1. In a lawsuit, Fatouma and Abdoul Abdi allege years of abuse while they were children in care
Remember Abdoul Abdi? The Government of Canada wanted to deport him after he was convicted of aggravated assault and sentenced to prison. Abdi was not a citizen, and under rules brought in under the federal immigration minister at the time, Jason Kenney, foreign nationals who committed crimes while in Canada would be swiftly deported.
Abdi came to Canada at age six, with his sister Fatouma, then eight, after their mother had died at a UN refugee camp in Djibouti. The siblings were eventually placed in the care of the state, and nobody ever applied for citizenship for Abdoul. Eventually, Ralph Goodale, at the time minister for public safety, overturned Abdi’s deportation order.
In a lawsuit filed this morning against the Province of Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children, Fatouma and Abdoul Abdi allege years of abuse while they were children in care.
Tim Bousquet reports in detail on the lawsuit and the “specific and detailed” allegations it contains. Many of the allegations of abuse were reported to police and other authorities at the time, with little action taken.
In one case, Fatouma was removed from a foster home because she was being abused, but her brother was left with the family.
Finally, in May 2007, Abdoul was moved out of the Gal home and into the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children (NSHCC), where he stayed until October 2008. He had his 15th birthday at the Home.
“During his time spent at the NSHCC, Abdoul was repeatedly sexually abused by a staff member,” reads the lawsuit. “On one occasion, the abuse was witnessed by another NSHCC staff member. CAS [Children’s Aid Society] Halifax initiated an investigation into the sexual abuse perpetrated by staff of the NSHCC shortly after Abdoul was removed from the placement in 2008. CAS Halifax had received a referral from the Dartmouth District Office of Child Welfare over concerns that a staff member was sexually abusing male youth. One incident described in the referral involved a staff member exiting Abdoul’s bedroom while he was pulling his pants up.”…
Meanwhile, in July 2006, Fatouma was placed at Sullivan House in Dartmouth.
“On September 10, 2006 Fatouma disclosed an experience of a male pimp taking her to Montreal to strip,” reads the lawsuit. She was then 14 years old. “She also reported that he had sexually assaulted her during that time. CAS Halifax decided that because this event did not involve the residential facility or its staff, they would not be investigating her claim or move her to an alternative placement.”
Fatouma said she was assaulted “multiple times by males in the community,” and reported those assaults to social workers, and even police. “Each time, the child welfare workers decided not to investigate or move her to an alternate placement.”
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This whole sad saga is a case study in why sloganeering makes terrible policy. You may recall how the Harper government sold its new deportation policy: if you’re a foreigner who commits a crime in Canada, you’re out of here. It was rooted in this notion that people who come here should be grateful because Canada is the best country in the world, etc etc etc, and if you can’t follow the rules, why should you stay here? It’s the kind of framing that sells well to the law-and-order crowd. And if you’re against it — what, you want to make it easy for criminals to stay here?
This 2012 CTV News story buys into Kenney’s framing, right from the headline: “Kenney to announce swift deportation of foreign criminals.”
The story reads:
The Conservatives promised to streamline the deportation process, saying that some foreign criminals “have evaded removal from Canada for over a decade as they exploit endless appeals and loopholes.”…
In a speech he gave to University of Western Ontario law students more than a year ago, Kenney said there have been a number of cases where people with multiple convictions or run-ins with the law have remained in Canada for years.
“It is cases like these that frustrate Canadians, and understandably. We should not dismiss those frustrations. We should listen to them and take them seriously,” Kenney said at the time.
“Streamlining” in this case meant “removing the right to appeal.”
Meanwhile, the “foreign criminals” who get caught up in this include a kid who was raised in Canada, shuffled between foster homes, at best neglected and at worst abused, and who doesn’t have citizenship only through the negligence of those who were supposed to be caring for him.
2. Fatouma Abdi: “I want to change this because this can’t happen to anybody else”
El Jones knows Fatouma and Abdoul Abdi, and was one of the people who advocated for Abdi’s deportation order to be overturned. She was there the night Fatouma asked prime minister Justin Trudeau about her brother’s case in a town hall meeting, bringing it to national attention. And she spoke with Fatouma on the eve of the Abdis’ lawsuit being filed.
What few knew at the time, Jones writes in a powerful essay this morning, is that Fatima was being threatened with deportation at the same time as she was fighting for her brother’s right to remain in Canada. And that she herself had lost children to the same system she says abused her, and that one of them had died under circumstances that remain unknown, according to the lawsuit.
