By TOM GODFREY
A strip of high-rises on Dixon Rd., near Islington Ave. is dubbed by many as “Little Mogadishu” due to the many transplanted Somali Canadians who’ve put down roots in the area.
Leaders of the community say they’ve been there for more than 20 years, ever since they began arriving in Canada as refugee claimants due to the war then raging in their homeland.
There are more than 100,000 Somali Canadians living in Toronto and they face similar problems with policing shared by many recent immigrant groups, due to language, religious, cultural and other barriers.
Some residents believe they are being placed on a back burner by Toronto Police, who’ve basically left them alone as youth problems with gangs and drugs increase in the area.
Community activist Idil Burale, a co-founder of Positive Change, is only aware of three Somali-speaking officers on the force; including one who recently graduated. She and others have been calling for officers who patrol the area to undergo sensibility training.
Burale, a social worker, says there is a high dropout rate among Somali youth and many are ending up in jails and penitentiaries. There are now 50 largely-unsolved murders of young Somali men who have been killed in Ontario and Alberta in the last 10 years.
She and some moms of murdered youths, who were tired of seeing their young men killed, founded Positive Change in 2012 to fight against gun violence.
They have been working with politicians, Toronto police and 23 Division to improve the situation and make their community safer.
I have visited the “Little Mogadishu” area many times and have rarely seen officers walking the beat. Instead, the officers tend to drive into the complex and most remain in their vehicle or conduct investigations without much engagement or dialogue with residents.
Burale and the moms are trying to stop the spiral and insist the situation has to change. She was one of the organizers of a conference for the exchange program by police officers from Toronto and Minneapolis held in Rexdale last week.
The Minneapolis Police Dept. has a good reputation in dealing with the Somali community there. The force has hired officers who speak the language and work with the community.
Burale says the community is trying to find ways to reach the young Canadian-born Somalis who are dropping out of school and going into a life of crime.
“We escaped the brutal war in Somalia to bring our children to freedom in Canada,” she told Share. “We arrive here to find safety and now our kids are being taken away from us.”
Police suspect other young men, who are lacking direction, are being brainwashed on the Internet to travel abroad to fight for terrorist groups.
“This has got to stop,” said Burale. “Our young men are being killed and we don’t know why.”
Deputy Police Chief Peter Sloly said a unit, with a sergeant and four constables, has been assigned to work in the community and that has led to a reduction in crime.
Sloly said he travelled to Minneapolis and began a dialogue on policing in the Somali community following shootings at the Eaton Centre and on Danzig St.
The ongoing dialogue between police and the Somali community is much needed as both sides work to reach the young people. The community is here to stay and so are the police.
And, it is encouraging to see both sides talking and dealing with issues now, rather than later. The police need the community as much as the community needs the police.
And what better way to send that message than by having senior police brass as Sloly and Chair of the Police Services Board, Dr. Alok Mukherjee, welcome the officers and assure residents that their issues are being dealt with.
Hopefully, our officers may gain insight from their U.S. colleagues into patrolling and reaching out to a community that has a long-standing distrust of police.