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Victoria city councillor embroiled in pandemic travel scandal won’t run again

Somalian refugee turned politician disobeyed pandemic public health orders by travelling during the 2020 Christmas season.
Victoria city councilor Sharmarke Dubow, a Somali refugee, was featured in an exhibit called I've Not Always Been Canadian at the Royal B.C. Museum in 2018. Dubow drew countrywide attention for a controversial trip to his homeland in 2020 in defiance of public health orders against international travel.

The Somalian refugee who became a Victoria city councillor in 2018 won’t run for re-election in October.

On Twitter April 19, diversity and housing advocate Sharmarke Dubow cited the upcoming 10th anniversary of his move to Canada as the reason to explore other opportunities.

The Esquimalt resident ran on the left-wing Together Victoria ticket and finished seventh in the race for eight seats. He did not respond for comment.

Judging by the reaction of angry and disappointed citizens in early 2021, a second term was far from certain. That is because Dubow brought himself widespread media attention as one of several Canadian politicians who disobeyed pandemic public health orders and travelled during the 2020 Christmas season.

Dubow flew to his homeland, Somalia, and initially claimed the trip was his first to East Africa since fleeing civil war in 1992. He had Tweeted in December 2019 about visiting Ethiopia, and said at the time it was his first visit there since 2001.

Instead of answering a Times Colonist reporter’s pandemic travel questionnaire on Jan. 5, 2021, Dubow revealed on Facebook that he had entered 14-day quarantine at a Vancouver hotel the previous day after returning from Somalia. “I know now that I should not have gone,” Dubow said, apologizing to Victorians.

That sparked a flurry of emails and texts from more than 100 citizens by the end of Jan. 6, 2021.

“Ontario's Rod Phillips resigned as finance minister Thursday after returning from a Caribbean trip. You should too.” said one of the anonymized messages, obtained through a freedom of information request.

A common theme was personal sacrifice.

"I hope this trip was worth it,” wrote another. “With your upcoming unemployment you will have lots of time to go and visit your family. I haven't seen my family all year because they are dealing with COVID patients.”

Another emailer said: “My family didn't get together this Christmas. My grandmother is 100 years old and getting weak. This might have been her last Christmas, but we made the difficult choice to follow public health recommendations.”

Dubow lost another emailer’s support: “Just to put your behaviour into perspective, my daughter gave birth to my first grandchild a few days before Christmas. From the time she was a little girl, I had promised her I would be by her side when she had her first baby. Instead, I was following health orders and staying home.”

Sense of betrayal was another theme.

“I voted for you, and asked my friends and family to do the same,” wrote a woman who said she was the daughter of a refugee and had black family members in a country that was censored.

She suggested Dubow’s voyage could have put scarce medical supplies and the health of Africans at risk. “We have raised thousands of dollars to support COVID response in sub-Saharan Africa, through [censored]. I can't wrap my head around what you did.”

A separate message said, “People took to heart when you arrived here and people supported you to try to make your life better, to help engage in your new community. In fact, they said, we'll support you to run for city council!”

Wrote another: “I voted for you in the last election and I am very, very disappointed in your actions. Is this the thanks Canadians get for supporting you in your new home. I am a senior and do not appreciate having you and other Canadian politicians like yourself who feel there Is one rule for themselves and one rule for the rest of us.”

Another texter, claiming to be a Dubow supporter, suggested he resign immediately, run again in 2022, and “then let the voters decide if your sense of responsibility was enough to assuage them.”

He only received a few unconditional support emails. One suggested Dubow helped create jobs. “There should be no shame in safe travel.”

Someone from Cloverdale offered sympathy for Dubow in his trip to see family “in a perilous land ravaged by civil war.”

“I'm sorry that the mayor of Victoria isn't supporting you, but please know that I & others are.”

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said all council members “should be exemplary role models,” but they answer to the public, not each other. “The next steps are left in his hands,” she said on Jan. 6, 2021.

According to a Jan. 25, 2021, poll by Research Co., 61% of B.C. respondents agreed that politicians who travelled during the holiday season should resign or face a recall vote.