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Toronto’s Somali community claims excessive force used in Project Traveller raids

TORONTO – Members of Toronto’s Somali community lashed out Tuesday at what they called excessive force, cultural insensitivity and harsh treatment they claim they faced at the hands of police during last week’s raids on Dixon Road.

Hundreds of police officers from several Ontario police forces raided several apartment buildings along Dixon Road on Thursday.

In total, 44 people faced 224 charges in relation to the investigation dubbed “Project Traveller.”

Police also seized over $500,000, over $3 million in drugs and dozens of firearms as part of the raids.

But members of the Dixon Road Somali community are saying those arrests came at the expense of innocent bystanders.

“After the raid, many Somali community members felt victimized, traumatized, as a result of a reckless manner in which the officers forcibly entered our homes,” Maha Yusuf the executive director of Midaynta Community Services said at a press conference Tuesday morning.. “The community members are angry by the destruction of the property, disrespectful comments made by the Toronto police and the police brutality.”

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Fosia Duale, who grew up at 330 Dixon Road, read a statement on behalf of 64-year-old Saeda Hersi – whose son was arrested during the raids. Hersi claimed she had a “minor heart attack” and was kicked in the face by a tactical officer during the early morning raids.

In her statement, Hersi says she had finished praying on Thursday morning when she decided to go back to bed.

She heard a “terrifying sound” that reminded her of gunshots and was soon pinned against the wall by a man who “looked like a soldier,” handcuffed and thrown on the bed, she said.

“My lower body was exposed and I begged him to cover me. I was embarrassed to be in a naked state. I wasn’t given the dignity to cover myself, so I continued to beg ‘please, I am Muslim, I am Muslim,’” Duale said on Hersi’s behalf. “I began to feel lightheaded, my heart was beating painfully fast and I asked him for water. ‘Blood pressure, blood pressure,’ I repeated. He responded with one word: ‘die.’ I had a minor heart attack.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, no complaints have been made to Toronto Police according to Director of Corporate Communications Mark Pugash.

In fact, Pugash said he was surprised by the morning press conference in Rexdale.

“There was nothing said about the crime and victimization of the area: the guns and the drugs and the damage caused. Because, the feedback we get, says most people in the community are concerned about,” he said in an interview Tuesday.

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Pugash said community members that he has heard from are “enormously pleased” that members of the targeted street gang – the Dixon Bloods or the Dixon Goonies – have been arrested.

He added that these criminals are endangering their family and community by involving them in a dangerous lifestyle.

“We’ve seen a number of people who seem to believe that if a young criminal moves in with the parents or grandparents then somehow they have a sanctuary from the police and that can never be the case,” Pugash said. “They endangering them, they are putting them in harm’s way by their lifestyle.”

While opinions on the Project Traveller raids may differ among members of the Somali-Canadian community, some lay the blame on the Toronto media.

Mohamed Jama, a youth outreach worker who lives on Dixon Road, said the portrayal of the Somali-Canadian community by Toronto media has perpetuated incorrect stereotypes.

“We’re all here today to remind members of the media, members of the law enforcement community, members of the private, public sectors and the general public that we are Canadians and that we are human beings,” Jama said. “Many of us have never been in trouble with the law. Many of us have followed the rules, gone to university or college, got those degrees. But many of us find ourselves unemployed.”

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Police searched several of the apartment buildings along Dixon Road during Thursday’s raids but the epicentre of the raid was 320 Dixon Road – the same building that media reports say once housed the alleged video of someone matching Mayor Rob Ford’s appearance smoking what could be crack cocaine.

Global News has not seen the alleged video and cannot verify its authenticity.

The mayor has called the allegations “ridiculous” and according to his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, called them “untrue.”

He also denied using crack cocaine at a press conference in May.

And on Tuesday, the mayor refused to comment on the criticisms of the members of the Somali-Canadian community.

“I can’t comment on anything. It’s obviously before the courts now and it’s a police investigation,” the mayor said following an event at Nathan Phillips Square Tuesday.

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