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Toronto Somali community looks for answers to end violence

Matthew Sherwood for The Globe a

Members of Toronto's Somali community are holding a series of meetings this month to discuss the challenges their youth are facing in the city and how best to keep their young men safe.

The meetings come as the community grapples with the shooting deaths of three young Somali-Canadian men in less than five weeks.

On Sunday night, a group comprised largely of Somali-Canadian mothers met at a community centre in Rexdale to talk about what kind of support is available for youth and how they can access those programs.

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And a small group of teenagers and young adults met at a Scarborough social service centre on Monday night to talk about a range of issues affecting them, including trying to bridge the gap between their parents' connection to Somali culture and their own experiences of Toronto.

The Scarborough meeting was the second of four sessions that are planned in different neighbourhoods in the city and are being hosted by Redemption Reintegration Services, which provides programming for young people of colour who have come into conflict with the law.

Mohamed Galan, a board member from the organization and the facilitator of Monday's meeting, said he wants young people to talk about the challenges they've come up against – and in many cases overcome.

"If we're in the news more often than other nationalities or other religions, then there's something we have to look at," said Mr. Galan. "That's why we're here to discuss it."

As a 25-year-old, first-generation Canadian, Mr. Galan said he and his peers are learning to perform a careful balancing act between what their parents expect and the society they are now growing up in.

"I'm first generation here. I can see what parents want, what society wants, and help to bridge that gap," he said. "We understand that balance that has to take place."

Victor Beausoleil, executive director of Redemption Reintegration Services, said about 20 per cent of the youth his organization works with are Somali.

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During a similar meeting the group held earlier this year, Mr. Beausoleil said that Somali youth discussed what it was like to grow up in some of Toronto's social-housing communities, the difficulties of balancing their Somali and Canadian identities, and – in some cases – how easy some of them found it was to be drawn into the drugs and violence already present in their neighbourhoods.

Since 2005, at least 23 young Somali-Canadian men have died in Alberta. Some of those men moved from Toronto and Ottawa in search of work in the oil fields, only to end up involved in the violent drug trade. Others, according to community members, were cases of mistaken identity or were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The violence in Alberta has become so bad that some Toronto parents are begging their children not to move there, one community source said.

But in recent months, three young men were shot in Toronto within just a few weeks.

Abdulle Elmi, a hip-hop artist who moved to Toronto from Minneapolis in 2008, was shot and killed in a residential Etobicoke neighbourhood last Thursday.

Hussein Hussein, 28, was found dead in a downtown Toronto apartment two weeks ago. And in early June, Mr. Elmi's cousin, Ahmed Hassan, was one of two people killed when a gunman opened fire in Toronto's Eaton Centre shopping mall.

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Mohamed Gilao, executive director of Dejinta Beesha, said the community is reeling from the sudden string of deaths – and is hoping that governments at all levels will take note.

"It's awful, awful, really," he said. "It's out of control. We don't know what to do, but we need the government's help."

He said he wants to see more internships and other opportunities for young people after they graduate university, to help them get started in a career.

"At the end of the day, it's just opening the question," Mr. Galan said. "It's not something we can solve in one night."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Kim Mackrael has been a reporter for The Globe and Mail since 2011. She joined the Ottawa bureau Sept. 2012. More

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