Monday, December 25, 2006

Vancouver Public Library stays open Christmas Day

What do you do on Christmas Day when you have no money but time to kill between free turkey dinners on the Downtown Eastside?

You go to the library.

"I'm glad the libary is open," one guy said as he walked into the Vancouver Public Library in the Carnegie Centre. "Everything else is closed."

The Library is paying a staff person to keep the library open, one of those Library Technicians who don't cost as much as a real librarian. She is not actually alone though. The Carnegie security guards are hanging around in the lobby just outside the wide open doors of the library.

The Library staff person looks sullen on Christmas. She's twenty-something; she looks like she's of hispanic descent. But the thing that stands out most about her is that she does not go out of her way to fuck with people. Not like the other woman who worked there for 20 years, who I haven't seen lately. She was a middle-aged, white woman with dyed blonde hair. She was wicked. You wouldn't want her around on Christmas.

This woman was rude to a Carnegie regular who works as a fork lift operator in an nearby fish plant -- $14 an hour, non union -- when she was checking out his books. So he told her that he was finding her rude. I believed L.M.'s version of events because this woman has been rude to me to; she's rude to everybody.

According to L.M., the wicked library worker responded to his complaint by marching out to the lobby to complain to Security about him. I believed that part of his story too because that's the way the Library staff and most other unionized staff at Carnegie operate: they've long ago forgotten the "enjoy working with people" emphasis on their resumes; they more often than not opt to call security rather than talk things through with Downtown Eastsiders. And if there are complaints about their work performance, who they gonna call? CUPE, to cover their asses. That's what they pay union dues for.

But even the security men were getting fed up with this wicked Libary worker asking them to run interference over every little thing. So one of the security guards, after listening to her and showing her the utmost respect, said under his breath to L.M., "What did you say to that bitch?" I laughed when L.M. told me. Bitch is a sexist word that I would be the first to say is best avoided. But I'll make this one exception.

There is another Library staff person, Johann, who worked earlier today. Johann, is generally respectful toward the public. But one evening a few months back, he was playing a game of chess with his pal at the end of the check-out counter when a man farted at the nearby open window. Johann jumped up and ordered the guy to leave, according to eye witnesses. 'I told you before not to do that!', Johann yelled. The guy yelled that Johann should take a walk through Canada Packers sometime. Johann kept telling him to leave the library and the buy, obviously feeling humiliated, kept repeating the Canada Packers suggestion. Johann called security who escorted the farter out of the Library. The security guards and the library clerk are both CUPE and the farter knew and the witnesses knew that he has no recourse.

But today there was no trouble in the Library. There were candy canes and an assortment of other candies provided free at the check-out counter, a tell tale sign that today was a special day. There seemed to be a temporary suspension of the practice by staff of having Security bully people who talked back or farted, people who could only wish for the protection afforded by union dues. They are no match for CUPE members for whom every day is Christmas.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Labour Christmas dinner and the secretaries Santa Sinclair trampled with the reindeer hooves

Come Christmas Eve in Vancouver, you can generally count on three things. It will be pissing down rain, there will be pumpkin pie for dessert at the Labour Christmas dinner, and Jim Sinclair of the BC Fed will turn up at the dinner wearing a Santa hat. The pumpkin pie is the one I look forward too.

The annual Labour Christmas dinner is free so each year Vancouver’s underclass floods through the doors of the Maritime Labour Hall. Many arrive on a special City bus that departs every half hour from the Carnegie Centre and other spots on the Downtown Eastside. The destination sign on the front of the bus inoffensively reads, "Happy Holidays".

Tonight, there was a live band at the dinner with not a bad sound. A guy in the band announced that they were the "Precursor to Santa."

The dinner was hot, served out of steam trays by union people. The dressing was excellent this year; last year when it was doughy and looked a bit like slices of banana bread. The servers at the buffet table dishing the food onto people's plates were friendly, really warm.

Like every year, lots of women with children showed up, rough-talking women who yell at their kids a lot. "Classic lumpen", a friend of mine would say. Lots of people that you regularly see at Carnegie Centre also showed up. And of course the people who are fixtures at free food places all year long were there. There was enough food for 1100 people this year, a union guy said as he watched the line up of people filing in. "We'll keep serving 'til the food runs out".

Servers scurried around the floor of the hall too, some men but more women, all eager to hand you a piece of pumpkin pie off their tray, or a juice box or a mandarin orange, or get you a tea or a coffee with carnation evaporated milk. They were never the slightest bit gruff. Lots of goodwill. "The human side of human beings," was what the late American union organizer Harvey Jackins, who had sweated in front of brass knuckled goons, would call this.

Did I mention that Jim Sinclair was there? He wore the same Santa Claus hat that he wears every year, and a red sweater. He was schmoozing, not with the underclass so much; he was focusing more on union people, even hugging a few. “You dance,” as Brian Mulroney used to say, “with the lady what brung ya."

Every year I see Sinclair in his Santa hat and every year I think of the secretaries that allegedly got trampled under the hooves of his reindeer. In the 1990's, CUPE Local 116 at UBC was staffed exclusively with non-union secretaries. Pardon me, a secretary is now an "administrative assistant", just like Christmas is now the "holiday season". Two secretaries to two consecutive Presidents of this Local were fired after speaking up about working conditions as well as, in one case, repeated bouts of office rage by a CUPE Vice President. Other reasons were given, though, to justify the firing of these two secretaries, Kim S. and Ann S., the latter who had worked for CUPE for 12 years and had begun pressuring CUPE to keep what she claimed had been a verbal promise to provide her with a pension. She eventually sued CUPE for a pension.

