pending deportation, and thus if a person cannot be deported, they can be jailed indefinitely. This lack of limit on length of detention creates immense misery, and ill-health for immigrants and their families.

One of the key reasons for the inability of Canada to deport people is that countries where migrants are being deported do not have computerized records of birth, functioning embassies, etc as a result of neo-colonial exploitation, or are conflict zones being profited from by western arms manufacturers. Cameroon, where Michael is from, for example, did not start keeping birth records until recently. Countries like Gambia are in a similar situation.

One of the most egregious examples is the treatment of Somali migrants. Somalia currently has little diplomatic infrastructure and cannot process travel documents of detainees. Thus Somali migrants like Hassan, end up being jailed for years on end without charges, trial or an end in sight.  When deportations do happen, they do in the worst possible way. To deport Somalis, Canadian officials fly migrants to neighbouring Kenya. There, Canadian officials pay US$25,000 in cash to smugglers who are tasked with flying the migrant without any papers in to Somalia. As can be expected, these smugglers care little for migrant’s safety.

In two cases that CBC covered, Saeed Jama was handed over to a Somali gang by these smugglers hired by Canadian officials. Mohamed Barre Bulle’s smugglers dropped him on an airstrip in Northern Kenya, and he was forced to make his to his family in Somalia on his own. The ways in which these Somali migrants are treated as simply objects to be removed from Canada by any means necessary is unconscionable. 

Fighting Anti-Black Racism

The immense lack of care for the lives of racialized, particularly Black migrants, where racist policing, denial or revocation of immigration status, double punishment, indefinite imprisonment and being tossed without papers or a penny to their name is part of an immense and ongoing cycle of abuse. It must be stopped.

Across these lands, many are challenging the state violence particularly being carried out against Black and Brown communities, and and against poor people and those with mental health concerns. The Network to Eliminate Police Violence and Jane Finch Action Against Poverty are coordinating a non-compliance with carding campaign. An anti-double punishment campaign is underway in Montreal. A campaign to end indefinite detention is organizing in Ontario, working predominantly with Black men in a maximum-security prison in Lindsay. In Vancouver, the Transportation Not Deportation Campaign was able to win a partial end to racial profiling and collusion with immigration enforcement last year. In Toronto, grassroots groups won a partial Don’t Ask for immigration status policy from Toronto Police in 2006, and on May 21st, 2015, anti-police brutality groups, sex worker rights activists and migrant justice organizers were at City Hall linking carding, racial profiling and deportations.

Tackling these structures, laws and policies means naming capitalism, white supremacy and ongoing imperialism. The work of coming together around issues also demands an unlearning of anti-Black racisms in particular within social justice movements.. That unlearning includes groups and organizations taking collective steps towards internal transformation and being held accountable. There is also a role for individuals, including myself, to acknowledge our failings, and learn to be better comrades. That is the only way we can stop police racisms, detentions and deportations and stop the deaths of people like Abdurahman Ibrahim Hassan.


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