As Sudanese-Canadians head to Toronto and Calgary this weekend to cast ballots in a historic independence referendum for their homeland, a simmering controversy has prompted thousands in this country to boycott the vote.
Calgary and Toronto are the only two Canadian cities where expatriate Sudanese can vote on the question of splitting Africa's largest country as the oil-producing South votes on whether it should secede.
While the occasion has the community abuzz, some Sudanese are boycotting the election, saying they don't trust the electoral process.
Joseph Malok, a Canadian working as the head of government of South Sudan Mission to Canada, a job that has him advocating on behalf of the southern government, says about 1,300 Sudanese have registered to vote Sunday in Calgary, and about 900 in Toronto. There are 40,000 to 50,000 estimated Sudanese in Canada.
``The low number (reflects) the vastness of the country, the weather, and other people are questioning the credibility of the ones who were organizing the vote,'' Malok said.
``The process will be safe, but it's difficult. You can't force people to vote.''
Calgary journalist Mading Ngor, who operates news website The New Sudan Vision, said concern stems from a campaign in Canada calling into question the organization tasked with operating the vote in this country, the International Organization for Migration.
Some Sudanese Canadians worried the body was being influenced by the government in Khartoum, which is opposed to independence, a notion Ngor said has been dispelled. He calls the idea ``a conspiracy theory.''
``There's nothing to worry about on that front . . . but there are still some people campaigning in support of boycotting, and it looks like Canada, and particularly Calgary, has been most vocal in the boycott,'' he said. ``It's a very fragmented community here along tribal lines.''
Sudan was wracked by civil war for more than two decades until a peace agreement in 2005 between the Arab Muslim government in Khartoum in the North, and the Christian-animist population in the South. If the population does vote to split, there are many outstanding issues to work out, particularly development and oil revenue sharing.
Canada is one of eight countries with large southern Sudanese populations where out-of-country voting is taking place.
The list also includes the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.
For now, however, Calgarian Dhieu Dok Minyang Minyang said he has no worries about the election, nor the big questions that come after. He's excited to vote for independence.
``I'm optimistic about the future,'' he says. ``It gives us hope that our destiny will be in our hands.''
Ngor says many southern Sudanese-Canadians are relishing the opportunity to help build their own country. He has spoken to several people planning to travel hundreds of kilometres to Calgary to vote.
``A lot of people are excited right now, and rightfully so,'' he said. ``Many people see it as firing the last bullet through the ballot box.''