Ahmed Hussen, a Somali-born Member of Parliament who came to Canada as a refugee at the age of 16, has been appointed as the country’s new Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. He takes over from John McCallum, who had served in the role since the Liberal Party took office in November, 2015.
The 40 year-old father of three takes on a role that in recent years has become seen as an important cabinet position. Immigration policy touches Canadians and non-Canadians alike, and the minister leading the department is often seen as a reflection of the government’s mood and objectives. If that is the case, then this appointment may be viewed in a positive light.
Not only is Hussen an immigrant himself, but he is also a qualified attorney who practiced in the field before successfully running as a Liberal candidate in the Ontario riding of York South—Weston in the 2015 election. These credentials are not lost on the Minister, who stated in a recent television interview that, “It is quite an honour and a privilege to be put in charge of the very department that I was a client of many, many years ago.” Hussen now self-identifies as “Canadian first.”
Hussen’s pathway from refugee to MP is an improbable one, but then again in Canada many top public servants have improbable pathways to their current role. After all, this is a land where opportunity abounds.
Hamilton, Ontario is a long way from Mogadishu, Somalia, not just geographically but culturally and economically too. It was in Hamilton that Hussen completed high school before getting a job pumping gas in Mississauga, just outside Toronto. Walking around the streets one day, he saw a flyer for a public barbecue hosted by a provincial politician, George Smitherman, who was so impressed by his guest that he recommended Hussen for a job with the then-opposition Ontario Liberal Party.
Hussen got the job, and the rest, as they say, is history.
He worked in this capacity until November, 2003, when he was promoted to Special Assistant following the Ontario Liberal Party’s election victory. He held this new post for two years. Later, Hussen worked with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s Youth Engaged in National Security Issues committee, founded the Regent Park Community Council, and served as National President of the Canadian Somali Congress (CSC). Under his leadership, the CSC partnered with the Canadian International Peace Project and Canadian Jewish Congress to establish the Canadian Somali-Jewish Mentorship Project. It was the first national mentoring and development project between a sizable Muslim community and the Jewish community. He was also a sitting member on the federal government’s Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security.
Hussen’s public career has dovetailed with his academic background. He earned a BA in History at York University in 2002 before later pursuing a law degree at the University of Ottawa, successfully completing his bar exam in 2012.
“Ahmed Hussen embodies the very best of Canada. He has a global outlook, an altruistic nature, and a clear ‘can-do’ attitude that has allowed him to succeed in academia and public service. He has also proven to be a bridge builder between the various communities that make up the country,” says Attorney David Cohen.
“John McCallum laid some groundwork over the past year, but there is much for the new minister to get done. We are still waiting on changes to the Citizenship Act, overturning some of the Conservatives’ legislation. In addition, reductions in processing times remain largely aspirational rather than a reality, and further improvements could be made to the Express Entry system for skilled workers. There are myriad other things to look at, and so it is crucial for Mr Hussen and his team to hit the ground running. I wish him the best as he takes on this exciting new opportunity.”
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