'They are dying to have those rights': New Canadian reflects on right to vote

With the federal election around the corner, Basel Abou Hamarah is preparing for his first chance to take part in democracy in a way he has never experienced it before.

Newcomer from Syria shares what it took to win right to vote in upcoming federal election

Basel Abou Hamrah became a Canadian citizen in August 2019 after fleeing Syria. (Basel Abou Hamrah)

With the federal election around the corner, Basel Abou Hamrah is preparing for his first chance to experience democracy in a way he never has before.

Abou Hamrah arrived in Canada as a refugee from Syria on a frigid Dec. 31, 2015. He was shocked by the cold, but excited by the freedom at hand, he said.

Two months ago, Abou Hamrah became a Canadian citizen.

"I wasn't having a voice back home, but now I have," he said.

In Syria voters are given a piece of paper with one name on it and told to put it in a box, he said.

"Back home there is only one candidate for elections so we know already beforehand the result," Abou Hamrah said.

Anyone who complains about the lack of choice is persecuted, he said. "They will go to jail and they will die because they raised their voice."

Abou Hamrah said he has waited years for the right to vote. (Basel Abou Hamrah)

For three-and-a-half years, Abou Hamrah has been living in Edmonton, attending classes and sessions at the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers not only to read and write English, but also about politics and democracy.

Now I feel I am free to raise my voice and I'm respected as a human being.- Basel Abou Hamrah, newcomer to Canada

Newcomer Mhomad Anwar Aswad, in Canada for five months now, is attending those same classes.

Mhomad Anwar Aswad moved to Canada five months ago and is learning about politics in his English education class. (Dave Bajer/CBC News)

Through a translator, Anwar Aswad said he cannot wait to become a Canadian so he too can participate in democracy without risking his life.

"In my country there is war. All the rights were taken from us for very long time, especially poor people, especially my family. Now I feel like I'm free to elect. Now I feel I am free to raise my voice and I'm respected as a human being," he said.

While not yet a Canadian citizen, Anwar Aswad ​​​​​is working hard to learn English, what it means to be Canadian and the privileges that come with the role.

He said he will always treasure his first election day and hopes other Canadians take the day as seriously, no matter how many times they've voted in the past.

"You have this privilege, this right, this responsibility to vote. Other people, they are dying to have those rights. They [rebel] to change systems," Anwar Aswad said.