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Looking through a social justice lens

Ensuring equal access and opportunities for all community members



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To get dialogue flowing on social justice issues in the corridor, the CFOW held community forums in Whistler and Pemberton. Christine Buttkus, CFOW volunteer and former executive director, strove to make the forums as representative as possible.

“We started the process by contacting people we thought had an interest in social justice work and asked them to provide input (to a social justice questionnaire). As they responded, they also identified additional people that they thought would be interested. As we reviewed the issues addressed through the submissions, we identified content gaps and tried to connect with people who might be able to provide more information,” she says. “We did advertise the event as well, so additional participants self-identified.”

Two community forums were held, in November 2006 and January 2007, and involved more than 20 individuals from Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton, Mount Currie and D’Arcy. Participants included youth, seniors and members of First Nations communities in the corridor. Two group facilitators from Vancouver and Montreal were also brought in to lead the forums, representing the Community Foundations of Canada.

While many issues were discussed, poverty, transportation, and cultural awareness were identified in the forums as the most important social justice concerns affecting living conditions in the corridor. Armed with this information, the CFOW knew where it was headed with its fundraising initiatives, and had a framework to facilitate change. “We provided a vehicle for discussion. The forums have given us a good starting place,” says Buttkus.

Ackhurst, a forum participant and CFOW Board member, whose late wife, Jill, was extremely active in Whistler fundraising and volunteer work, acknowledges that affordability is not an issue that is adequately addressed in Whistler.

“Whistler is a one-horse town that caters to wealthy tourists,” he says. “If I am a resident of Whistler, where do I go to purchase basic items at an affordable price? There is a prevalent attitude here in Whistler of ‘tough luck’ if you can’t afford living here. Shopping for necessities is expensive. There is no place to socialize for free.”

Greg McDonnell, Supervisor for the WCSS’s Community Youth Outreach program, echoes that sentiment.

“Whistler has an almost natural social justice system in place — those who are here can afford to be. If you can’t afford to be in Whistler, or can’t find a job, or are under some other social/political/economic pressure then you are going to leave. So a strictly wealthy community of ‘haves’ remain here, and the have-nots go elsewhere, and as a result, there might be a perception that programs to tackle socio-economic problems aren’t needed,” McDonnell says.