Alberta to spend $1.9M to help Somali youth resist drug trade

Published: May 12, 2010

The Alberta government says it will spend $1.9 million to try to cut the rising number of Somali youth dying in drug-trade violence.

“The problem starts when kids don’t feel involved, when kids don’t feel connected,” Justice Minister Alison Redford said at a north-end school Tuesday.
“Parents of immigrant youth want their children to feel like part of communities, not socially isolated and vulnerable to gang recruitment.”
About 30 young Somali men have been killed in Alberta in the last five years. Most have died violently in a battle for control of the province’s lucrative drug trade.
The victims have come mainly from Toronto, lured to Alberta to cash in on the oilsands, but instead getting caught up in the quick money of the drug trade. That business is estimated to be worth about $5 billion in the province.
Community leader Hassan Ali says the youth turn to the lure of easy money through drug trafficking because everywhere else they turn there are barriers.
“There are multiple barriers for (youth in) the Somali community,” said Ali, president of the Somali-Canadian Cultural Society of Edmonton.
“There are employment barriers, there’s educational ones, and a lack of knowledge about the system and the culture and the language.”
“There is racism, too,” he added. “That’s a factor we might sometimes overlook or deny, but there is a race factor in terms of employment and education opportunities.
“And (Somalis) don’t have a network. They don’t know people in the system and they need time to build that.”
The community had been pressing the province to strike a task force into the deaths, which have occurred mainly in the oilsands hub of Fort McMurray, as well as in Edmonton and Calgary. Almost all the cases are unsolved.
But Redford said the seed money is the best option for the Somalis — and for everyone else.
“Even though we’re talking about a project that will support work being done in the Somali community, I wouldn’t want anyone to think this is in any way a particular issue in (just) that community,” she said.
“When we talk about gang violence, we talk about this being a problem we need to deal with across all parts of our province.”
The money will be spread over three programs. The bulk of it, $1.3 million, will be used to help Somali families integrate into Canadian life by assisting them with employment, education and overcoming language barriers.
Another $595,000 will be used for mentoring — pairing youth with community members, therapists and counsellors — and on recreational programs. One-third of that money is to come from natural gas giant TransCanada Pipelines.
The final $202,000 will go to the Somali-Canadian Cultural Society of Edmonton for programs to keep kids away from crime.
The announcement comes two weeks after 19-year-old Abdinasir Abdulkadir Dirie was found murdered in an apartment in Fort McMurray. Dirie was facing drug charges.
Last month, the government also announced it was sending 21 more officers to Fort McMurray to fight organized crime.
Criminologists say the Somalis, many of whom are unaware of the drug trade’s unwritten rules and key players, are angering rivals and setting off turf wars and murders.
Redford said the aim is to stop that from happening.
“There are a lot of challenges and obstacles to settling in a new country, but they don’t need to become barriers.


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