I first met Fatouma on that January night. As we drove to the town hall, she asked one thing for herself. When the advocacy for Abdoul was over, she wondered, did I think that I could help her get a headstone for her son?…
The violence Fatouma suffered from the state seems almost endless. There is a gendered element to this violence. Like many women who lived through the child welfare system, Fatouma continues to face surveillance of her own mothering from that same system that abused her. It is particularly enraging because the very things that make Fatouma a fighter — her refusal to be silenced — are what labelled her a problem in the system.
Over and over in Fatouma’s complaint we see her: young, afraid, removed from her family, forced to assimilate into a culture not her own, abused over and over and over in the most horrific ways — and yet she never stops speaking.
Over and over and over she is called a liar. She is returned to the people assaulting and raping her. She is accused of being promiscuous as a trafficked child. She is threatened about making false reports. She is sent to locked group homes to punish her where she was abused in yet more horrific ways: beaten, held in solitary, coerced into silence. And still, she speaks.
And it is this speaking, her remarkable, unbreakable spirit to never be crushed, that puts words in her files that make the same people who put her in these abusive situations label her an unfit mother, and visit their violence upon the next generation.
As it is gendered, it is also deeply racialized. I have a hard time believing a young white girl trafficked to Montreal would not be seen as a victim. Would not be offered counselling or help. This language of hyper-sexualization directed at Fatouma is part of a long legacy of excusing and perpetuating sexual violence against Black girls and women.
El’s piece is a long read, but absolutely worth your time. Please set aside a few minutes and read the whole essay here.
3. Halifax approves backyard and secondary suites
Council met yesterday, and we have a pair of new stories by Zane Woodford.
First up, the approval of backyard and secondary suites throughout the municipality. Secondary suites are rooms rented in a home. Backyard suites are small apartments in a property’s outbuilding.
Woodford covers the virtual hearing that was held on the issue. Many of those opposed were from the Westmount neighbourhood in west-end Halifax. Some of their rhetoric verged, I would say, on the hyperbolic.
One Westmount resident said the new rules meant the end of single-family zoning in the neighbourhood, and amounted to expropriation without compensation because homeowners would no longer be able to enjoy their property or their privacy.
Another asked council to exclude Westmount from the bylaw amendments to uphold the neighbourhood’s family-oriented values.
While one of the motivations for allowing these suites is an increase in rental stock, which will, hopefully, lead to more affordable rents, there is also a fear that the new rules will simply lead to a further proliferation of short-term rentals. I mean, if an Airbnb superhost in Brooklyn is able to rent out their backyard as a $100/night “campsite” (see the image at the top of this story), what’s to stop people from running backyard hotels in residential neighbourhoods?
Woodford says “planner Jillian MacLellan noted new regulations are coming to council’s next meeting.”
Woodford’s story is for subscribers only. Please subscribe here.
We think of backyard suites generally as an urban issue, but affordable housing is also a huge problem in the more rural areas of the municipality. There have been times over the last few years when we’ve talked about the possibility of having a small outbuilding on the property where one of our kids could live at least some of the time, what with housing being so unaffordable. I don’t know if we will ever do that, but it’s great to have the option without a whole lot of legal complications.
4. Transportation standing committee: councillor frustration over lack of action
Zane Woodford has a story on yesterday’s transportation standing committee, and the frustration some councillors are feeling over items like pedestrian push buttons and a conservative traffic authority.
The first item in the piece is on councillor Waye Mason’s request for a report on eliminating the need for pedestrians to push a button before being allowed to legally cross. He asked for the report two years ago.
The problem Mason is trying to solve is one familiar to anyone who walks around the urban areas of Halifax Regional Municipality: you get to an intersection just as the light is turning green, and even though you press the button, it’s too late to change the pedestrian signal. That means you have to wait for the full cycle of the light to legally cross the street, even though the light is green.
“And you know what? No one does that. They just walk. There’s a green light for the cars, there’s nobody coming, and they walk,” Mason said in an interview Tuesday. “And if they get hit by a car, they’re at fault because the green walk guy wasn’t up and that means they walked against the signal. And that’s dumb.”
Instead, staff provided a report justifying the use of the buttons, based on other jurisdictions in the city.
The report says staff are committing to take five steps to review the use of pedestrian push buttons, including at which intersections they’re used and whether the municipality could adopt technology to automatically detect whether a pedestrian is present.
That will take another two years, [traffic engineer Roddy] MacIntyre wrote.
I am not going to summarize the whole story, because it’s good and you should just go read it. It includes lots of great stuff on the power of the traffic authority, the question of right-on-red, and road safety data.