An accountant who, unlike the secretaries, had been on contract for roughly a decade was fired after breast cancer made her less efficient. Again, that was not the reason given. Another secretary to the President, who often worked without benefits any union worker would expect, quit. She alleges that her health was damaged from performing double and triple workloads. But she left with a glowing letter of reference from Vice President Paul Cooke.

Jim Sinclair, President of the BC Federation of Labour, and Barry O'Neill, President of CUPE Regional, and other CUPE officials were sent a written summary of unfair labour practices to which these secretaries had allegedly been subjected, with a request that this issue be addressed. The secretary who signed the polite written material was shocked to discover that it had been turned over to the Vancouver Police as evidence – the sole evidence – that CUPE executives were victims of “criminal harassment”.

After being recruited by labour officials, VPD officers began an intimidation campaign at the home of this former secretary. It was made clear to her that she should never again write to labour officials about this issue. CUPE, she alleges, was sending a message not only to her but to her former co-workers not to pursue this issue. Police closed the case. "There had never been any evidence to charge me," says the secretary.

Shortly after police closed the case, Jim Sinclair was asked in writing by one of the secretaries to ensure that the letter addressed to him outlining unfair labour practices was expunged from VPD Property Office files. It was important to her that the BC Fed boss take that action to reassure women that pursuing concerns about labour conditions in a union office would not be considered a crime. Sinclair did not respond to the request, although his staff confirmed that he had received it, and has allowed the letter to remain in police files as evidence of wrongdoing. "Never once," says the secretary, "did Sinclair ever speak to me."

A copy of the documents in the VPD Property office as well as the police report was leaked to the Downtown Eastside Enquirer. A sort of early Christmas gift, one of those rare gifts that you know you can actually use.

More will be written about this case in the new year. Now is not the time. It’s Christmas.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Back after being hacked

The Downtown Eastside Enquirer appears to have became the victim of a hacker over the past week.

At first the hacker deleted the description of the blog, altered some of the settings, and deleted a couple of postings, including one entitled McFailure. The hacker also published a copy of a posting that had been stored under Draft.

The Enquirer responded by restoring the deleted material.

Then the hacker struck again. This time deleting the entire blog!

This hacking came after a Carnegie Board member twice verbally attacked a homeless Carnegie member whom he suspected was behind the blog. The Board member also verbally attacked a friend of the suspected blogger. The suspected blogger was again verbally attacked, twice, by a leftie activist who sometimes comes to the Downtown Eastside. Then Carnegie staff persons, one a CUPE member and the other a BCTF member, who had been criticized on the blog for repeatedly locking doors to publicly funded services, arranged to have the suspected blogger barred for a day from the Carnegie Learning Centre. (They would later upgrade the barring to a permanent one.)

Although Carnegie has for several months been blocking community access to the Downtown Eastside Enquirer on their computers, censorship has been stepped up over the past few days. Blogging capability -- access to -- has been completely blocked on several Carnegie computers. As a final effort to deter publication of the Downtown Eastside Enquirer, the suspected blogger was barred for life from the Carnegie Learning Centre by Ethel Whitty, the Director of Carnegie appointed by the City of Vancouver, and Lucy Alderson, a teacher and BCTF member. Alderson told him that he was barred for allegedly contributing to the Downtown Eastside Enquirer.

But despite setbacks, the Downtown Eastside Enquirer has, as Arnold would say, "cum bock".

Canada is not yet China.

[Most of the original postings will be restored over the next couple of days.]

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Carnegie Director accused of failing to deliver taxpayer funded services to the poor.

Tuesday evening was cold and Vancouver's poor were huddled inside the Carnegie Centre. But when it came to indoor services, they were left out in the cold so to speak.

A steady stream of Carnegie members were trudging up to the third floor computer room to put their names on a waiting list to get an hour on a computer. What else do you do on one of the coldest nights of the year? Some people had a few hours to kill before the shelters opened at around 11 p.m. Some people had actually ventured out into the uncharacteristically low temperature for the sole purpose of getting to Carnegie to put their name on the computer waiting list. But there was no waiting list. The door of the computer room was locked. The lights were out.

Carnegie Director Ethel Whitty was aware that the lights were out. She saw it herself. She walked to the washroom directly across a narrow hallway from the darkened computer room. What did Whitty, to whom taxpayers pay $104,000 a year to manage delivery of Carnegie services to the poor, do?

She took off out the door.

It was 6:50 p.m., a peak hour for computer room use. As Whitty ducked out, she was looking PC perfect in her Cowichan sweater with a little pack sack slung over her shoulder. But there was something so not PC about leaving roughly 44 poor people who could have accessed computers out in the cold.

How did I calculate 44 people? You can figure it out by the number of computers available and the time allotted to each person during the four hour evening shift. Those much in demand computers are never idle.

When my friend D.J. later learned of Ethel’s exit, he joked, “She had shopping to do. She has $104,000 burning a hole in her pocket.” He knows who she is; he recalled her being pointed out to him in the Carnegie cafeteria. She was eating a veggie burger. PC perfect.

There was no excuse for leaving people to twiddle their thumbs in a small Community Centre with a wage bill approaching a million dollars annually. But the excuse is always the same: an unpaid volunteer didn't show up. Carnegie has multiple staff persons responsible for "co-ordinating" volunteers. So where's the co-ordination?

