City councillor pushing for equality nominated for top immigrant award

Sharmarke Dubow says that since being elected to Victoria city council in 2018, he has worked to make life more equitable for society’s most vulnerable.

In the midst of a global pandemic, a civil rights movement and an affordable housing crisis which has seen tempers flare over where homeless people can camp, Dubow said there’s never been a better opportunity for the city to create public policy that can address rising income inequality.

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Commitment to positive change is one reason Dubow, a former Somali refugee and the first Black city councillor to be elected in Victoria in 152 years, has been nominated as one of Canada’s top immigrants.

The 36-year-old, who became a citizen three years ago this Canada Day, is among 75 nominees for the Royal Bank of Canada’s Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Awards. Nominees are selected based on their achievements, how they have inspired others and the challenges they have overcome.

The awards highlight the positive contribution newcomers make to Canadian society, Dubow said.

“In Canada, newcomers contribute in all different ways and maybe this award is just highlighting a few stories but ... everyone should be celebrated, not just the extraordinary stories,” he said.

“From migrant workers on farms, to a teacher, to a clearer, to a politician or engineer, immigrants have been building this country for centuries.”

Dubow was eight when he and his sister fled Somalia in 1992 in the midst of the country’s civil war. Their family lived in a refugee camp in Kenya before moving to Ethiopia in 1997. To pursue his education, Dubow moved to Egypt, where he completed a degree in business technology from Cape Breton University, which runs the Canadian International College in Cairo

In 2010, he was sponsored by a family member to move to Winnipeg. He moved to Victoria in 2012. He worked with the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society and the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria, where he connected refugees with support services.

Dubow was elected to city council in October 2018 — also the first time he voted in Canada.

Whether it’s debates on affordable housing, business recovery during COVID-19 or better supports for seniors, Dubow said he approaches every issue mindful of what it’s like to be displaced.

That came into play during a public backlash over council’s recent decision to allow people without homes to continue camping in Beacon Hill Park. Having spent 20 years looking for a safe place to call home, Dubow said he can empathize with those in need of somewhere to live.

Dubow is one of the co-chairs of the Welcoming Cities task force, which is focused on building more inclusive communities and closing the income gap between newcomers and long-term residents. He has also advocated for an equity framework that would ensure a broader range of groups and neighbourhoods benefit from public policies.

“Increased inequality causes seniors, Indigenous and Black communities, people of colour … to be left out of society,” he said. “We are only as safe, as healthy, as secure as the most vulnerable in our society.”

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