Two siblings who were taken into provincial care as child refugees nearly 20 years ago are now suing the Nova Scotia government and a group care home, alleging abuse and a failure to respect their heritage.
Fatouma Abdi, 28, and her brother Abdoul Abdi, 26, came to Canada from Somalia in 2000 and by the end of 2001, they were taken from their two aunts — who were their primary caregivers — and put into the care of Nova Scotia’s Department of Community Services.
In a statement of claim, filed to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia on Tuesday, the Abdis’ lawyer detailed the siblings’ time living in a variety of foster homes and care facilities. The Abdis’ aunts tried to regain custody of both children over the years but never succeeded.
The statement alleges the siblings suffered mental, physical and sexual abuse throughout their time in care, and that they were repeatedly placed in settings that “stifled” the children’s Somali culture.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
The lawsuit was filed against the Attorney General of Nova Scotia, the former Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children (where Abdoul Abdi lived for five months in 2008) and the two companies that took over operations of the home in 2013, Akoma Family Centre Inc. and Akoma Holdings Inc.
The Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children has been the subject of abuse allegations before, and complaints from former residents sparked an inquiry, an apology from Premier Stephen McNeil in 2014, and a class-action lawsuit that eventually settled for $34 million.
Statements of defence in the Abdis’ lawsuit have not yet been filed. A spokesperson for the province told CBC News it could not comment because the matter is before the courts. The Akoma companies did not respond to a request for comment.
Abdoul Abdi made headlines in 2018 when he faced deportation after completing a prison term. He fought the deportation based on his childhood in provincial care, during which time no one from the 31 different foster homes and groups homes where he lived applied for citizenship for him.
The near-deportation isn’t mentioned in the new lawsuit, but the Abdis’ lawyer, Mike Dull, said it was a consequence of the alleged failings of the provincial care system.
“What often happens due to the psychological harms of experiencing abuse in care is that you struggle in early adulthood,” he said.
“[Abdoul] didn’t know how to operate as a young adult in in Nova Scotia, in Canada, and made some bad decisions at a very young age and ended up getting in trouble with the law … and then obviously faced deportation.”
The siblings’ court filing says they are seeking a declaration that their Charter right to security of the person was infringed, and damages.
Dull wouldn’t say how much financial compensation they were seeking, but said they hoped any damages awarded would help them “better their lives and those of their children” through things like education or psychological counselling.
“They are fortunate to be still relatively young compared to a lot of survivors of historic abuse who come forward,” Dull said in an interview.
He said it’s also important to the Abdis that their case is examined in a systemic context.
“I know it’s a really big deal for them to ensure that this doesn’t happen to future children, specifically children who are racialized or perhaps new immigrants to this country,” said Dull.
Through another lawyer, who is providing client support to the Abdis, both siblings declined interview requests on Tuesday. Fatouma Abdi provided a statement in a news release explaining why she and her brother chose to launch the lawsuit:
“In all honesty, it’s going to bring light to how they run the system and what they did to other kids. I hope this forces them to change. But for me, I don’t think it will ever bring me justice, because it doesn’t take away what Abdoul and I went through, nor does it take away what my children went through. I don’t think it will ever truly bring justice, but it’s a start.”
According to the Abdis’ court submission, they were prevented from practicing their Somali culture starting in their first placement out of their aunts’ care. At Dayspring Children’s Centre in Bridgewater, the claim says the siblings were punished for speaking their native language and Fatouma Abdi’s hijab was permanently confiscated.
A significant portion of the claim deals with their experience at a foster home in Halifax, where they lived together starting in 2003. The siblings claim Fatouma objected to the placement because the foster family was connected to a rival Somali tribe, which “deeply conflicted with their heritage and culture.”
They also claim they endured mental, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the foster family, which Fatouma said she reported to the Children’s Aid Society of Halifax, the agency responsible for the Abdis’ placements. Fatouma was removed from the foster home in 2004 and separated from Abdoul, who stayed for three more years.
Fatouma went on to spend time at Sullivan House, where she alleged she was assaulted multiple times “by males in the community.” She said she reported the assaults but nothing was done.
Later, Fatouma was placed in the Wood Street Secure Treatment Facility, where she said she endured long periods of confinement, as well as physical and psychological abuse by staff.
Fatouma gave birth to two children while she was still under the care of the province and she alleges she wasn’t given adequate parenting support or services. Those children were taken from her and later adopted. She would later have two more children, twin boys, one of whom was taken into provincial care at four years old and died seven months later. The Abdis’ court filing says the cause of death remains unknown.
Liability of care homes falls mostly on province
The foster family named in the lawsuit is not listed as a defendant because Dull said it wouldn’t be practical to include them.
“Most foster families don’t have the resources to compensate for the harms that were inflicted, nor the wherewithal to hire legal counsel to deal with that,” he said.
Dull also said the province is responsible and liable for care homes, so most of the homes where the Abdis allege they endured abuse and neglect are also not listed as defendants.
The exception is the former Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children and its new owners. The claim alleged Abdoul was repeatedly sexually abused by a staff member at the home while he was living there.