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Sharmarke Dubow is photographed at City Hall in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018.CHAD HIPOLITO/The Canadian Press

Sharmarke Dubow pulls on a red rubber wristband marked with the word “Hope” when asked if, as a refugee in Africa, he could ever have imagined where life has taken him.

“As you can see, I think hope is really important,” Mr. Dubow says, sitting behind the municipal chamber he shares with seven peers as the first black city councillor to be elected in Victoria in 152 years.

“If I go back and look in the eyes of the … eight-year-old [me] in the refugee camp and say, `You will become Canadian, you will be living in Victoria, you will be elected,' I don’t know how that young boy would digest that.”

His win in October serves to underscore the lack of ethnic diversity on some city councils in British Columbia – most notably in Vancouver, where only one person of colour was elected to a council of 10.

Mr. Dubow, 34, is mindful of the issue. He says diversity in municipal government is important because decision makers must represent the community. He says his victory exemplifies the welcoming spirit of Victoria, his home since 2012.

“I can’t speak for other cities, but for Victoria, it speaks for who we are because they elected me the first time I attempted this,” said Mr. Dubow, who became a Canadian citizen just last year.

Some might look to place Mr. Dubow in the context of a larger story about how refugees do in Canada, but he clearly has some reservations about that: “My story is my story. It cannot speak for every other story.”

Born in Somalia, he left that country during a civil war in 1992, when he was eight. He took a boat to Mombasa, Kenya, and lived in a refugee camp until it was closed. He then moved to Ethiopia and Egypt. A relative on his mother’s side sponsored him to come to Winnipeg in 2012 before he moved to Victoria the same year.

He was hired by the Victoria Immigrant Refugee Centre Society to help newcomers integrate. Off the job, he has been smitten by much about the city, including the weather – “there is no snow” – the ocean, people saying thanks to bus drivers and Victoria’s relatively small scale. “You always run into someone you know."

He has been involved in organizations such as the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Victoria Tenant Action Group, but first step toward electoral office came when Mayor Lisa Helps complimented him on his speech for 2017 World Refugee Day celebrations.

“He spoke so eloquently and so thoughtfully and so inclusively that I actually went up to him later and said, `You should give some thought to running for city council,' " Ms. Helps said.

After many months of consultations with stakeholders and community leaders, he sought and won one of three nominations with Together Victoria, a progressive slate that made its ballot debut in the fall election. It was also the first time he had ever cast a ballot.

Ironically, he voted in nearby Esquimalt, a township to the west of Victoria. He has lived there since last year, after losing his rental housing in Victoria and spending a month in a hostel. Not surprisingly, he has made rental issues a political priority.

He went into politics with a profile elevated by his advocacy in various Victoria organizations, said Together Victoria treasurer Seamus Wolfe.

“It also helps that he has gone out for tea with half the city," Mr. Wolfe quipped, acknowledging that it’s challenging for non-incumbents to win.

Mr. Wolfe said the slate wanted Mr. Dubow as part of an effort to run young people, women and people of varied ethnic backgrounds.

"Those voices haven’t seen themselves reflected in politics and maybe haven’t been voting. If we get those people, the excitement we can get, the new voters we can get could push us over the top,” he said. “It definitely was one of the things that helped.”

Even though he is one of two people of colour on council, Mr. Dobow is not Victoria’s first black councillor. That, according to the municipal engagement department, was Mifflin Wistar Gibbs, a merchant who served between 1866 and 1869.

Mr. Dubow says his race was not an issue in the campaign. “It speaks [for] itself. It’s obvious when people see me.” He says he represented several things to voters: a renter with much in common with his constituency, a newcomer to the community and a proponent of housing affordability.

One of his first actions was teaming with fellow councillor Jeremy Loveday to help form a renters advisory committee. Mr. Loveday said Mr. Dubow was vocal about renters' issues in the election and committed to taking action. “We had a natural alliance on the issue,” he said.

“His life experience as a refugee and coming to this city as a newcomer informed his work as a community advocate and as an organizer, and that’s how Councillor Dubow and I came to meet – through advocacy on different issues including advocacy for tenants' rights and for newcomers," Mr. Loveday said.

"I saw someone there who was a great advocate, someone who would stick up for human rights, and thought that would be a really great voice on council. … I am glad to see him elected.”

Mr. Dubow considers himself lucky to have a prominent voice in Victoria politics.

“Coming to Canada and having an opportunity to start a life is a golden ticket. Not everybody gets that," he said. "Coming to Victoria and calling that home and doing [this] work is a second golden ticket.”

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