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Anti-Racism Town Hall Delegation

Good evening Chair Redman, Professor James, Regional Councillors, and those watching this town hall,

My name is Samantha Estoesta. I live in the Mount Hope – Breithaupt Park neighbourhood in Kitchener. I live with my partner, Justin, and 20 month child, Morgan Glory.

Registered delegates have been asked to talk about three things:

  • How has racism impacted you personally within the Region of Waterloo?
  • What sectors do you believe need to be represented on the advisory committee?
  • What areas should the Region address immediately?

I will begin by talking about

How has racism impacted me personally within the Region of Waterloo

Both my partner and I attended the University of Waterloo, both of us were involved deeply in student advocacy, and both ended up working for educational institutions. As a student, I was one of a handful of students of colour in a predominately white program. I had fellow students attempt to gaslight me when I pointed out colonization via religious conversion practices of a well known religious-based organization. In the first of my two graduating theses seminars, a fellow student dismissed the thesis of another student, who studied the experiences of a hijab-wearing Muslim in the airport versus a non-Hijab wearing Muslim, saying that he is a border guard and he doesn’t see race so she must be lying. 

After I graduated, I was proud to work at Wilfrid Laurier University. During my time at Laurier, there were multiple racist incidents, including posters that attacked the recently murdered Treyvon Martin by calling him a “lost dawg,” and a group of students who wanted to target the “inhumane” hunting practices of Indigenous people by throwing fake blood on the Indigenous Students Centre. Thankfully, we were able to mitigate any potential attacks on the Indigenous Student Centre by that group.

I would often hold office hours where students of colour could come into the space, share their traumas, and we could figure out if there was a campaign or workshop that could be done to address the situation. The days were long, they were full of trauma, and I was burning out quickly.

So when the opportunity to leave the Region came in 2014, I took it. I called it a detox. And I looked forward to a new life in Alberta. I kept a contract to do part time work remotely. Two white women were hired to replace me and the other staff. Systematically, they turned an entire organization against me; slandering me, portraying me as the hysteric Brown woman when I defended myself. I was suicidal within six months. And while I had more than enough evidence to sue for damages, I walked away and vowed to never return. Of these two white women, the one who no longer lives in the Region has apologized. The other one, who is still in the Region and holds a position of power, has not been in contact since we worked together. 

I should make this very clear: I experienced racism in Edmonton every day that I lived there. However, when my partner started to think about graduate studies, I knew Waterloo was one of his top choices. We came up with boundary plans. We told only family and the most trusted of friends. There was tactical planning to ensure that only people who wouldn’t retraumatize me would know. 

In the five years since we returned to Waterloo Region, the racists are more emboldened, the acts of violence more apparent, and people in positions of power are even more silent than in 2008 when the largest exodus of neo-nazis from the Region took place.

You see, I’m a racially ambiguous person. People know I’m not white but can’t always figure out “what” I am. So, people read me as the race that they hate the most.

In Waterloo Region, people have shouted, “Build the Wall!” at me when out on the street. I am regularly asked what my baby sitting rate is when out with my own child, as they assume I am a nanny. LCBO employees have treated me like I’m an alcoholic when purchasing drinks. I am consistently followed in stores, so much in fact that I’ve made relationships with staff at certain stores so that I feel safe enough to not be followed. 

I have had white people tell me it’s my fault that COVID19 is here. I actively wear a Canadian flag mask when I have to go into a store just so that I have the tiniest bit of protection against racist comments – and that doesn’t stop people. While wearing my Canadian flag mask, I’ve had white people laugh and say, “okay, sure…” I’ve had white people look at me entering a store and remind their kids extra loud that they need to be more than 6 feet away from people like me. 

I am sure many of you have words to describe citizens like me: engaged, passionate, frustrating, annoying, unrelenting. I am this way because creating an anti-racist Region of Waterloo is a matter of life or death. It is a regular occurrence for hate mail to reach me; there are people on social media who target me. My partner is listed as a “race traitor” by StormFront Cambridge, a neonazi group that continues to track interracial relationships. I have a routine where I check to see if there’s chatter that I’ll be doxxed. I scrub for my identity. I know that, because I ran for public office, my address is online. I worry constantly about the safety of my child. 

That is the life of BIPOC people who point out: 

  1. That there are neo nazis in the Region
  2. That racism is pervasive and constant in the Region
  3. That for us to be an anti-racist Region, as echoed by so many of you, there needs to be actions done that may not be the best for our elected officials’ political interests but actually will make the Region safer for racialized folks

Your next questions was:

What sectors do you believe need to be represented on the advisory committee?

