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This article was published 6/5/2017 (1442 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
His case sparked an uproar after he damaged a cell at the Emerson port of entry, uttered threats and allegedly assaulted an officer.
The case prompted the national union for border guards to declare half of all asylum seekers crossing into Canada to be serious criminals and the Canada Border Services Agency to refute that, saying about two per cent pose a threat and are held in detention.
After spending more than two weeks in the Winnipeg Remand Centre, Ahmed Aden Ali, 37, is out on bail and desperate to stay in Canada.
In an interview with the Free Press, he talked about what happened the night he arrived in April and the series of bad choices and bad luck that got him to where he is today: a man weighed down with troubling baggage who has become Canada’s problem.
Authorities here can’t send him — or any other asylum seeker who’s slipped over the border — back to the United States, because the U.S. won’t take them, said Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees.
Canadian authorities can’t keep him locked up unless he’s a danger, because it’s a human rights violation and is too costly.
Dench called Ali’s case "very uncommon."
"The federal government is trying to identify better solutions for people who don’t need to be in detention, so we’re not wasting taxpayers’ money keeping people locked up," she said.
If his removal order is issued, he can’t just be sent back to Somalia. He has no travel documents and there are no commercial flights from North America to the African country.
Ali was 11 years old when civil war broke out and Somalia degenerated into chaos. By the time he was 14, he and other boys his age were walking around with AK-47 assault rifles.
"You find a gun when you see dead people on the street. Everybody gets it — it’s for protection," he said in an interview Thursday at his lawyer’s office.
When he was 17, his parents and six siblings moved to Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya. There, Ali learned to speak English.
At 19, an older sister living in the U.S. sponsored his family, who moved to Minneapolis in 1999.
"Everybody was excited," said Ali, who was keen to continue his education. "I was good at math and English."
He went to live with an aunt in Madison, Wis., got his GED and started attending classes at a liberal arts college. Just when it seemed like he had it all together, everything began to unravel.
"I was having flashbacks," he said.The memory he tried hardest to forget kept resurfacing.
In it, Ali is 14 years old and in Somalia, with no school and at loose ends with a "buddy," each carrying an AK-47 and watching the world go by.
"We see a lady walking down the street. He said, ‘I’m going to shoot the lady.’ And he did it — he shot her! I jumped up and went to see her."
She was dead. Her face was covered by her niqab, so he pulled it back to see who she was. He recognized the woman as someone who had been kind to him.
"I felt it was like my own mom." He said he shot the boy who had killed her, and injured him.
That episode replays over and over in his head — even 23 years later and half a world away.
"I should’ve grabbed his gun," said Ali, who wishes he’d asked for help sooner as an adult in the U.S.
Ali said he wouldn’t talk to anyone about what he was going through because of the stigma of mental illness in the Somali community.
"They call you crazy," he explained.
He moved back to Minneapolis to be close to his mother. There, he was charged with grand theft auto after taking his uncle’s vehicle without permission. Ali said his uncle didn’t know who took it and reported it stolen. Ali said he was arrested for being drunk and disorderly.
In 2013, he suffered a brain aneurysm, spent more than a month in a coma and underwent surgery, leaving long, wide scars across his scalp. He underwent physical therapy, then went into treatment for chemical dependency and mental health issues.
Then he spent more than three years in immigration detention.
Finally, he was released.
"When Donald Trump became president, I felt fear," he said.
Ali had heard about people being deported to Somalia. A friend working in Edmonton encouraged him to head north to Canada. So did his mom.
He paid a smuggler US$200 for a ride to the border near Emerson. Late on a Friday night, he and five other people were dropped off further away from Canada than they were told and they had a two-hour walk to the border. A van picked the migrants up when they crossed into Canada and took them to the Canada Border Services Agency at Emerson.
"I had my first interview and it was really good," said Ali. He had a second interview and then noticed the group he crossed into Canada with had finished their interviews and were being driven away towards Winnipeg. He started to worry.
For the third interview, another officer — a woman — told him to wait and came back with two other officers.
"They put me in a little room and locked the door," Ali said. "She said, ‘You’re going to get deported.’"
Ali said he panicked and started banging on the door and yelling. One of the officers told him to settle down. Ali pulled out a lighter he had in his pocket and held the flame next to the sprinkler in the ceiling until it started spraying water in the cell. The officers returned, cuffed him and sent him to the Winnipeg Remand Centre.
He was charged with uttering threats, mischief over $5,000 and assaulting a peace officer. Ali said he didn’t assault anyone and his lawyer, David Davis, said there are questions about the strength of those charges. He’s back in court May 23 to answer to them.
The Customs and Immigration Union did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
For now, Ali has to abide by release conditions, including a curfew and staying away from alcohol and trouble. He’s waiting to get a work permit so he can support himself as his immigration case moves through the system. Meanwhile, he’s volunteering at the inner-city shelter he’s staying in, interpreting for other asylum seekers and helping them find their way around.
"I have to stay busy," he said.
He said he poses no threat to anyone. "If they give me a chance, then I’m going to show them. I’m trying to do good in my life."
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.