Mariam Hamou has been sworn in as the Ward 6 councillor for London, Ont.
Her appointment to office was made official on Wednesday during a brief ceremony inside city hall, marking the end of a month-long process that looked to fill the formerly vacant seat.
In mid-October, Phil Squire, who was in his second term as Ward 6 councillor, announced his resignation after he was appointed to a provincial tribunal that barred him from serving on council.
Council then decided to open applications for Ward 6 hopefuls, with applicants asked why they want to serve on council, what experience and qualifications they bring, and whether they plan to seek re-election.
On Monday, Hamou beat 20 other contenders in three rounds of voting to be appointed London’s Ward 6 councillor.
“I don’t think it’s going to kick in until I’m sitting in that chair and asked to make a decision,” Hamou said during Wednesday’s ceremony.
Prior to Monday’s vote, Hamou had no idea she’d be appointed to office, adding that the only councillor she spoke to beforehand had informed her that they’d be selecting another applicant.
“When it came out in my favour, I was shocked, to be honest,” she said. “I was shocked beyond belief.”
A human rights activist and political advocate, Hamou brings with her a resume that includes working as the chief of staff for former London North Centre Liberal MP Glen Pearson.
Her other work includes serving in a public relations role for the Syrian Opposition Coalition in Turkey, as well as chairing and co-founding the Syrian Relief Fund, which helped settle Syrian refugees in London.
Hamou has also served a number of boards, including that of the London Muslim Mosque.
Currently, she serves on boards for the Regional HIV/AIDS Connection, the Ontario Library Boards Association and the London Public Library, having chaired the latter from 2019 to 2020.
Hamou says one of the most pressing issues for Ward 6 is the annual update to London’s multi-year budget, which is set to receive final approval from council on Dec. 21.
She also wants to focus on one of the ward’s most prominent residents, Western University.
“That relationship needs to be really, really strong for the city, so that we can continue to benefit from some of the things the university gives the city,” Hamou said.
A topic that came up during the process of filling the vacant Ward 6 seat was whether its appointed councillor would seek re-election in 2022, with some councillors voicing concerns that they’d be granting an incumbency advantage to whomever takes the seat.
Hamou says while she felt “a little bit weird” being appointed to office, she plans to run during London’s next municipal election.
“I can’t wait to be judged by the people of my ward for the work that I’ve done and that hopefully I can do in the future,” Hamou added.
Now the first Muslim woman to serve on London’s city council, Hamou hopes her place in municipal office will inspire others.
“I was born in Canada, yet I’m Muslim, so I’ve always had this otherness to me and I didn’t think that these positions were open to me, but now I know they are,” Hamou said.
“I just want everybody who sees themselves in me to go for it. Just do it.”