Now, forgive me, but as someone who used anti-oppression frameworks in both my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I need clarification on what you mean by sectors. Do you mean demographics? Do you mean non-profit versus governmental organizations?

If you are asking for demographics or the type of people who should sit on the advisory committee, I would behove you to choose people who are unrelenting, who make you feel uncomfortable, who actively challenge you. If you want actual change, you cannot surround yourself with individuals who make you feel comfortable, who applaud you for doing the bare minimum. Find the voices that force a “hey wait I’m not a racist, how dare you” reaction from you and reflect on why you react that way. 

And, above all, pay these people for their labour. I have sat now, on both the City of Cambridge and the City of Kitchener’s equity task forces. Mayor McGarry, you may recall that I spoke as a delegation regarding the rainbow crosswalk and how, after two excruciating years since the recommendations from the Task Force was approved, a rainbow crosswalk was at significant risk of being voted down. I have created self care routines to prepare myself for the trauma that comes from the constant educating, attempting to create actionable items, and placating responses. I have done all of this unpaid. Why? Because I want, so desperately, the Region that I live in to be safe for me. But no more – it is violent to expect those who experience trauma, racism, and oppression to constantly educate without any payment for their labour. If you are committed to addressing racism, begin by paying those on the advisory committee.

Finally, you ask us:

What areas should the Region address immediately?

I believe the areas under the Regional Council purview that need immediate focus are: Public Health, Community Services, Public Transit, Cultural Services, Community Housing, Provincial Offenses Court, and Administrations. But before you deep dive into those areas of focus, immediately involve organizations run by Black, Indigenous and racialized folks to help understand the historical and current practice of spatially organized institutional oppression.

Spatially organized institutional oppression is the practice of placing necessary services, supports, and institutions far away from the communities that need them most, forcing them to utilize predatory solutions instead. Councillors, I implore you to look at the areas you represent. Where are your deserts? How long does it take someone in a low income, BIPOC community to get to the food bank? Mental health services? Immigration services? Employment services? How safe are the active transportation routes in those neighbourhoods? And when you assess the budgets of organizations like WRPS, ask them for the data on how often those neighbourhoods are canvassed, driven by. Do the math; what’s the higher: the number of interactions with police or services located within their community?

I do not want to speak for all of these communities; many of them have already given you clear guidance on how you can address racism in each of the areas under Regional Council’s purview, such as ACB Network and the LandBack organizers. I completely and wholehearted support each of their calls to actions.

I will, in addition, give you a few suggestions that should be easily promised and implemented.

Under Public Transit 

  • In all future planning, ensure that low income, BIPOC communities have access (via safe sidewalks and less than a 5 minute walk) to regular transportation that connects to a hub

Under Administration

  • Complete a comprehensive staff census and assess your demographic weak points
  • Create a hiring plan that would lead to proportional representation across the enterprise

Under Cultural Services

  • Create a permanent installation at the Waterloo Region Museum highlighting the history of racism in Waterloo Region and the groups who have fought and continue to fight against racism

Anti-racism work is not easy work. It is not politically advantageous work. But it is lifesaving work. And I, like many others who are slated to speak over the two days, are ready and eager for our Region to take on this work.

Thank you.

In Support of a CTS at 150 Duke Street.

My name is Samantha Estoesta, and I am a resident of ward 10 with my partner, Justin, and almost five month old baby, Morgan. The 140 year old house that we own is roughly 6 blocks away from 150 Duke. We bought this house a year ago, knowing that our house was within the “warning” limits of the proposed sites.

I support Councillor Marsh’s motion to turn 150 Duke into a safe consumption site. I tweet about it a lot during nap time. My child will attend Suddaby Public School, 9 blocks away. I will return to working out of the Communitech building after my maternity leave, 5 blocks away. We will attend mass at St. Mary’s on Sundays, 1 block away.

When there is a SCS in DTK, I will feel safer than I do now. Moreover, I will feel much prouder of my city and Region.

Councillor Marsh, I am proud to be your constituent as you show the exact type of leadership that we need in this Region: the ability to listen to academics, frontline organizations, support workers, and those community members who would use a safe consumption site. Moreover, it is people centred.

In January alone, 10 people died from an opioid overdose. 20 as of April 1.

People.

20 people who had sibling, parents, children, partners, and friends. Above all, they were people.

I would like to remind council and the people in this room that dead people can’t buy condos, dead people can’t beautify your Old Berlin neighbourhoods.