5. The slow pace of installing high-speed
I use the word “reports” very deliberately here, because all too often these kinds of announcements lead to stories that essentially just repeat the announcement. Henderson doesn’t do that.
She gives us the details of the announcement, explores reasons for delays in providing service, and wraps up with this:
Neither Bell nor Develop NS chose to respond to this question: Would more money from the province do anything to speed up connections? In March, as the province went into lockdown with COVID-19, an additional $15 million was offered to telecom companies if they could “accelerate” high-speed connections to homes and businesses. So far, the uptake has been just $5.6 million.
All projects approved to date for funding by the trust will provide at least target speeds required by the CRTC (50 Mbps down/10 Mbps up for wired, 25 Mbps down/5 Mbps up for wireless, with a demonstrated plan to reach 50 Mbps).
Progress is being made but the pace continues to be frustratingly slow for communities where livelihoods and population growth depends on a high-speed connection.
I wrote above that secondary suites aren’t just an urban issue. Similarly, access to high-speed internet is not just a rural issue. There are connectivity issues within HRM, not to mention lack of access not because of infrastructure, but because of poverty.
6. Back-to-school anxiety
Yvette d’Entremont speaks with psychologist Shannon Johnson about anxieties over kids returning to school. Short version: Don’t let our own fears affect our kids.
“We need them to go into it in a good headspace so that they can move forward, particularly with their learning and their education and social connections that they need to feel mentally healthy.”
As a practicing clinical psychologist, Johnson said she’s seen and heard firsthand how much families and children are struggling with being cooped up at home and with the lack of social connection.
“We know that mental health concerns have gone up during COVID and there’s some talk that this will linger for a number of years and so I think the sooner there’s some normalcy for our kids and for families the better it’s going to be for stabilizing some of those concerns that we’ve seen arising,” she said.
“Even the healthiest families are struggling with these changes, let alone those families that already have struggles.”
She said it’s important not to lose sight of the fact children with learning needs really need the support they get from being in school and learning in a classroom where there are hands-on activities and a trained teacher.
7. New committee proposed to implement Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes park
Councillor Richard Zurawski brought the motion. Woodford writes:
“The purpose of this motion is to create a committee whose sole responsibility is to look at the formation of this one of a kind park, and to head off at the pass all of the controversy and some of the misinformation from many, many sources that has been the bane of this potential park’s existence,” Zurawski told his colleagues.
“This is basically a plan to monitor where we’re going and report back to council, and actually give staff a bit of a break. It’s there to help staff in terms of the consultation process so that we can get the information in a timely way and not let it skid off the rails because we’ve got our hands full with all kinds of things.”
Last week, candidate Eric Jury, who is running against Zurawski, complained about the incumbent’s promotion of the park. In an email to the Examiner, he wrote about Zurawski:
How about promoting wild life within the city limits, by extending the corridor of Birch Cove Park? Does he understand that Deer’s [sic] and cars don’t mix or urban gardens or people during the rut??
Woodford’s story is for subscribers only.
8. Finally: legislature’s health and public accounts committees scheduled to meet next week
There are signs democracy may be stirring again in Nova Scotia. As children and teachers go back to school next Tuesday, elected MLAs will go back to at least some semblance of regular business at the Legislature. After a five-month plus absence during the pandemic, the Health Committee will meet in person at the Legislature next Tuesday to discuss issues around COVID-19.
Witnesses are expected to include the Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang and deputy Health Minister Kevin Orrell. On Wednesday, September 9, elected MLAs from all three parties will get an opportunity to ask questions about how the provincial government is spending money on programs and services. It will be the first meeting of the Public Accounts Committee since March 11.
Committees are the unsung heroes of democracy, and crippling them is bad for us all.
9. Delays in bringing affordable housing to the old Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children site
Zane Woodford explores the many reasons for delays in bringing affordable housing to the former site of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children. (I don’t even like typing the name of the place.)
The people working to build affordable and seniors’ housing next to the old Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children are worried the municipality is unilaterally imposing delays on the project.
But no matter the current planning dispute, those involved, and even a city councillor, believe the history of the property’s zoning reflects Halifax’s deep-rooted systemic racism toward African Nova Scotians — adding to the painful history of the site that the proponents now seek to overcome.
The proposed plan for the property is as follows:
Akoma Holdings is proposing to transform its 320-acre property, located along Highway 7 where Westphal meets Cherry Brook.
The first stage of the project will see the old home building renovated and turned into a heritage zone to recognize the site’s history.
