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Stephen Dorsey:

Your worship Mayor Helps and Council. Thank you for the opportunity to address you today on the issue of equity and equality.

In the midst of a historic pandemic, our civil society has also had an awakening on the issue of systemic inequality that affects black Canadians, people of colour, and of course our indigenous brothers and sisters. As a bi-racial black Canadian systemic inequalities have directly impacted my life.

Today, progressive-minded Canadians are being asked to do more than to just decry the systemic inequalities in our society but to stand up and take action to affect the change necessary to eliminate it.

In Victoria, inequality also includes systemic classism, an unfortunate holdover from our colonial past. Social inequality affects several demographics, not the least young people from the lower-middle-class and immigrant households, many of whom are disadvantaged simply because of where they live, the economic status of their parents and where they attend school.

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The majority of students in the public school system with the means have the right to choose a private education of course, but to have BC taxpayers subsidise this privileged education to the tune of up to $500-million per year is a travesty in my opinion. The limited funds should be instead to shore up the public school system and the dire need of resources.

The social inequalities also extend to the city’s public school system. In the Greater Victoria School region, we have seen how systemic policy-making and preferential budget allocations have unfairly advantaged some schools while neglecting others.

I graduated from Vic High in 1984. Then and in the nearly four decades since, it’s obvious to most observers that Vic High’s needs have not been prioritised. As a foster child growing up in the lower-middle-class neighbourhood of Fairfield, it was evident to my classmates and me that schools like Mount Doug and Oak Bay were supported more favourably from the inside out. A reality that has seemingly continued to this day.

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For decades Vic High’s learning environments have been falling apart, sub-par compared to competing schools. The athletic facilities have been left to degenerate to the point of being unusable. For safety reasons, and not meeting competitive standards.

The seismic upgrade of the historic building is a noted recent exception but only for the fact that vocal critics including myself stood in opposition to the forces who wanted to demolish this impressive heritage building. In contrast, schools like Oak Bay have benefited from the bountiful resources over the decades including receiving funds to build college-like athletics facilities and other infrastructure that support academy programs.

The municipality of Oak Bay alone donating $1-million dollars towards the construction of a live theatre space for the benefit of the students and the community.

Why are Vic High students deprived of the same resources and facilities that students at other schools in the Greater Victoria region take for granted? What message are we sending to these disadvantaged youth, at a time when they should be supported, encouraged and feel like they have equity of opportunity? Why are our leaders continuing to perpetuate and normalise these inequalities?

Imagine if the parents of children going to Oak Bay were asked to send their kids to Vic High instead? They would dismiss this premise outright because they know that attending Vic High would disadvantage their children and potentially put their future at risk.

Having all schools in the Greater Victoria region provide equal resources and facilities for optimum learning in the public system, should be priority number one. To begin to eliminate social inequality in Victoria, you as leaders must ensure that equality and equity are considered and central in both the formulation of the policies that you put forth and in your supported decisions made by your private and public partners.

I understand the challenges you face in balancing the urgent needs of today while building for a future. I challenge you to believe in the power of the “and” versus the “or.” It is possible to achieve win-win outcomes if you are determined to do so. Some of that power is within your control.

In 1914, community leaders invested in building an inspirational place of learning; the Vic High School we know today. In 1950, a new generation of leaders invested in Vic High’s Memorial Stadium, a tribute to those students and faculty who served in World War 2.

Notable alumni like Stew Smith, one of the world’s top particle physicists, Mohammed Elewonibi, Superbowl champion, and Richard Hunt, one of Canada’s renowned indigenous artists also benefited from an emerging athletics at Memorial Stadium.

In 2014, the City of Victoria wholeheartedly supported Vic High’s Memorial Stadium revitalisation and project committing up to 250-thousand dollars in matching funding in support of what was touted as a modern multi-sport facility built to competitive standards that would serve students and the community. Everyone and myself saw this as a positive step towards the reconciliation of decades of inequality.

In 2020, we found out that this promise had seemingly been broken by institutional leaders dealing another blow to our hopes for fairness and equity. This council has the power to put the Vic High students first by providing them with an even playing field and access to equal opportunity. I urge you to make that choice to take a small step to make Victoria a more just society. The current and future students of Vic High are counting on you.

Thank you.

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