With that said, I do not echo the suggested motions to ban 115 Water Street from into a temporary consumption site in the interim if chosen. I’m sure Violet, Jenny, Johnny and the many others who would use or work at a temporary CTS would agree: we cannot spend the entire timeline of renovations at 150 Duke without a CTS.

Mayor Vrbanovic, at the SOTC last week, you said: “Change for Kitchener is strength, it’s community, it’s prosperity.”

I implore this council, to have the strength

⁃ To support Councillor Marsh’s motion to create an SCS at 150 Duke,

⁃ To create a healthcare community that will treat those with addictions with humanity, while giving access to supports to transition them to sobriety

⁃ To tie our metrics on prosperity to keeping people alive instead of NIMBYism

Creating an SCS at 150 Duke will be a big change for Kitchener. But, as you said yourself, Mayor, “above all, it’s good.”

Thank you.

Reflections on #VoteEve

On #VoteEve *, I’m usually in a campaign office, surrounded by other volunteers who are furiously trying to finalize our GOTV (Get Out The Vote) plan. I might be screening multiple social media accounts while streaming at least one 24/7 news station. I might be giving the candidate a pep talk; I might be giving other volunteers a pep talk.

Tonight is the first #VoteEve where I am the candidate – and I’m watching my husband (and Campaign Manager), Justin, play a mixed Ultimate Frisbee game at RIM Park with a group of lovely humans who (among other things) have signs on their lawn, donated to the campaign, did literature drops, and have supported me from day one.

I am so humbled the support that Waterloo Region has given me this campaign. From volunteers who helped drop 15,000 of pieces of literature across Kitchener, to those who ran all of the analytics and social media campaigns, to everyone who took a lawn sign – I have been blessed with some of the most fantastic volunteers and supporters. Seriously, I can’t even begin to express my gratitude for all of you and the many ways that you’ve given up your time to help out with this campaign; until I have the words, a simple THANK YOU!!!! will have to suffice. I could not have made it this far without you. So much love to all of you.

To my fellow candidates, thank you to all of the support that you’ve given me. As a first time candidate, I’ve been humbled by the support that candidates have given me (from across the Region, not just in the Kitchener race) and, in my case, a special thank you goes to Ted Martin and Sarah Marsh who have gone out of their way every step of this campaign to give advice, support, and encouragement. I am so thankful for the two of you and proudly voted for both of you.

Finally, I was on the phone with my mom (who, at one point, drove 2.5 hours from Chatham, ON with my dad to do two days of intense lit dropping for the campaign). And just like most parents out there with candidates in the race, she told me that she was proud of me and the campaign that we ran. I told her that one of the things that I’m most content with is that I can tell people that we ran a campaign that my mother could be proud of; I think, at the end of the day, that’s the best reflection I could have on #VoteEve.

* Shoutout to Jayne Herring for the #VoteEve hashtag.

Accessibility for Students in Waterloo Region

Extend-A-Family Waterloo Region has sent out their municipal election questionnaire. If elected, I am committed to ensuring that our students and educational community are supported, no matter their accessibility needs. There are a few of their asks that fall outside of the role of a school board trustee, however, as a citizen, I commit to advocating for these priorities.

According to Statistics Canada, 14% of the Canadian population aged 15 or older reported having an accessibility need that limited their daily activities. While I was unable to find concrete numbers on the number of students in Waterloo Region who have accessibility needs (be it physical, mental or learning-based), the Stats Can number could correlate to 1 in 7 students in Waterloo Region having an accessibility need. We also do not know the complexities of each of these students’ need nor the type of supports they need to have an equitable education.

My sister is a teacher who focused on junior grades before taking a string of long-term occasional (LTO) roles as an elementary resource teacher. There is a backlog (and a steep financial barrier) in the way that we diagnose and understand the complex learning and accessibility needs of our students, even more so for students with additional marginalizations (such as race, class, etc.). We need to ensure that, from in-take to IEP creation, the student is prioritized. On top of this, our classroom sizes are too large and there are not enough educational assistants (EAs) to ensure that the ratio of students to educators is at a level that supports the learning of all students. With a lower ratio of students to educators, educators can take the time and care to ensure that each student is supported, no matter their accessibility needs.

I have listed the Extend-A-Family Waterloo Region priorities and have bolded the ones that fall within the role of a school board trustee.


If elected, I promise to:

1. Engage with the local Developmental Services Ontario office to educate yourself on the housing and support needs of persons with developmental disabilities in our community.

