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North Shore Persian community 'overjoyed' to have a voice at the council table

Shervin Shahriari says he's the first Iranian-born Canadian elected in B.C.

When Shervin Shahriari saw the final tally of votes in the 2018 City of North Vancouver civic election, he’d placed 11th overall. The comments he got after were discouraging, to put it mildly.

“Some people told me that I may not have been successful because of my last name, essentially,” he said.

But he felt compelled to run again in 2022, not just for his own political ambitions, but to set an example for his daughter and others from diverse communities who may follow.

When he’s sworn in with the new council following his Oct. 15 election win, it will be a new benchmark.

“I am the first Iranian-born Canadian elected in B.C., apparently,” he said. “It’s quite encouraging not just for me, but for the Iranian-Canadian community that they have now somebody elected that they can look up to.”

It’s been a long-awaited achievement for the North Shore’s sizable Persian community, said Nassreen Filsoof, president of the Canadian Iranian Foundation.

“They’re all very happy and overjoyed that he has been elected,” she said. “This is a multicultural country, isn’t it? And we have so many different ethnic groups here and I think sometimes their voices are not heard very well. It is important that they have someone to send their voice.”

The North Shore is home to one of the largest community of Persians in Canada, according to the most recent census data, with 12,835 of B.C.’s total 18,890 Iranian immigrants making their homes here. The North Shore became a destination for Iranian emigres during the country’s Islamic Revolution in the late 1970s, and through the Iran-Iraq war in the '80s. They chose to come here, in part, because North Vancouver is nestled up to mountains, just like Tehran.

“Iranians, they have very good taste,” Filsoof said.

Both Filsoof and Shahriari said Iranians on the North Shore haven’t been particularly engaged in civic matters before, although that’s now likely to change.

“Especially for the younger generation, for sure…. It has taken a very long time but I think we are we are finally here,” he said. “You can make a difference and participate in elections. And once you participate, then obviously, politicians will take note and your needs and wants will be will be heard more.”

Although he had some dedicated Iranian-Canadian volunteers on his team, most of his votes were from the broader community, Shahriari acknowledged.

“I just look forward to put my skills to work for the entire North Vancouver city population,” he said.

Shahriari’s joining council isn’t the only first from this election. Herman Mah now likely has the distinction of being the first person of colour elected to District of North Vancouver council.

“I looked at some of the (council) photos in the lobby the other day, and yeah, it could be,” he said. “If I’m the first person of colour to be elected to the district council, that’s pretty cool.”

Mah was born in East Vancouver to immigrant parents. The values he holds today are derived from the values he learned from his family, he said.

“I think this brings some more variety and depth of personal experience,” he said. “It brings a different perspective and, hopefully, we get a fuller understanding of issues.”

While North Vancouver doesn’t have quite so large a Chinese community, Mah said he hopes his being elected will encourage others to become more engaged.

And he added, he hopes people voted for him based on his message, not the origin of his name.

“I respect my cultural background but I feel like I’m Canadian first,” he said.

The North Shore’s school boards both became a bit more diverse in this election, with Felicia Zhu, originally from China, elected to the West Vancouver school district and Lailani Tumaneng, who is from the Philippines, elected in North Vancouver.

In the 2018 election, Marcus Wong became the first person of colour elected to West Vancouver council and Tina Hu the first Chinese-born immigrant elected to City of North Vancouver council.

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