Update: Victoria's mayor says she did not know about councillor's travel until Tuesday afternoon, shortly before he made a public statement about his international travel. Full story here.
Two Greater Victoria councillors have acknowledged travelling internationally in December despite government directives advising against non-essential travel. Victoria Coun. Sharmarke Dubow has apologized for his trip to East Africa and Metchosin councillor Kyara Kahakauwila is defending her trip to Mexico for a friend’s wedding, saying she was up front with Metchosin’s mayor, council and the public about her travel plans.
Dubow said in a Facebook post Tuesday that he made the “poor choice” to travel outside the country, and apologized to his constituents. “I had been planning and saving for this trip for years and returned to East Africa for the first time since I fled the civil war in Somalia in 1992 as a child,” he wrote. “I saw family members I hadn’t seen in more than three decades.”
However, Dubow posted photos on social media in December 2019 from Ethiopia and from Djibouti in January 2019. On Tuesday night, Dubow clarified that it was his first time returning to Somalia and Kenya since he fled.
The Times Colonist asked all 93 municipal councillors in Greater Victoria if they had travelled internationally during the Christmas break or since the start of the pandemic. All but two of the 78 councillors who replied said they had not travelled internationally since March. Many said they have not left the Island, or even their region and said they’ve cancelled international holidays or trips to see family members.
Premier John Horgan told British Columbians on Nov. 18 to avoid non-essential travel amid rising COVID-19 case numbers.
Dubow said while away, he adhered to local public health guidelines and took the PCR COVID-19 test multiple times, including before returning home to Canada, and all results were negative. He said he is now in quarantine for 14 days at a hotel in Vancouver after arriving back in Canada on Monday, and plans to carry out his council duties remotely.
“Even with the extreme caution that I took, including the tests I paid for, I know now that I should not have gone,” he wrote on Facebook. “I acknowledge that I showed poor judgment by not leading by example in this case. I understand that many people made the difficult decision not to visit their families over the past number of months. I know now that I should have made the same decision.”
Kahakauwila said she and her husband, Edison, went to Cabo San Lucas from Dec. 1 to Dec. 8 and quarantined for two weeks afterward.
“Yes we made the decision to travel,” said Kahakauwila, who has been a councillor since 2006. “We didn’t hide it from anybody.”
“Travelling is not illegal — it’s discouraged,” she said.
Senior-level politicians across the country have been in hot water for international travel over the holiday period.
Both Ontario finance minister Rod Phillips and Alberta municipal affairs minister Tracy Allard resigned after travelling to St. Barts and Hawaii, respectively, over the holidays as both provinces were instituting stricter COVID-19 restrictions and warning against non-essential travel.
Conservative Senator Don Plett travelled to Mexico on Dec. 28 after posting a Christmas message to YouTube in which he acknowledged the pandemic has forced people to cancel travel plans.
Kahakauwila said her situation is different because she is not setting provincial health policy or advising anyone not to travel.
“Just because there have been some, I think, poor decisions made by upper-level politicians and high-ranking staff to cover up what they were doing, I would never do that,” she said. “I didn’t set out to deceive anyone.”
The councillor said she and her husband took sent their teenage sons to live with a relative during the quarantine period to eliminate any risk of exposure. Kahakauwila said neither she nor her husband developed symptoms during or after their travel.
Kahakauwila, who owns L.A. Limousines and Transportation, said the wedding was for an industry colleague from Texas, so she and her husband considered the trip both personal and business-related.
Metchosin Mayor John Ranns said he stands behind Kahakauwila’s trip to Mexico. While Ranns said it’s hypocritical for politicians to tell people not to travel while jetting off to warm destinations, the councillor did not do that.
“She has never set herself up as an example that should be followed,” said Ranns.
Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes said elected municipal officials have a moral responsibility to set an example for their constituents and abide by public health recommendations.
Haynes said local politicians have an even greater responsibility than provincial or federal politicians not to travel, because “we are more hand-in-hand with our residents. We’re out in the shops, we’re out in the restaurants.”
No Saanich council member travelled internationally over the holidays, said Haynes, who did not feel it was necessary to tell them not to do so. “This is our opportunity to send a clear signal as elected officials that we are in this together,” he said.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps quipped that she has only ventured as far south as Dallas Road, save for a summer trip to Tofino when province-wide travel was not restricted. Helps could not be reached after Dubow posted about his trip on Tuesday evening.