Why can't Carnegie management manage to deliver services? It would have taken Whitty no more than 10 minutes on Tuesday evening to get the computer room up and running before she trotted out the door. She could have offered a Carnegie member a few cafeteria food and coffee vouchers in exchange for monitoring the computer room for a few hours. (Artists do this weekly at Carnegie to persuade people to sit to have their pictures sketched.) The computers are bolted down so there is little danger of anyone stealing one. Whitty could even have sat in the computer room herself. She and her Assistant Director Dan Tetrault cost the taxpayer roughly $200,000 a year, so why can't they consistently keep open the few services offered in the building?

The computer room is scheduled to be open from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m every evening. People count on staff to honour that schedule. When one woman got to the top of the third floor stairway and was told by her boyfriend that the computer room was closed, you should have seen the disappointment on her face. She just groaned. If there's one thing the poor want more than agitprop theatre, more than safe fixing booths with movie star mirrors framed with light bulbs, it is access to computers and the internet. But Carnegie does not provide many on-ramps to the information highway, which of course could help the poor find an off-ramp from the poverty industry.

The closing down of any key service at Carnegie puts excessive pressure on other services in the building. When Whitty walked out and left the upstairs computer room locked, people 40 years of age and over trekked to the basement to put their names on a waiting list to access the three precious computers in the Seniors Lounge. This led to an extra long waiting list of frustrated people in the Seniors Lounge, a room which was at standing-room-only capacity on such a cold night.

What happened on Tuesday evening with Whitty leaving the Computer room locked up when the poor needed something to occupy them is an ongoing problem at Carnegie, to the point where there was talk last summer of pushing for a forensic audit. Tuesday evening was the second time in the past week that Carnegie members have been locked out of the computer room. And that's not counting last week when Whitty locked members out of the entire building for 3 hours on welfare day so that she could have a meeting with her staff. Gringo fleece taxpayer can never be guaranteed that his or her tax dollars are translating into services promised to the poor.

Fed up at seeing the underclass idling outside yet another locked door, one Carnegie member expressed a wish on Tuesday evening that the taxpayer could be here to see this. Hey, that's a line in a Bruce Cockburn song: "Wishing you were here on the coldest night of the year."


Anonymous said...


Friday, December 01, 2006 10:11:44 AM

Anonymous said...

why don't you do it?

Friday, December 01, 2006 10:13:51 AM

carlm04 said...

you do the job

Friday, December 01, 2006 10:15:41 AM

reliable sources said...


You wrote:

The taxpayers pay a wage bill approaching a million dollars annually at Carnegie, but when services are not delivered, Joe and Jane taxpayer are supposed to buy the "Blame the volunteers" excuse?

Here is a scenario that is not atypical: On the Saturday that the opera was playing, the 3rd floor Learning Centre was locked even though it was supposed to be open that day. People arriving to develop computer literacy skills in the Learning Centre were turned away. Rika, a paid staff person who has a supervisory role in relation to the Learning Centre, was standing outside the locked door chatting with people in costumes and face masks. She could have simply sat in the Learning Centre herself to keep it open. Or she could have scurried around and found other people to sit in there to keep it open. A supervisor's job is not to stand outside a locked door.

Maybe Rika was on a high that day because a Japanese-Canadian magazine had just made her the cover girl -- there was a close up of her smiling face on the cover (courtesy of government grants, of course). In an interview with Rika published in the magazine, she was identified as an 'Education and Arts' Co-ordinator at Carnegie. During her interview, she threw in a reference to her 'work responsibilities' as though she was a committment and responsibilities kind of gal. That magazine came out the day she stood outside the locked door and allowed students to be turned away.

But Rika is not unique in letting Carnegie services slide. I recall a day when the service disintegration at Carnegie was so severe that every service on the third floor was closed "because there are no volunteers". The offices on the third floor house the Carnegie Director, the Assistant Director, the volunteer Co-ordinator, the Volunteer Co-ordinator's assistant, the Eduation Co-ordinator, and an array of other employees -- but services were dead. Carnegie management staff have, to some extent, lost connection to the fact that they were hired to deliver services to the poor. Carnegie members refer to management as the "Carnegie Circle Jerk" for a reason.

Friday, December 01, 2006 12:39:48 PM

Anonymous said...

Instead of bitching and complaining on a blog why don't you get off you ass and do something to facilitate the kind of changes you want to see around Carnegie? The author of this blog flogs the same dead horse day in and day out about how bad the services are at Carnegie but does nothing to change them. Get a life already!!!!

Friday, December 01, 2006 6:59:15 PM

Anonymous said...


Friday, December 01, 2006 9:12:57 PM

Anonymous said...

what village lost their idiot?

Friday, December 01, 2006 9:16:07 PM

reliable sources said...


You write:
“Instead of bitching and complaining on a blog why don't you get off you (sic) ass and do something to facilitate the kind of changes you want to see around Carnegie?”
Why is it that when the taxpayer pays an almost one million dollar annual wage bill at the Carnegie, including almost $200,000 for the Director and Assistant Director – and an operating budget on top of that -- you expect someone off the street to come in to “facilitate” the delivery of basic services. What you refer to as “the kind of changes you want” are not complicated; just keeping doors of basic services unlocked would suffice.

