Ahmed Hussen, who arrived in Canada as a refugee from Somalia at the age of 16, was sworn in as Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship at a Rideau Hall ceremony.
He was the first Somali-Canadian to become a federal Member of Parliament, and now many in the GTA's Somali community are celebrating as York South-Weston Liberal MP Ahmed Hussen has broken another barrier: he's been appointed as Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.
"It's a really great thing to happen to our community," said Mahad Yusef, the executive director of the Somali Immigrant Aid Association. "It's something that we really needed, not just for the Somali community, but for the whole black community." Hussen's appointment was announced Tuesday in Ottawa by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as part of an extensive cabinet shuffle. He replaces John McCallum, the veteran MP representing Markham-Thornhill, who will become Canada's ambassador to China.
Hussen, 41, knows the challenging path to citizenship first-hand; he came to Canada as a 16-year-old refugee from Somalia in 1993. "Each of us coming into public life are informed ... by the different experiences they bring to the table." Hussen told reporters in Ottawa Tuesday. "I'm no different in that sense. I'll bring my experience as an immigrant to Canada but also as an immigration lawyer — someone who worked many, many years before running for office as a community activist, a community organizer and a community advocate." When asked Tuesday if the idea of immigration and taking in refugees is something that needs defending these days in light of the election of Donald Trump in the U.S. and the Brexit vote in Britain, Hussen said Canada is showing the way when it comes to welcoming immigrants.
"I'm extremely proud of the fact that Canadians have always been welcoming to others, people who've sought asylum and ... we've been the better for it. The story of Canada is the story of immigration." Mahad Yusef agrees that Hussen's roots in the city's Somali community will be useful in his ministerial duties.
"Ahmed will share his knowledge and expertise and his lived experience. He understands the challenges. He understands the opportunities and he's been, for many years, advocating for immigration issues," said Yusef, who has known Hussen since he settled in Canada. "My feeling is our community is honoured that we have representation in cabinet."
Prior to being elected, Hussen worked as a lawyer, practicing criminal defence, immigration and refugee law. He also served on the board of the Global Enrichment Foundation, which helps women in East Africa go to university and colleges in the region, as well as the board for the Toronto-based Journalists for Human Rights. Speaking to the Star for after his election in 2015, Hussen described how he arrived in Canada as a solitary teenager and went to high school in Hamilton. After graduation, he moved in with one of his brothers, who lived in subsidized housing in Toronto’s Regent Park neighbourhood. To put himself through school at York University, Hussen commuted nearly two hours to pump gas in Mississauga. It was his experience living in Regent Park that drew him into politics. Hussen co-founded the neighbourhood association that pushed for the inclusion of more public housing in the $500-million redevelopment of the community, and eventually became a prominent voice as president of the Canadian Somali Congress.
In 1999, the newly elected George Smitherman — who went on to be a provincial cabinet minister and Toronto mayoral candidate — met Hussen in Regent Park. Smitherman became a kind of mentor for Hussen, eventually helping him land a gig working in former premier Dalton McGuinty’s office.
Smitherman told the Star Tuesday that he was thrilled to see Hussen vaulted to cabinet after such a short period on Parliament Hill.
“That’s the beauty of politics. If your leader sees your talent, you have the opportunity to ride the express elevator to the top,” he said.
“He’s got an impressive energy and an irrepressible sprit and I think those things are going to serve him extremely well and serve Canada well.”
Hussen takes over the immigration department that was previously headed by veteran Markham MP John McCallum, who shepherded nearly 40,000 refugees from Syria into Canada during his 14 months on the job. McCallum is leaving his post to be Canada’s ambassador to China and told reporters Tuesday that he feels the department is in “good hands” with Hussen.
Last modified onWednesday, 11 January 2017 19:38
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