Victoria city councillor Sharmarke Dubow wants to make his beautiful coastal city a more liveable place for everyone.
It’s no surprise then that he based his 2018 electoral campaign on a vision of a more inclusive and vibrant urban community with a strong focus on creating more affordable rental housing and tenants’ rights.
What is unusual is that Dubow knows more about the meaning of home and homelessness than most politicians.
In 1992, Dubow was an eight-year-old boy aboard an overcrowded boat fleeing civil war in his native Somalia. Crossing the Indian Ocean, he lived in a refugee camp in Mombasa, Kenya, until it closed five years later. Travelling to Ethiopia, and then later to Egypt as a refugee with the assistance of UNHCR, Dubow arrived in Canada in 2012.
“I understand what it means to live in uncertainty”
Yet, even in Victoria, BC, where he now lives, he has experienced the precariousness of not having a permanent home. After losing his rental housing, he stayed in a hostel for a month, after finally finding a new place.
”When I look back at my life experiences and journey, with 20 years of being a refugee,” Dubow says, “that meant I faced risky situations, not knowing what would happen tomorrow. I understand what it means to live in uncertainty, which is why I’m working hard with council to push for more affordable housing.”
While he was pursuing a degree in business technology from Cape Breton University at its international campus in Cairo, Egypt, Dubow founded a student group to help foster entrepreneurship. After graduation, continuing his passion for community involvement, he began working for human rights organizations in Cairo.
Before he was elected as a city councillor last year, the 35-year-old was employed with the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society, and later with the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria, where he worked with refugees to connect them with support services.
Dubow feels it’s important to both welcome all newcomers and recognize the benefits they bring to the community, including job skills, financial resources, resilience, and a rich diversity of experiences and perspectives.
Dubow has been a proponent of Victoria’s “Welcoming City Strategy” to promote inclusivity, understanding and collaboration across cultures. It is part of the city’s four-year strategic plan.
“We want everyone to feel that they can stay and afford to live here. We want them to contribute fully and to feel connected and less isolated,” Dubow says.
Dubow is grateful to now call Victoria home—and to serve the community that he says lifted him up.
The first time in his life that he cast a vote was on October 20, 2018 — the same day he was elected as a city councillor. He had received his Canadian citizenship the year prior on Canada Day — July 1, 2017. His election was historic. Dubow was the first Somali-Canadian to serve on a city council in Canada, and the first Black city councillor in Victoria in 152 years.
“We want them…to feel connected and less isolated.”
Despite the adversity he has faced, he wouldn’t change a single thing about his past, acknowledging that who he is today is a direct result of his experiences. A proud Canadian, he cherishes the fact that “Canadians take care of each other.”
That love for Canada shines beyond his public service. Speaking to UNHCR Canada just before the Toronto Raptors won their first-ever NBA championship, Dubow admitted to being a big Raptors fan.
He marvelled that the basketball team was bringing the whole country together, confessing, as only a multicultural Canadian can: “As I’m sitting here talking on the phone to you from Victoria, I’m wearing my Toronto Raptors hat—one that I bought in a Quebec airport!”
Written by Fiona Irvine-Goulet