Believe me, for years, people have been trying what you suggest. But how do you get results on the basic problem of under performing staff – the Director, Assistant Director, Volunteer Co-ordinator, Asst. Volunteer Co-ordinator, Education Co-ordinator, and Seniors Lounge Co-ordinator – at Carnegie. Most of them are well aware that their asses will be covered quicker than you can say “Canadian Union of Public Employees.” In the case of the Director and Asst. Director, the City Manager Judy Rogers and Mayor Sam Sullivan, have been aware of the problem for some time.

The City can’t fire Director Ethel Whitty and she knows it. They terminated a previous Carnegie Director, Marilyn Sarti. (She seemed competent enough, actually, but there are a lot of politics around Carnegie, not to mention the fact that she and her ex-husband who wields influence at Carnegie weren’t exactly on an extended honeymoon, and she had made the mistake of speaking up about a sexual harassment issue.) She sued the City and the settlement was hush hush. The City doesn’t want another pay- through-the-nose settlement with Whitty. Like the advice, tinged with misogyny, that divorce lawyers give: “It’s cheaper to keep her.”

Saturday, December 02, 2006 7:45:29 PM

truepeers said...

Love your blog, RS; i'm much pleased a friend sent me this way today; this is what blogging is all about and why it just might change our world. It's great to see you have some people pissing their pants, as if someone pointing out some basic facts about a lousy work and social ethic were like a heretic from the dark ages, which is apparently where CUPE spends a lot of their spare time. Err, I mean workplace time; spare time is for shopping and!

Keep in touch...

Saturday, December 09, 2006 8:44:58 PM

reliable sources said...


Your encouraging feedback is much appreciated, especially after being called a "turd" and a "snake".

Sunday, December 10, 2006 8:27:32 PM

Monday, November 27, 2006

McFailure: during coffee crisis McDonalds failed, socialists prevailed

It was enough to make Milton Friedman bolt upright in the funeral parlor. McDonald’s didn’t serve one cup of coffee to a customer for over three days. From Friday Nov. 17th until early Monday morning, customers stopping at McDonalds for a piping hot coffee felt as though the invisible hand of the market had flipped them a stiff middle finger.

I am talking specifically about the large McDonalds on Main St. at Terminal Ave. in my
Downtown Eastside neighbourhood – but I assume McDonalds head office was issuing the same instructions to all of their restaurants in the Vancouver region. The instructions were on how to proceed after the Health Authority issued an advisory to boil tap water made murky by a rainstorm, or drink bottled water. McDonalds proved unable to adapt to these changing conditions and could come up with only one solution: stop selling coffee. Free enterprise faltered.

Guess who was flexible enough to meet market demand for coffee? The socialists a few blocks down the street.

Carnegie Centre, that hub of socialism at Main & Hastings, shut down coffee services for just three hours before re-emerging to sell coffee with the zeal of a McDonald’s drive-thru. By noon on Friday, Nov. 17th, both the Carnegie cafeteria and the take-out window operated by the Seniors Lounge in the basement were selling coffee, the former selling its usual bad coffee and the latter selling its usual good coffee: 50 cents a cup, 60 cents for a small take-out, $1.15 for a large take-out. The response of Carnegie in this marketplace crisis was, to use a pet phrase of free enterprise champion Bill Vanderzalm, “just fa-a-a-a-ntastic”.

Correction. It’s simplistic to refer to Carnegie as the hub of socialism. It is the hub of the left-wing establishment on the
Downtown Eastside, a receptacle for people positioned across the spectrum of left wing politics. If you don’t believe me, check out the leftie newsletter that the Carnegie Association puts out bi-monthly. Some of the individuals publishing that newsletter advise the City on who to hire at Carnegie. And it shows. Under the new Director, agitprop is being turned out like a Bolshevik second wind.

Ordinarily Carnegie has nothing over McDonalds in terms of efficiency. Top heavy with bureaucrats, Carnegie has been accused of irratic delivery of services to
Downtown Eastside residents. Too often a teacher has sat in the Carnegie Learning Centre behind a locked door, as students peer through the window hoping she will open up. Her excuse? An unpaid volunteer hasn't shown up. And don’t count on the $104,000 a year Director across the hall to show up to unlock the door, or the Assistant Director who reportedly has just bought himself a yacht, or the Education Co-ordinator who reportedly screws him on the yacht, or the Volunteer Co-ordinator, or the Assistant Volunteer Co-ordinator, or anyone else in the Carnegie entourage of CUPE members.

Carnegie reminds me of my time in Cuba, a retired man who had been in the restaurant business, said in a Scottish brogue just last month. He brought this up just minutes after he had objected to a cafeteria cashier “throwing” crackers across the counter at him, only to be told, 'If you don’t like it, you can go somewhere else’. In Cuba, he explained, there’s “no leverage” against the workers so customer service is lax. He hastily added, “I’m for the worker”, code in this building for “Don’t shoot.” With this reputation, is it any wonder people were surprised when Carnegie emerged as a mecca of customer service during the city wide coffee crisis?

As Carnegie’s coffee business operated full tilt, McDonalds had posters on every door announcing how they would be inconveniencing customers during the boil water advisory: “We will not be serving drinks from our drink tower and other beverages such as coffee or orange juice and ice from the ice machine at (sic) the meantime.”

I came across the poster on the door of McDonalds on Friday, the second day of the boil water advisory, when I dropped into the koffee klatch held there by
Downtown Eastsiders -- the free refill policy being the draw. On Monday night the poster was still on the door of McDonalds – even though they had started serving coffee and tea that morning. Go figure.