2. Ensure that all demographic and population assessments of our municipality include a category that captures persons with developmental disabilities.

3. Ensure that ‘persons with developmental disabilities’ are specifically identified as a sub-category when determining the needs of ‘persons with disabilities’ in our community.

4. Ensure that 10% of all Planning Act benefits secured from developers is targeted to persons with disabilities.

5. Ensure that housing projects that include people with developmental disabilities will be a priority should you get elected.

6. Work with council to waive fees and development charges for zoning and building application for all housing projects that include people with developmental disabilities? This will reduce cost and provide a vital partnership that CMHC will look favourably upon, if applying for their funds.

7. Ensure that your municipality hires people with developmental disabilities.

8. Advocate for an Inclusion Facilitator for 1:1 camp support for camp programs within your municipality. Note: This currently exists in Cambridge and Kitchener.

9. Ensure that children with learning disabilities are not excluded from access to the services they need. Note: There is a recognized need for children and adults not deemed “complex enough” to meet various criteria (someone with a learning disability is ineligible for developmental services).

10. Ensure access to subsidized public transit for recipients of ODSP. Note: Subsidized bus passes will no longer be available to those with developmental disabilities once the Easy GO cards are implemented.

French Immersion & Waterloo Region

The Record recently published an article on the French Immersion program in Waterloo Region, featuring a variety of WRDSB Trustee candidates, including myself. I am quoted saying:

“We need to address the unintentional or, in some cases, intentional intellectual and class segregation between French immersion and English-only classes,” Kitchener candidate Samantha Estoesta said. “We should not have a tiered educational system.”

Estoesta believes in providing immersion to every student who wants it, but wants people to be clearer on expectations.

“There are multiple studies that demonstrate that French immersion does not lead to bilingual students, and we need to ensure that the guardians enrolling their children into the program understand this,” she said.

As noted above, I believe that every student should have access to French Immersion, however, we need to address the inequalities in the student learning experience – inclusive of any unintentional/intentional intellectual and class segregation.

Jeff Outhit asked each trustee candidate a variety of questions, and I believe that it should be public each of our answers. For transparency, I have given my responses below.


Have your children been enrolled in French immersion or do you plan to enrol them in it?
We are fortunate to have a French Immersion program at the school within our boundary. I plan to enrol our soon-to-be born child in the French Immersion program.

Do you support the program and why?
French Immersion is a key and crucial component of the Ontario educational system – and every student should have access to a French Immersion program if they so wish. While I did not attend French Immersion, I took French classes throughout my educational journey.

Are you concerned about French immersion and why?
There are a few issues that give me concern. Enrolment in post-secondary educational programs to become FI teachers remains low while the demand for French Immersion teachers remains high. This has forced the number of schools that have French Immersion programs to shrink.

I believe we need to be clear about the expectations on the program. Attending a French Immersion program will not guarantee bilingualism. There are multiple studies that demonstrate that French Immersion does not lead to bilingual students, and we need to ensure that the guardians enrolling their children into the program understand this when making this choice. More importantly, we need to address the unintentional or, in some cases, intentional intellectual and class segregation between French Immersion and English-only classes. As noted in your research, there can be drastic differences in the types of supports and individual attention that students receive in French Immersion compared to non-FI classes, along with steep dropout rates from the program. We should not have a tiered educational system; each students should have access to the supports they need no matter the language program they are in.

Do you believe the program should be expanded, restrained or shut down?
There should be a clear assessment of the program. The parents I have spoken to during this campaign regarding FI have expressed their frustration in not being able to enrol their children in a FI program at the school within their boundary, frustration over the difference in supports for students in FI compared to those not in FI, and frustration over the low rate of bilingualism after the completion of the program. I think it would be shortsighted to expand, restrain, or shut down the program without a comprehensive study of the demand, possible intellectual segregation, and any differences in the support for students in FI and not in FI.

If elected as a trustee, what do you propose to do about French immersion, if anything?
If elected, I would propose a study to be done by WRDSB staff to assess the following: the number of students who want to be in the FI program but are not, how many FI teachers would be needed to support FI learning for all of the students who wish to be in a FI program, the cost to staff new FI programs at schools across the Region to meet the demand (if/when found), and a comprehensive study of unintentional /intentional intellectual segregation and tiered experience of students in FI and not in FI. Additionally, I am committed to actively meeting with the families of current, future, and prospective French Immersion students and non-French Immersion students to seek their concerns, questions, and opinions on the FI program.