CSI members are doing world changing work, all over the globe – including right here in Toronto! One of our former DECAs and current members, Charles Ozzoude, is running for city council in Ward 1-Etobicoke North in the upcoming municipal election. We spoke to him about his experience as a first time candidate, the accessibility of politics, and how his time at CSI has helped him.
Charles and his family immigrated to Canada from Nigeria 12 years ago, and since then he has been working to address health equity for marginalized groups and on community impact through volunteering. Most recently, Charles worked at St. Michael’s Hospital, shedding light on how COVID-19 worsened the health of people reentering the community from prisons. He discovered CSI Annex in the winter of 2019 when attending a Hot Docs festival nearby. “I saw all the lights on and thought it looked interesting, so I went in for a tour! I loved the vibe and the feeling of community.” Charles became a DECA in February 2020, shortly before COVID-19 changed how we live our lives. Missing the sense of community that initially drew him in, Charles and another DECA, Richa, started Art Club – a space for people to express themselves through art. What began as a brief gathering to sketch has since evolved into tours of museums and art galleries, but the “most important part is that people do it together”, says Charles. “Professionally or as a volunteer, I can only do work that I feel leads to a tangible impact in people’s lives.”
After working in downtown Toronto and living in Etobicoke North, Charles started to realize how starkly impoverished his community was due to neglect by people elected to public office. “Our roads are in poor conditions, transit is lacking, and the area is dominated by poor quality housing,” he said. “It made me realize that we haven’t had a representative who understands the community, who has lived here, felt the pulse. We have one of the highest numbers of racialized people and immigrants in the city – and one of the highest counts of COVID-19 cases. That was my breaking point. That’s why I wanted to run – I just couldn’t ignore it anymore.” With a lens of social equity and crucial need for representation, Charles hopes to bring his lived experience as a racialized person and as an immigrant to council to inform decision making.
As a first time candidate, Charles has been blown away by the support he’s receiving in his community. “I’ve always known people were supportive, but this has shown me that this whole thing is way bigger than me. People desperately need a voice that is representative of community issues.” As a newcomer to politics, he notes that it has been challenging. The city, he says, does a great job of providing you with the information you need to run as a candidate. However, as a voter, he finds the system less accessible. “Many don’t even know that an election is happening,” he says. “There’s a lot of voter apathy; people feel that politicians only come around during election time. This is so disheartening, and it contributes to a domino effect that results in only those with political connections having positions of power.” As part of his campaign, Charles hopes to raise awareness of the importance of local elections, and motivate people to take action.
Charles credits CSI with helping him learn how to grow a movement. “In Art Club, we came together for the purpose of art and community; for politics, it’s not that different. You have to get people to buy into your vision before taking it to the wider community.” As a young person, he’s also excited to engage other youth in political action, and he’s grateful to the work of other CSI members like Future Majority for advising on how to get out the youth vote.
“My experience with CSI showed me that you can do anything, and it’s up to us.”