On Tuesday, the posters were still up. My friend D.J. was surprised when I mentioned, “McDonalds has coffee”. He seemed annoyed; he said he had just been there and left after seeing the poster still on the door. The following day, Wednesday – welfare day, always a big money day for McDonalds – the posters were again on the doors. And yet again on Thursday. McIdiots.

McDonalds may have left the poster up because, although coffee and tea were now available, the in-house soft drinks and orange juice referred to on the poster were not yet available -- although substitutes were available. By Saturday, McDonalds had brought in canned Minute Maid orange juice and canned soft drinks such as Sprite and Coke to substitute for drinks usually sold in McDonalds cups -- but they had nixed their free refill policy. By Saturday afternoon, though, they had run out of diet soft drinks, according to my friend D.J. who guzzles black coffee at McDonalds but would have settled for a diet Coke in a crunch.

While McDonalds coffee business was clinically dead, shudders could still be felt from the invisible hand of the market. A few regular customers imported coffee from elsewhere to their McDonalds koffee klatch. A BYOC policy – Bring Your Own Coffee – was emerging. On Sunday evening, I imported two take-out coffees I had bought at the Carnegie basement window. I imported two more Carnegie coffees on Monday evening. I had just finished drinking them when Tracy, a longtime supervisor at McDonalds, walked by and announced, “There’s coffee, you know.” Many customers by this late date had gone elsewhere. Even the panhandlers had thinned out.

Not only was Carnegie coffee being imported to McDonalds but McDonalds customers were being imported to Carnegie. My friend D.J., the guy who guzzles coffee at McDonalds, is an example. I spotted him at Carnegie on Saturday afternoon at the height of the coffee crisis. He generally avoids Carnegie; he despises the left-wing culture there. D.J. leans towards free enterprise and Stephen Harper and can make a good case for both. The first thing he said to me when he saw me, after saying “Hi” of course, was “McDonald’s still has no coffee.” When he invited me to join him on Carnegie's outdoor patio while he had a smoke, I said, “OK, I’ll just grab a coffee in the basement first.” He looked at me funny. I said, “There’s coffee in the basement.”

He bought one. He filled it to almost overflowing.

D.J. told me that after having no luck getting a coffee or even a diet Coke at McDonalds, he had taken the long hike up to Wendy’s restaurant at Cambie & Broadway, but they too had stopped selling coffee. And the burger he bought at Wendy’s had been stripped of lettuce and tomato because they had nothing to wash them in.

Washing vegetables was another area in which Carnegie beat out the private sector. Just hours into the crisis, Carnegie had resumed serving full salads. At first their salads were a bit simpler than usual, but it wasn't long before they had the full meal deal: green lettuce, grated carrots and red cabbage, strips of kale or chard, and other odds and ends. Carnegie basically maintained their regular menu. They lugged in huge 18.9 litre containers of water for cooking but, at least at the basement coffee concession stand, they were boiling tap water for coffee.

While I sat on the Carnegie outdoor patio as D.J. smoked, I recognized a guy sitting at the table beside us. He is a homeless guy, a regular at McDonald’s for morning coffee. I don’t recall seeing him previously at Carnegie. A volunteer later mentioned that he was seeing many people around who don't usually come to Carnegie.

The thought crossed my mind that Bruce Erikson, the leftist who is considered the founding father of the Carnegie Centre, might enjoy the irony here:
Downtown Eastsiders from the Harperite to the homeless man were turning back to Carnegie after discovering that the corporate sector couldn't be counted on to meet their needs. The left could be counted on by the people; that always seemed to be Erikson's message.

The reason, Erikson came so quickly to mind was that Carnegie never lets people forget him. Last month, Carnegie held a "love-in and tribute" to Erikson in the form of the Tipping Point Cabaret. After Erikson died in 1996, they went as far as to have a life size, cardboard cut-out of him manufactured from a photograph. They prop it up in group photos and if a person didn’t know better, they would think he was still alive.
He’s a socialist icon.

The coffee crisis would have been the time to stand the cardboard cut-out of Erikson up on the front steps of Carnegie, not entirely unlike the way McDonalds displays their icon, Ronald McDonald. As Downtown Eastsiders got turned away from McDonald’s and trudged down Main St., they would have passed Erikson as they made the left turn into Carnegie. A sign could have been erected too alongside Erikson, like the one McDonalds uses to announce the huge number “served”.


Anonymous said...

Geez William, you use the Carnegie computers every day, you use the services, obviously they fit you to a tee, and yet you bitch like some cranky old man about a place you spend your days.

You have created yourself in the image of Job, but because it's self directed, it doesn't elicit pity or sympathy, let alone empathy. It's only, and always, just sad.

Have a small fries on me next time you're at McDonald's, okay?

Monday, November 27, 2006 3:31:22 PM

Anonymous said...

yah Im from the DTES, and Id never walk all the way down to McDicks, just to drink their shitty coffee. You forgot to mention that McDonalds was giving out a can of pop instead of the supersize container Im used to. They usually refill that supersize container as many times as you want for free, but just try askin for another pop. seriously you need to spend more time on the block instead of lockin yourself up in carnegie all day

Thursday, November 30, 2006 4:46:55 PM

Friday, November 3, 2006

CBC duped about Downtown Eastside homeless

Don’t believe everything you read. Particularly what you read about Condemned: A work in progress, musical theatre about tenants evicted from a rooming house slated for demolition, which had a three day run at Carnegie Hall last weekend. Whether you’re reading the CBC website, the Vancouver Courier newspaper, the glossy catalogue for the Heart of the City Festival of which Condemned was a part, or even the Program you were handed as you walked into the performance, be skeptical.

