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In wake of slayings, conference to focus on Somali youth

Thursday, November 22, 2012

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Just a few days after Warsame Ali returned to his parents’ north Toronto home for a visit, police arrived on their doorstep to say the 26-year-old was dead.

Mr. Ali and his friend, Suleiman Ali, also 26, were shot and killed outside an Etobicoke community housing complex in the early hours of Sept. 18. (The two men share the same last name but are not related.)

For weeks, Mr. Ali's mother, Habiba Adan, woke up in a panic around 1:30 in the morning, the same time police say her son was killed. His father, Mohamed Hussein, couldn’t bring himself to delete the draft text message he was writing to his son when one of the police officers knocked on the door.

The two young men were the fifth and sixth Somali-Canadians to be killed in Toronto in less than a year, a painful toll that has left the city’s Somali community reeling.

On Thursday morning, Ms. Adan will join more than 100 Somali-Canadians and a range of social-service organizations and government officials for a conference on Somali youth in Toronto.

The event was initiated by former children and youth services minister Eric Hoskins and will run through the day on Thursday. An e-mail sent by a ministry representative to participants earlier this month explained that meeting would “explore the unique challenges facing the Somali-Canadian community today and help create solutions by linking the community to representatives of all levels of government.”

The conference is expected to include Somali-Canadian hip hop artist K’naan, who grew up in Toronto’s west end, and a member of a Minneapolis Somali group that uses art as a tool to keep young people away from drugs and violence.

Ms. Adan’s own organization, Positive Change, will also participate. The group of Somali-Canadian mothers have been agitating since March for school officials to offer more support to young men of Somali descent, who have one of the city’s highest drop-out rates. They want to see more Somali-Canadian teachers working in Toronto schools and a Somali community representative at the Toronto District School Board.

They’re also asking police to hire Somali-speaking police officers to patrol the city’s west-end neighbourhoods – where the largest concentration of Somali-Canadian residents live – and to work on the recent homicide cases.

Last month, Ms. Adan accompanied police as they canvassed houses near the spot her son was shot, hoping her presence would encourage witnesses to speak up.

She said she hopes the conference will result in tangible commitments from government and other officials. “But I'm not stopping there. I will be going to their offices with my group to demand something. I don't want another mother to feel the same way I am feeling.”

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