Abdikheir Ahmed came to Canada as a Somali refugee 16 years ago. He had to wait seven years before he was eligible to vote. When he was legally allowed to participate in Canadian democracy, he was very excited.
"I brought my family, my children, all of us were so excited. My kids were fighting for who was going to deliver my ballot," Ahmed said. "That was the first time I cast a ballot in an election, (it was) a life-changing moment for me."
Now, the Ethnocultural Council of Manitoba will help other refugees and immigrants vote in the upcoming provincial election on Sept. 10.
In partnership with Elections Manitoba, they launched the "Got Citizenship? Go Vote!" campaign on Aug. 20. The campaign printed election brochures in 10 different languages, including Swahili, Arabic, and Mandarin, and distributed them throughout Winnipeg via community ambassadors.
The goal is to inform new Canadians about the voting process, and get immigrants and refugees invested in Canadian democracy.
Jennifer Chen, one of the organizers of "Got Citizenship? Go Vote!" said voting is closed off to Canadians who can’t understand the language.
"In many countries, the right to vote is limited. (Sometimes) it doesn’t even exist. In the country I came from (China), (I) never voted before," Chen said. "Some newcomers have been here for a long time, they never voted because they didn’t know where to vote, why it was important ... We want them to feel included in Canadian democracy."
Chen voted for the first time during the 2016 municipal election. The campaign had been advocating for multi-language election brochures for a while. Before they had the brochures, they had to rely on their ambassadors to engage their fellow immigrants.
Chen said more new Canadians are starting to get involved in voting.
"After we had the ambassador training (last year), I could see their eyes light up. For many of them, this is the first time they will vote in a democracy," Chen said. "I believe when you give them the information, they become really excited. They want to get involved, we just need to remove the language barrier.
Chan said they’re organizing a newcomer FAQ event for the federal election on Mon., Sept. 30. For more information, email Chen at firstname.lastname@example.org
Community journalist — The Metro
Justin Luschinski is the community journalist for The Metro. Email him at email@example.com