Ethel Whitty, Director of Carnegie Centre at Main & Hastings, wrote in Condemned program notes: "The presentation of Condemned - a work in progress is the first time that community members actually took it upon themselves to create their own opera." A reader is left with the impression that most of the participants in the opera are Downtown Eastside residents.


Prominent roles, even lead roles, in the opera were played by actors who don’t live in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood. One woman owns a condo in Kitsilano. Another lives with her physician husband and two kids at an address nowhere near Main & Hastings. Another woman, along with her steady stable husband, is a homeowner in Burnaby; she’s the one who played the panhandler. For these people and others in the opera, the Downtown Eastside is Poverty Playland.

In discussing the opera with the Vancouver Courier, Whitty said, "There's a lot of talent in the area just itching to get out...." And just itching to get in. Look at the numbers. Forty-five percent of the actors-singers who performed in the opera this weekend live in other more affluent neighbourhoods. None of the seven opera band members live in the neighbourhood, and neither does the Music Director whom Whitty identified in both the festival catalogue and opera program as a “community member”. And despite Whitty’s claim in both these publications that the opera was written by "dedicated community writers", only two of the five listed, which included a writer/mentor, have DTES addresses.

Despite this reality, the CBC made the following statement in the article, “Opera tells tales of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, on their website:

"The cast of Condemned is mainly homeless and low-income people . . . "

There is only one performer in the cast who is homeless and he is homeless by choice. He is a man who reportedly has a Bachelor of Science degree and has held down decent jobs. But he’s now on a sort of spiritual quest and has detached himself from material things, including money. DTES residents talk about him as though he's one of the wonders of the world: “He doesn’t get welfare. He lives without money.” He eats at free places. He sleeps in shelters.

The CBC is accurate in claiming that many in the cast are low income. Certainly the DTES residents who acted and sang in the opera are low income, with the exception of one who works as a welfare advocate for a church. But they are the upper crust of the welfare poor, what an organizer at End Legislated Poverty referred to as "the high-functioning poor" -- the better educated poor with the social skills to negotiate their way through bureaucracy to get the highest welfare rates and to network themselves into social housing. In fact, all of these actors, with the exception of the welfare-free man, are securely ensconced in social housing apartments.

The CBC, in the sentence immediately following their announcement that the cast consisted primarily of homeless and low income people, introduced Debbie Gosselin -- the implication being that she fell into this category:

Debbie Gosselin is making her stage debut as a panhandler in the opera. "The
things that happen in this play happen every day in this community and I
just want people to know that what I'm acting is reality for people," she

Who is Debbie Gosselin? She is the homeowner in Burnaby.

Next the CBC introduced their website readers to opera performer Bharbara Gudmundson:

Poor and disabled herself, Gudmundson has seen her once-affordable
neighbourhood squeezed by condo development until she fears there is nothing
left for people like her. "As far as I've seen here, if you follow that path
just a little bit further, there is no room for us," she said.

Us? Gudmundson does not live on the Downtown Eastside. Gudmundson confirmed that fact this week to a Carnegie member who asked her point blank. But this has never been a secret: in October 2005, Gudmundson told the Vancouver Courier newspaper during an interview about federal election voting, that she no longer lived in the Downtown Eastside. She did at one time live in a social housing building across from Oppenheimer Park but now lives in the more fashionable Grandview Woodlands area, reportedly in social housing.

The portrayal of Gudmundson as poor and disabled to CBC website readers may have been an attempt to elicit a Dickens Tiny Tim image from their collective liberal unconscious, but it made Downtown Eastside residents roll our eyes. Whatever Gudmundson’s disability is, it was well hidden when she was prancing onto the opera stage. And it is well hidden when she occasionally shows up at Carnegie cabaret night to perform her Janis Joplin knock off. Gudmundson attended Simon Fraser University and is rich with intellectual capital. She has earned a reputation as an effective activist. Please adjust your set.

In addition to the above performers, the CBC reporter interviewed Patrick Foley. If the CBC – which appears to stand for Couldn’t Bother Checking – had asked Foley if he was a DTES resident, he would have told them that he lives in the Grandview Woodlands area.

Foley deserves credit though. He is the only outsider who has publicly acknowledged tensions about people from other neighbourhoods collapsing themselves into the DTES “community". At a recent Downtown Eastside Poets night at Carnegie, he read a piece he had written entitled, “What makes somebody a Downtown Eastsider?"

So it was not surprising too see Foley tread carefully when speaking to the CBC, presenting himself as an observer: “I can imagine some people who sleep on streets or viaducts ….[italics added]” Even when Foley mentioned his own experience, he avoided exaggerating to turn himself into a stand-in for the down and out; he accurately described himself as having been “semi-homeless – couch surfing and stuff….” It was the CBC that rounded his experience up to full blown homelessness: “Patrick Foley, one of the writers, has been homeless himself.”

