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Chronic Offender Salah Awil Abdillahi Can't Be Deported, Federal Court Rules

11/03/2015 09:39 EST | Updated 11/03/2016 05:12 EDT
Darrin Klimek via Getty Images
No one is going to make a Tim Hortons commercial out of Salah Awil Abdillahi's Canadian story.

Since arriving from Somalia in 2005, the 26-year-old has racked up 22 convictions and 135 "encounters" with police. He drinks every day if he has the money. And he was brain injured after being hit by a bus following a fight in a bar.

Canada wants to get rid of him. But in a legal twist, a Federal Court judge has ruled that Abdillahi's problems make him exactly the kind of person who can't be deported back to Somalia.

"Mr. Abdillahi is a cognitively disabled recidivist offender alcoholic with minimal experience, access to resources, or social supports," Justice Russel Zinn wrote in a decision last month.

"He falls squarely within the category of persons ... that are unlikely to be able to get by in Mogadishu without experiencing undue hardship."

Left in limbo

Zinn overturned a pre-removal risk assessment that concluded Abdillahi could be safely returned to Somalia. He has already been stripped of his permanent resident status and issued a removal order from Canada.

The situation literally leaves Abdillahi in limbo.

"It boils down to who on the planet is going to be responsible for this human being," said Richard Kurland, a lawyer and immigration expert.

Kurland wasn't involved in the case, but said he has represented similar clients: "You enter the moral and philosophical arena for that."

Abdillahi's pathetic plight began shortly after he arrived in Canada with his mother.

He attended high school for three months and dropped out. He has worked for a total of four months in the past decade  as a forklift driver in Edmonton and Vancouver, but left those jobs and became an alcoholic. 

According to his removal order, Abdallahi has "been arrested so many times he could not recall the number." He has been convicted of theft, forcible entry, possessing a weapon and failing to comply with probation conditions.

But his worst turn of luck came on Sept. 20, 2013, when he was hit by a bus.

"He had been in a bar drinking, was in an altercation, and when trying to escape, ran into the street and was hit," the removal order says. 

Abdallahi spent a month in hospital and emerged with a severe traumatic brain injury that caused a loss of memory, language and insight.

He was ordered removed from Canada because of criminality.

'Somalia Original Gangster'

The pre-removal risk assessment determined Abdallahi could be safely returned to Mogadishu; he appealed the decision on a number of grounds.

Abdallahi's father still lives in Somalia, but they haven't spoken since 2007. He doesn't know where his father or any other members of his family live.

He also has a number of tattoos which he says would out him as a non-Muslim westerner: a lion's head, the word "Outlaw," a dollar sign and the acronym SOG, which stands for Somalia Original Gangster."

According to documents entered as part of the appeal, a lack of infrastructure and the constant threat of violence in Mogadishu mean only people with "access to economic resources and powerful individuals" can survive.

Zinn said it was "perverse" to think Abdillahi's four months of work experience would enable him to make a living.

He said the officer who drew up the risk assessment also failed to address the problems Abdallahi's cognitive issues might cause him in a country where "mental patients are often chained to trees or left to die."

Zinn ruled the pre-removal risk assessment was unreasonable.

But since he's not a permanent resident, Abdallahi can't work and may not be eligible for the kind of support he needs to stay out of trouble.

"It was a difficult situation already when he was a permanent resident," said his lawyer, Warren Puddicombe. 

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