The second phase is a two- or three-storey seniors home on the property and the third phase includes an affordable mixed-use residential and commercial building, a new children’s centre, townhouse units and eight single-family homes.
1. Read the comments
I’m keeping the “Views” section short today because, you know, there are nine items in the “News” section. I just want to say that it makes me happy that the Examiner is one of the places where the “Never read the comments” rule does not apply. The comments often add to stories, extend them, correct mistakes, or spin off into interesting discussions of their own. I appreciate that.
Unlike other sites, we don’t automate our comment moderation at all. Instead, you get artisanal hand-crafted moderation. We approve each comment individually, which helps lead to a generally better discussion.
But it’s not only the manual approval, it’s the commenters themselves. I only have access to the comment moderation dashboard for stories I write, so I don’t know what my colleagues’ experience is, but when it comes to my stories, I almost never see a comment I won’t approve.
To me, this is a bit of a refreshing throwback. I remember when comments were (briefly) lively and fun to read on news websites, and then it mostly descended into crap. I’m glad they have generally stayed fun, lively, and informative here.
Our last night at Mira River Provincial Park 10 days or so ago, I went for an evening bike ride. There is a small cemetery called St. Joseph inside the park, and I propped my bike up against the fence and walked in to look around. Unfortunately, I did not have my camera or phone with me (hence the Google Streetview image above).
While I follow the Dead in Halifax and Canadian Cemetery History Twitter accounts, I can’t say I have a huge interest in cemeteries or spend much time visiting them. But I’m glad I stopped in at St. Joseph.
The cemetery is small enough that I could walk around and look at every gravestone. I don’t know how long I was there — maybe 20 minutes. But even in such a short amount of time, the cemetery offered all kinds of insights into life in the area, and into people’s identities and self-image. (I recognize that those of you who frequent cemeteries are probably thinking, “No kidding.”)
First, there was the composition of the community. An abundance of Scottish names, most from just a handful of families. But then on one side of the cemetery there were several graves of people with Italian names, some of whom had been born in Italy. There was one grave with a Dutch last name and an image of a classic Dutch windmill carved on the headstone, and one or two Eastern European names.
I was struck by the number of family plots in which the parents’ markers were simply “Mother” and “Father” (or variants) while the children’s names were present. Perhaps a metaphor for self-sacrifice and parents subsuming their identities in favour of their children. I felt the air go out of me looking at one of these family plots when I realized the mother had outlived all five of her children. (And she died this century, so we’re not talking 1800s here.) One of them had lived only two weeks, another four months. The three others had lived longer — the oldest, I believe, making it to over 50 — but all of them had passed before her, as had her husband. I’m trying to imagine that much pain.
Many of the headstones were quite simple. A few had personal touches, like the image of a cat, or a pail of garden tools on the marker of someone who I assume was an avid gardener. Most people’s identities were wrapped up in their immediate family relations (“wife of…”).
It’s a cliché to note how much the identities of those who have been through wars are wrapped up in their war experiences, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a starker example of it than the gravestone at St. Joseph that simply had a man’s name, his dates of birth and death and the word “gunner.” At first I assumed he must have been killed in combat, but no — he died, if I recall correctly, in the 1990s. He was a gunner in the war, and gunner is the way he’s remembered after death.
When I was in school, the history we learned was primarily of the “Great Man” variety. Leaders drove the course of history, which was this big sweeping hand moving across the arc of humanity. Our compulsory year-long history class in Grade 9, I believe, was divided into two sections: “Man the builder” and “Man the conqueror.” That seemed wrong to me at the time, but not in a way I could articulate. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found myself much more drawn to the local, the mundane, and what we can learn about daily life rooted in place. The local cemetery seems like an ideal place to take in much of that.
Northwest Planning Advisory Committee (7pm, virtual meeting) — Hekmat Jarrar wants to build a 19-unit seniors housing project at the entrance to Kingswood.
No public meetings.
In the harbour
06:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
07:00: Boarbarge 37, semi-submersible barge, arrives at outer harbour with Avalon Sea, offshore supply vessel, from Argentia, Newfoundland, and at 08:00 moves with three harbour tugs to Pier 6
13:30: East Coast, oil tanker, sails from Imperial Oil for sea
16:30: AlgoScotia, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Montreal
18:30: Skogafoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Argentia, Newfoundland
21:00: YM Upsurgence, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Colombo, Sri Lanka
23:30: Skogafoss sails for Portland
It’s Examiner hoodie weather. Also, could we please get some rain?