One can hardly blame the CBC for assuming that the opera was teaming with homeless people. The opera’s organizers did little to discourage that impression. The opera's Director, Susanna Uchatius, wrote the following in the program:

At the first full cast rehearsal I read a piece by playwright Howard Baker
concerning "a woman from the street" attempting the work of theatre. It ends
with her stating, "this is art, it is hard work (and) because I found it hard I
felt honoured." More than anything this is what I witnessed again and

There was not one street person in the Carnegie opera.

One might call the guy who has detached himself from material things a street person, but it would be a stretch. He sits for hours practicing music on the third floor at Carnegie and volunteers in the Carnegie kitchen in exchange for food vouchers. He doesn't live his life on the streets.

Not only the CBC but the Vancouver Courier provided the public with information about the opera that left DTES residents rolling our eyes. According to the Courier, Music Director Earl Peach stated, "There are people who are participating in the production who are perennially sleep deprived. Some of what they go through is absolutely unimaginable.” In social housing?

Let’s get one thing straight. The social housing in which these performers live is some of the best and newest Canada has to offer. It is not American-style ghetto housing, not at all dangerous -- it is the new Lori Krill Housing Co-operative, Solheim Place, or the Four Sisters Housing Co-operative which once got a United Nations housing award. The only person who may have been sleep deprived is the guy who sleeps in shelters.

Peach claimed, according to the Courier, that he had the utmost respect “for artists in the Downtown Eastside" because they do their art while struggling with not only lack of adequate housing, but drug addiction and mental illness. Now there's a script that was written long before the opera. There isn’t a person working in the poverty industry who doesn’t know these lines; they better know them or they won't get hired again in the heart of the poverty industry, which is first and foremost about attracting funds.

For the record, there were no drug addicts performing in the opera. There is one middle-aged actor who "may have had a problems in that area when he was younger", according to another actor. And there is only one participant in the opera known to have a mental illness, an actor from the Grandview-Woodlands area who claims to be bi-polar, a diagnosis so commonly issued that it is becoming meaningless.

At the Carnegie Learning Centre this week, Brian, a retired Edmonton businessman who now lives on the DTES, listened to comments about the skewed portrayal of opera participants that had found its way into the media. He offered a simple explanation: “Politics is a blood sport.”


human being said...

Petty and bitter. Ill informed bias not worth the effort to read.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006 2:36:15 PM

human being said...

I dont suppose this will reach posting but I must comment that your bitter fingerpointing is anything but constructive and less than worthwhile reading. Pity.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006 2:39:24 PM

reliable sources said...

human being,

You’re speaking the language of a poverty pimp.

Your dismissal of concerns expressed in the article “CBC duped....” as “petty” and “not worth the effort to read” is one which is all too familiar to Downtown Eastside residents. Consistently, when DTES residents speak up, they are told to put their concerns in writing; then what they write is treated like it is not worth reading.

The recent experience at Carnegie of an Edmonton businessman who now lives on the DTES is typical. He drops into Carnegie to use the internet and buy a coffee and was twice told by the administration to put in writing his experiences of abuse at the hands of a coffee seller. This is the same coffee seller against whom the Carnegie has received countless previous complaints of misconduct ranging from verbal abuse, threats, and asking women to go home with him to watch pornography. Nothing is done. Finally somebody, took the situation into their own hands and punched the bully in the nose.

Anyone who attempts to seriously pursue issues of concern elicits hostility – not unlike that displayed in your comment.

Your claim that the article was "ill informed" is unsupportable though. Unlike the Carnegie 'agit-prop' opera, the article entitled "CBC duped...." relied exclusively on the voices of Downtown Eastside residents, some of whom have roots in the neighbourhood going back decades. Documented evidence also exists to support claims made in the article. The article was well researched, with even individuals inside the opera supplying information, when it was solicited.

There may be some accuracy to your claim that the article has a "bitter" tone. Downtown Eastside residents are definitely becoming bitter about the -- I'll steal your phrase here -- "ill informed bias" fed to the media on our behalf.

There is one area of bitterness that was not touched upon in the "CBC duped...." article, though. That is the bitterness about the fact that the ideological arm of the Carnegie Centre is always in full swing while basic services are allowed to crumble. You should hear the bitterness expressed by Downtown Eastside residents when they arrive at Carnegie to use the Computer lab or the Learning Centre and find the doors locked. (People are desperate for computer services and put their names on long waiting lists to get access to a computer for an hour.)

The Learning Centre alone was closed two Mondays and two Saturdays last month. The roughly $750,000 worth of staff which sits across the hall from the Learning Centre do little to prevent such semi-regular closures of services. They simply walk around low income people who sit, stand, or lie in the hall outside closed doors in the hope that the door might be opened eventually. (Once a Carnegie Board member, Bob, unlocked the Learning Centre door in front of people who had been waiting in the hall for an hour; he walked in to get himself a prop for 'agit-prop' theatre in which he was performing, then he left and closed the door again in the faces of DTES residents in the hall.) The taxpayer has already paid for these services. I suspect the taxpayer would be a little bitter if he or she knew how often people were locked out.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006 4:27:37 PM

reliable sources said...

Human being,

At the time the response to your comment was written, I was not aware that you worked for a major federal government funder of arts projects. This was brought to my attention later.

I didn’t realize that your comment that the “CBC duped” article was “not worth the effort to read” was a response to an e-mail you had received just minutes earlier from an individual on the Downtown Eastside who had specifically requested that you read the CBC article.

The fact that a major government funder would consider an article about duping of the public via a publicly funded project to be “not worth the effort to read”, leads to an obvious conclusion: voters got rid of the Liberals, but we did not get rid of their bureaucrats.

