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article imageOp-Ed: Young African Immigrants and the Law in Canada

By Gibril Koroma     Jan 22, 2011 in Crime
Vancouver - One of the huge problems the Canadian government is facing is the rising crime rate among young people from immigrant communities across the country.
Most of these young offenders or delinquents are from poor and deprived homes where there is little or no parental supervision. These kids are usually school drop outs or come from single parent homes or from homes where the average income is below the poverty line or where the single parent is usually on income assistance. An increasing number of these youths are refugees from Africa and other parts of the so-called third world who arrive here from refugee camps with little or no formal education or zero competence in English or French, Canada's official languages, the gateway to the job market.
This brings me to the recent deportation to Sierra Leone, a tiny country in West Africa, of Mohamed Mansaray, 25, a member of the African Mafia, a Winnipeg street gang. The deportation was carried out by the Canadian Border Services Agency and the Winnipeg Police Service. Mohamed has a long list of convictions which included assault and robbery.
"I am pleased this serious convicted criminal will no longer pose a threat to the safety of Canadians and our communities," Public Safety minister Vic Toews (photo) told CBC.
This incident got me thinking about the precarious lives being led by some young African immigrants in Canada. We increasingly hear about their misdeeds almost every week these days and many African community leaders are expressing concern. Perhaps it would be useful to have a look at the profile of the young African offender or criminal in Canada:
1. He is usually male, from a single parent home, ruled by mom in most cases. The father is usually absent or had been killed in one of the wars in Africa.
2. He is no longer in school due to several factors including language difficulties, problems with teachers or bullying from classmates.
3. For most of these kids, poverty at home is extreme because of very low household income. A lot them consequently look for ways to earn money as soon as they are old enough to fend for themselves. This search for money sometimes leads to unconventional routes like drug peddling and petty theft.
4.Because he is not in school, this young African offender lacks an understanding of basic Canadian rules of etiquette, not to talk of Canadian laws. Many do not even know that they can be deported for certain crimes, their permanent residency or citizenship notwithstanding.
5. He usually has deep psychological problems. He may have witnessed scenes of horror in a war situation while in Africa. As a kid, he may have seen people being killed including close relatives. On arrival in Canada he may not have been treated for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This will affect his behaviour as he grows older.
This, in a nutshell, is the profile of the young African offender on the streets of Canada's cities and towns. How do we help him to become a better citizen and move away from a life of crime that might lead to a jail term, deportation or even death? Let's see:
1. As stated earlier, poverty is endemic in the homes of most African immigrants in Canada, especially refugees with little or no formal education and skills. There is almost always no money at home and the kids have to quickly learn how to fend for themselves. The parents, if they have any jobs at all, can be found in dead end or survival jobs with no extra cash to have a nanny to look after the kids while they are at work. Friends usually help out and if it's a single mother, she simply does not go out to work because she cannot afford a nanny, thus compounding the financial difficulties. When the children get older the mother finally goes out to work, thus leaving them to their devices when they return home from school. A lot of them quickly drop out of school anyway. So the home plays a very important role in the overall development of these kids. The home largely determines whether they will one day be criminals or not. To avoid bad results from the home environment and the creation of future little monsters who might gravitate into hardened criminals, the government needs to strengthen current efforts to create an enabling environment for children of new immigrants and refugees. New immigrant families need help and one way to do this is by helping to create a level playing field for everybody on the job market. Citizenship and Immigration minister Jason Kenney recently spoke on this very issue when he announced that his ministry is working on modalities to increase economic opportunities for immigrants.
I think the government is doing a lot for immigrants with egards to employment but all these efforts would be in vain if employers do not recognize the credentials of immigrants or refuse to employ immigrants with or without "Canadian experience." The problem here is the government cannot force employers to employ anybody, they can only encourage, maybe cajole.
2. Many refugees from war-torn countries and dictatorships need some kind of therapy due to to the horrors they had seen or experienced. This is one problem the authorities need to pay urgent attention to. Usually refugees are brought into the country, go through orientation classes and are rapidly prepared for the job market without much attention being paid to the trauma the parents and their children may have gone through. A lot of the young offenders in our communities are former refugees that are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). They and their parents need help, they need therapy but this is not always available.
3. Lack of community support: New immigrants, especially those from Africa lack strong community support and bonding, something that is quite common in Africa. This is due to may factors including the comparatively smaller number of Africans in many towns and cities in Canada, lack of unity and so on. In a recent interview with Dr. Godwin Eni, an African community leader, he narrated some of the problems facing African communities in Canada:
"Over the years, the major internal problem affecting the African-Canadian community is disunity, supported by lack of trust among members from different national origins, quest for individual visibility, emphasis on national differences occasioned by pride, and a certain degree of self-importance which fails to acknowledge the contribution of others in furthering the interest of the community."
He also pinpointed some of the external problems facing new immigrants as they try to settle down in Canada:
"I have always advised all new immigrants to Canada, regardless of country of origin, to believe in themselves and the ability to achieve better things in life personally, professionally and economically. An impediment to sustaining this belief is the obtrusive presence of racism, discriminatory practices and inequality of consideration in some sectors of our society. It takes an intelligent individual to rise above these practices and look forward to a goal -oriented future. This does not mean that one should not call attention to differential treatment directed at race, religion, gender or other human traits such as accent and mannerism. One should do so in ways that educate the perpetrator and the society."
From the foregoing we can see some of the reasons why young Africans in Canada are increasingly having problems with the law: Dysfunctional families, alienation, trauma, discrimination, poverty and so on. The government needs to have another look at what's happening in new immigrant and refugee communities across Canada.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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