HALIFAX — Nova Scotia's premier has told child welfare officials to review how they handle complex cases, as a former foster child in the province faces deportation to a country he has no connection to.
Stephen McNeil said Wednesday he asked the Community Services Department to complete a review of any cases that would require supports similar to those needed by Abdoul Abdi.
The 24-year-old man was recently released from prison after serving a five-year sentence on multiple charges. He was put in segregation in a New Brunswick jail by the Canada Border Services Agency upon his release and is now awaiting a hearing on deportation to Somalia.
Abdi arrived in Canada as a six-year-old child refugee and was shortly after apprehended by the Nova Scotia government and placed in foster care but never obtained citizenship.
McNeil said all children in the province's care who require extensive support are offered a "myriad of options," but he said the province can't force them to take on the options.
While refusing to speak to any specific case, he said the province can provide children in its care legal advice or "options to gain citizenship" but cannot force them to pursue citizenship.
"I can tell you since this has come out there will be a complete review of not only this case but any cases that would require the kind of support that I'm hearing about with this particular gentleman," McNeil told reporters.
"I've asked, not specific to this case but all children in care, what are the options that we are providing and laying out to all children in care, and then it is up to those children as they grow into teenage years to decide whether or not they take advantage of those options," he said.
Abdi was born in Saudi Arabia in 1993. After his parents divorced, his mother — fearing persecution if she returned to Somalia — fled to Djibouti, where the family obtained refugee status.
His biological mother died in the refugee camp when he was four, and two years later he came to Canada with his sister and aunts.
But shortly after arriving, the children were apprehended by the province of Nova Scotia. Abdi's aunt's efforts to regain custody were rejected, and her attempt to file a citizenship application for the children blocked.
Between the ages of eight and 19, Abdi was moved 31 times, separated from his sister and never completed high school.
He fell into trouble with the law and in 2014, Abdi pleaded guilty to four charges: Aggravated assault, theft of a motor vehicle, dangerous driving and assaulting a police officer with a vehicle. He was sentenced to 4.5 years, but had another nine months tacked on for assault charges early in his incarceration.
Halfway through his sentence, Abdi's lawyer Benjamin Perryman said, he started to "see the consequences of his actions" and was transferred to a medium-security facility because of good behaviour.
Abdi was "gated" when he was released from prison earlier this month and is now at the Madawaska Regional Correctional Centre in Saint-Hilaire, N.B. His deportation hearing is in four weeks, despite a court case raising charter and international law arguments that is expected to be heard by the federal court in the coming months.
Perryman said Abdi was given grossly inadequate care by the province as a foster child. He said deporting him to Somalia — a country to which he has no ties and where he would be unable to care for his Canadian-born daughter — would be unfair.
Alec Stratford, executive director and registrar with the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers, expressed concern that "structural issues" plaguing child welfare services are hampering the care that can be provided to children.
"It really is a struggle for social workers dealing with really high case loads of huge complexity to be able to know all the ins and outs," he said.
"I hear a system that is failing our kids and our youth, a system that doesn't recognize the great structural inequities that continue to exist in Nova Scotia and the fact that we don't have the tools and resources to adequately support someone first in their home and then to support them in care."
- With files from Keith Doucette