Dr. Mohamed Gilao and Habiba Adan have a few things in common. They fled war-torn Somalia over two decades ago to provide their children with a better and safer life.
Now, they are hurting because they have both lost sons to gun violence in Toronto. The killers have not been apprehended and the families are still seeking justice for their loved ones.
Eight years ago, Gilao’s first born and only son, Loyan and his 19-year-old friend, Ali Mohamud Ali, were gunned down a few yards from the Phoenix Concert Theatre after a weekend of celebrating a friend’s wedding. They were in a group of five headed to a nearby car park when a man approached them and started shooting.
The third-year York University information technology student, who was planning to propose to his girlfriend of three years in the next few weeks, succumbed a few hours later in hospital, while Ali died from a gunshot wound to the head.
Last September, Adan’s son, Warsame Ali, a high school graduate who once aspired to be a police officer, and his friend, Suleiman Ali, were found shot to death in Rexdale. They were among six Somali-Canadian male youths to succumb to gun violence in the Greater Toronto Area between June and October last year.
At a press conference at Queen’s Park recently, MPP Mike Colle and Etobicoke North MP Dr. Kirsty Duncan joined Gilao, Adan and other Somali-Canadian parents who have lost their sons to gun violence in calling on the federal and provincial governments for action.
Adan said her life has changed forever since the night her husband of 36 years – Mohamed Hussein – and police showed up at her workplace with the devastating news.
“My pain of losing a child is unbearable and unimaginable,” said Adan, who has two older sons. “I no longer sleep well, I have mood swings and I am a grieving mother. I wouldn’t wish what I am going through on any parent. What makes it even worse is knowing that my son’s killer is still out there. It pains me to know that they can potentially kill again and another mother may lose her son too.”
Gilao, the executive director of the Dejinta Beesha Somali Multi-Service Centre, said the pain of losing a child has not subsided.
“My family is still in emotional turbulence and it’s most pronounced when family celebrations come around,” said Gilao, a prominent and respected leader in Toronto’s Somali community who, with the help of Global Mission, built the Dayniili General Hospital on the outskirts of Mogadishu. “We are still mourning the loss of many hopes, big dreams and high expectations. Loyan’s demise has created a deep void in the hearts of all who knew him.”
Five years ago, the Gilao family established the Career Foundation/Loyan Gilao Memorial Award at York University for students in the Faculty of Science & Engineering.
Desperate to put an end to the violence that has plagued their community, Adan and a few other Somali-Canadians started Positive Change, a grassroots advocacy group to address some of the challenges facing their community.
Last January, Colle presented a five-point action strategy – that included an appeal for a federal judicial task force to investigate the unsolved murders of young Somali men in Toronto and Alberta – on behalf of the organization.
Duncan, whose Etobicoke North riding has a large Somali-Canadian population, said she has sent a list of 35 questions to the federal government requesting answers
“My community is hurting and they are asking for help,” she said. “We need real answers regarding the government’s understanding of this problem and what it plans to do. This crisis crosses provincial boundaries and requires federal action.”
Nearly 50 Somali-Canadian young men have been murdered in the Greater Toronto Area and Alberta in the last eight years.