Anti-gang funds won't stem tide of Somali homicides in Alberta: Critic
By Cigdem Iltan
The Edmonton Journal (Canada), May 11, 2010
Edmonton — A $2-million commitment by the Alberta government to fighting gang crime in immigrant families is being attacked as too little and too late by a representative of the province's Somali community, which has reported an explosion in homicides in the past five years.
Alberta Justice Minister Alison Redford announced Tuesday that immigrant families will have access to mentoring and after-school programs intended to keep youth out of gangs.
The funding will also help immigrant families integrate into communities and create refugee and immigrant mentoring programs to reduce high-risk behaviour, she added.
'In the past, what we have not focused on sufficiently is the piece we're talking about today, which is mentoring, support for kids, support for parents to make sure people are feeling connected to the communities they live in and the wider community at large,' Redford said.
But the province is ruling out what the Somali community has demanded: a task force to investigate the bizarre spike in killings among Somali youth in Alberta. That undermines the effectiveness of the province's anti-gang plan, said Mahamad Accord of Edmonton's Somali-Canadian Cultural Society.
'It's a medicine that they're prescribing, but they don't even know what the disease is,' Accord said.
Somali community leaders say 30 young men of Somali descent have been murdered in Alberta over the past five years four in Fort McMurray, Alta., 14 in Edmonton and a dozen scattered around the province. Only a few of those cases have been solved.
RCMP release no statistics on the racial patterns of provincial homicides. Newspaper reports point to at least 19 murdered Somali-Canadians since 2005, almost all having moved from the Toronto area, as were the bulk of Alberta's roughly 12,000 citizens of Somali heritage who were attracted to the lure of decent-paying jobs for anyone willing to work them.
'Literally in 1998, '99, 2000 until about 2006, there was a huge influx of immigration from Ontario to Alberta,' said Ahmed Hussen, national president of the Ottawa-based Canadian Somali Congress. 'We are talking about families of six or seven people just taking off.'
Where some found opportunity, others found vice. Some young African men, including those from the Sudanese and Somali communities, took to the province's growing drug trade, said Mustafa Kamoga, a partner at Selkirk Placement, which helps find immigrant labourers for oilpatch employers in northern Alberta.
Accord said that Alberta needs to direct resources toward finding out why young Somalis are being drawn into the drug trade and violent deaths.
'These people are asking for justice and they're giving them money,' Accord said.
Redford, meanwhile, said that while the money won't go toward solving crimes that have already happened, the programs will work as a preventive tool.
'A public inquiry is not going to lead us to a positive result because we have learned, we have grown, we have shared,' Redford said. 'We're working with moms and working with dads and building on what we know will be a success.
'If you can deal with kids early on in life and you can connect them to communities, they're going to find they're going to make decisions that aren't going to take them down that path.'