VICTORIA -- A Victoria councillor who came under heavy criticism for travelling to East Africa over the holidays despite recommendations against non-essential travel during the pandemic, has apologized to his fellow councillors.

Coun. Sharmarke Dubow formally addressed his fellow councillors during a committee of the whole meeting Thursday morning. It’s the first time the councillor has spoken publicly about his travels to his native Somalia since he arrived back in Canada on Jan. 4.

“By travelling to see my family at a time when so many others in our community did not do the same, I let you down,” Dubow said. “The decision I made to travel last month against the advice of public health was wrong and I am sorry.”

Dubow, who fled Somalia in 1992 and was first elected to Victoria council in 2018, says he considered his travel to be essential at the time. “I went to Somalia and Kenya to support some of my family members with their personal and economic well-being,” he said.

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, my family depended on me for financial help,” Dubow added. “I didn’t want to wait until the end of the pandemic and hope that my family would still be alive.”

Dubow acknowledged that his desire to see his family during the pandemic “is not unique” and recognized the “incredible sacrifices” Victoria residents have made by staying home to prevent the spread of the virus.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps had previously called Dubow’s decision to travel overseas amid the pandemic “both disappointing and irresponsible.”

The mayor did not address Dubow’s statement in Thursday’s committee meeting.

Politicians across the country have faced criticism for making similar trips abroad over the holidays.

On Jan. 6, Helps said council has no authority to reprimand councillors for flaunting public health guidelines on international travel, saying, “on matters such as these, Coun. Dubow answers to the public, not to council, and ultimately the next steps are left in his hands.”