A Victoria city councillor has been recognized as a “noteworthy historical figure” by Canadian Heritage as part of the federal department’s celebration of Black History Month.
Sharmarke Dubow, the first Black councillor for the city in more than 150 years, was acknowledged as a respected community leader with a “voice for bold and courageous policies through his passion for diversity, inclusion and building equitable, inclusive and compassionate communities,” Canadian Heritage says on its website.
Dubow was one of eight Black people to join the list of noteworthy historical figures, with others including singer Eleanor Collins and civil rights activist Viola Davis Desmond.
According to Canadian Heritage, the selection is meant to shed light on Canadians who contribute to the overall wellbeing and prosperity of the country and who help shape Canadian identity and heritage.
Dubow says being selected for inclusion on this list was “humbling.”
“It was such pride for our community in Victoria and for myself,” he told Gregor Craigie, host of CBC’s On the Island.
After fleeing conflict in Somalia at the age of eight, Dubow spent nearly 20 years as a refugee in Kenya, Ethiopia and Egypt until he was welcomed into Canada in 2012.
Since then, he has strived to help refugees and immigrants in the country, working at the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria and the Victoria Immigrant Refugee Services Centre, and serving on the executive committee of the Canadian Council for Refugees.
In 2018, the same year he was allowed to vote for the first time, he was elected as a city councillor in Victoria.
He said his experiences have contributed to important discussions in council concerning diversity and systemic racism.
“When we elect or create a space for diverse experience, we don’t only bring our professional experience or work experience, we also bring all the … lived experience to shape policies,” he said.
Dubow said he’s proud of his council for starting to tackle systemic racism and how it creates barriers for many people.
“We established the Office of Equity, Inclusion and Diversity to really give the tools for our strategic priority goals, to really analyze information on the origins, the root causes and also characteristics of social issues, and so that our city could identify systematic barriers in communities — and especially also the pandemic’s effects on our residents,” he said.
He added that he finds it especially important to represent young Black people because the median age for Black people in Canada is younger than that of the general population.
He’s also a proponent of using disaggregated data, which breaks down information into sub-categories like ethnic group, gender, occupation or educational status and can be used to reveal patterns and trends like inequity.
“People of African descent are not recognized as a distinct group and are often categorized alongside other communities that have been marginalized historically,” he said.
“This ignores the distinct history of anti-Black racism that has been allowed to thrive in Canada. When data is not disaggregated, it conceals disadvantages and gaps that particular groups of people face in public service across Canada — specifically anti-Black racism.”