Coun. Sharmarke Dubow only recently gained Canadian citizenship, and in the recent municipal election he both cast his first vote, and was elected to City Council (File contributed/Together Victoria)

Former Somali refugee casts first-ever ballot and wins a Victoria city council seat in same election

Sharmarke Dubow, who came to Canada in 2012, says he’s honoured and excited to get to work

Sharmarke Dubow couldn’t wait to vote in this year’s municipal election; not only was he running in it, but it would be the first time in his whole life that he could vote.

“I was so excited I had to take a break from handing out my campaign flyers,” Dubow said. “You know how they say, ‘every vote counts’, so I had to go practice my democracy.”

Just hours later he found out he had been elected to Victoria city council.

READ MORE: Slate of candidates to run for City council

“When I found out that I won I thought I would be strong, but I started crying you know, it was another huge achievement of my life, ” Dubow said. “It’s such a privilege and an honour, we are a community as a country.”

Dubow had never been able to take part in an election after fleeing his home country of Somalia when he was eight years old.

Escaping the civil war meant he would live as a refugee in camps and impermanent establishments for most of his life until he had a private sponsor from Winnipeg.

While his sponsorship began in 2010, he only arrived in Canada in 2012. He decided to use his new freedom to travel and explore the country, and found a home in Victoria.

ALSO READ: Incumbent mayors in Victoria, Esquimalt retain their roles

Since then he has immersed himself in the community working as refugee volunteer support services facilitator at the Inter-Cultural Association, as the co-chair of the Canadian Council for Refugees’ settlement and integration working group, and as the president the of Victoria Coalition for Survivors of Torture, amongst many other groups.

In 2017 he became a citizen in the most Canadian way possible – on Canada Day, on the country’s 150th anniversary at Government House.

He was quick to utilize his citizen’s right, and joined a slate of electoral candidates for the municipal election from a grassroots organization called Together Victoria, which also included Sarah Potts and Laurel Collins. All three of were elected to council Saturday.

RELATED: ‘We live in an ableist society,’ Victoria candidates debate how to approach accessibility

“That shows our message of affordability, inclusiveness and striving for everyone must have resonated with Victoria,” Dubow said. “We did deep listening, we went out there and engaged with the community, and what was more interesting is all walks of life and ages were part of the campaign.”

Dubow said this resonated with an African philosophy known as “ubuntu” which translates to “I am because we are.”

“It’s saying ‘If I’m suffering, then my suffering is for everyone,’” he said.

“I want to bring the ubuntu philosophy to city hall as a community to look after one another. It’s not easy, I’m not minimizing the work ahead… but I’m excited. I’m honoured and I can’t wait to get into the office and get to work.”

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com


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