“We are tired of being marginalized. We came to Canada to integrate, but it seems officials at the TDSB would like us to segregate ourselves into ghettoes.” Those are the words of Suban Abdullahi, mother of two kids in the Toronto school system and three more who have graduated and are now in university.
She is one angry Canadian, livid over a proposal by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) to create a “Somali Task Force” to look into absenteeism and crime among Toronto’s Somali-Canadian youth. “Eighty-three percent of the children of Somali descent were born in Canada. They are Canadians, not Somali-Canadians,” she tells me.
It all began in January, 2013 when Toronto MPP Mike Colle, who has a large Somali-Canadian population in his riding, sent a letter to the TDSB asking that it set up a “task force” for Somali-Canadian students in the wake of the murders of 50 youths in Alberta and Ontario.
However, this initiative in “equity”, which the board has taken up, has created a backlash among the very people it was supposed to help.
Mothers like Abdullahi insist these problems run across Toronto’s many ethnic communities, not Somalis alone.
Last Tuesday, she and about 30 other parents demonstrated outside the TDSB’s offices, demanding the task force proposal be abandoned or the label “Somali” dropped.
Liibaan Moalin, a father of three children in the TDSB system, started an on-line petition addressed to Chris Bolton, Chair of the TDSB and Premier Kathleen Wynne, asking, them to “Stop Ghettoizing Canadian Children of Somali descent.”
“We are parents of Canadian children of Somali descent who find the idea of the proposed TDSB-funded “Somali Task Force” extremely offensive and racist. We believe if such a program is implemented, an entire community that is already part of a marginalized group, will further be stigmatized and segregated from the mainstream Canadian community.”
School Superintendent Jim Spyropoulos of TDSB, who is spearheading the “Somali Task Force” proposal acknowledges, “Labelling and stigma are an issue,” but told me, “it’s the Somali-Canadian community that is insisting on having the label ‘Somali’ attached to the taskforce.
“We met with hundreds of Somali-Canadians at meetings held in the Abu-Hurraira Mosque and the IMO Islamic Centre in Rexdale,” he said. The proposals reflect the community’s desires, including one to establish a Somali History Month, in spite of the fact TDSB already has a Black History Month.
I asked Spyropolous if he was willing to reconsider the proposal or drop the “Somali” label now that he knows about opposition to it from many Somali-Canadian parents. He was non-committal.
Chris Bolton, chair of the TDSB says nothing has been finalized. In an e-mail, he said recommendations made by Spyropolous and his group “will be received by the board and then staff would consider what can be done with regard to implementation; so there is lots of time to have input into what happens next.”
One would have hoped the TDSB had learned from the results of its Africentric school fiasco. But it seems it hasn’t and there is little chance of stopping Canadian children of Somali descent from becoming the board’s latest guinea pigs.