Thursday, November 16, 2006 11:29:08 AM

Leona Shapeshifter said...

I am curious to know how the anonymous "Reliable Sources" managed to get so much personal information (incorrect though it may be in some cases) about my friends and neighbours and our work in the community.

Thursday, November 16, 2006 2:50:33 PM

Leona Shapeshifter said...

I am curious to know how the anonymous "Reliable Sources" managed to get so much personal information about my friends and neighbours without revealing him/herself.

Thursday, November 16, 2006 3:32:50 PM

Anonymous said...

I think it's the big guy in the Learning Centre every day, obviously, now that is defunct.

Thursday, November 16, 2006 6:20:49 PM

Anonymous said...

Your assumptions about mental illness point to the fact that you know very little on the matter. Your critque is weak and that is being generous. It seems to me that any good that is done often becomes the target for armchair critics. Grinch

Thursday, November 16, 2006 6:30:10 PM

Seymour Butts said...

reliable source I would be interested in discussing the opera over lunch at Carnegie my treat. I would be interested in finding out the answer to leona shapeshifter's question. I hope you are free on Tuesday because I really enjoy Hamburger day. I'm not kidding about meeting you. Let's do lunch.

Thursday, November 16, 2006 7:43:53 PM

Terri Williams said...

Robin, the only reason you diss the opera is because no one asked you to help write it. You are wrong. ALL the cast, musicians, director of music, writers & the writer/mentor, ARE members of this community and part of our extended family. Can you tell me of anyone from Shaughnessy who would dare to enter the doors of the Carnegie Community Centre, let alone be MEMBERS?

Everything in the opera HAS happened down here, from hotel closures, to police brutality, to the crooked landlords, to the poor & disabled being ousted from their only homes. The only thing not mentioned is the fact that 75 people have gone missing from this (Canada's deadliest) neighbourhood since Willy Pickton was arrested. Police still don't care and have a long list of crooked reasons why they will not take a report from anyone with real information about the abductions that continue to happen every welfare week. It is the police who are 'delusional'.

Don't you live in the West End?

Thursday, November 16, 2006 10:41:47 PM

reliable sources said...

TO: leona shapeshifter

You write that some of the personal information in the article was "incorrect". Not one claim made in that article has ever been refuted.

Your question about methods used to collect information can't be answered too directly. Suffice to say that all of the information in the article was provided by longterm Downtown Eastside residents with intimate knowledge of the Carnegie Centre and the agit-prop opera. (A couple of them have come forward with leona shapeshifter's real name.) Facts were double checked.

Friday, November 17, 2006 2:47:47 PM

reliable sources said...


There are more comments from Downtown Eastsiders about the article, "CBC duped...." on the news site, in the Vancouver section.

Go to:

Friday, November 17, 2006 3:02:41 PM

Seymour Butts said...

I'm still waiting for you to respond to my invitation for lunch. Come on be real stop hiding behind you blog. Lunch is still my treat. Leave a message for Seymour B with the Carnegie information desk with a number where I can reach you so we can arrange a time to meet. I'm looking forward to meeting you.

Saturday, November 18, 2006 2:30:11 PM

Anonymous said...

though some of your facts are wrong, i can agree there has been some hype created that leans to a false impression. anyone who knows the DTES, or bothers to try, can see that the Carnegie is the country club of the neighborhood, and that those who are homeless to the most desperate degree and not allowed through the doors, but can be found at other agencies that provide services for these individuals. now, i'd really like to see the shaunessey types in those places.

Sunday, November 19, 2006 5:00:58 PM

reliable sources said...


You mention, "i can agree there has been some hype created that leans to a false impression." Thanks. That's what the article was intended to demonstrate.

You qualify the above statement with, "though some of your facts are wrong." The facts are not wrong. Witnesses who were directly involved in the opera as well as some who are familiar with the Carnegie scene and the Downtown Eastside community have confirmed the accuracy of all facts. Certainly, the fact that there was just one homeless person in the opera -- a man who is homeless by choice -- has been repeatedly confirmed.

Just one minor fact in the article was demonstrated to be inaccurate: the identification of the opera's director, Susanna Uchatius, was a member of Vancouver Moving Theatre. She wasn't. While directing the opera she did have a working relationship with Vancouver Moving Theatre's Terry Hunter and Savannah Walling though. Vancouver Moving Theatre's Hunter was the Artistic Director of this year's Heart of the City Festival of which the opera was part -- he stood up in front of the audience during at least one of the performances of the opera at Carnegie and introduced it. This led to the misidentification of Uchatius as being a part of Vancouver Moving Theatre.

In the introduction in the opera program written by Carnegie Director Ethel Whitty -- just above the introduction written by Susanna Uchatius -- Vancouver Moving Theatre was identified as having not only co-produced the first community play but carried out subsequent "evaluations" that had lead to such collaborative efforts as this year's opera. Hence, the confusion.

The misidentification of Susanna Uchatius as a member of Vancouver Moving Theatre did not in any way undermine the argument made in the article. It was a rather insignificant inaccuracy. But the inaccuracy was immediately corrected. And any other fact that could have been demonstrated to be inaccurate would also have been corrected -- but none have been demonstrated to be inaccurate.

Thursday, November 23, 2006 5:12:24 PM

Anonymous said...

funny, the inaccuracy i did point out, you chose not to post, which was the one pointing out that mike does not volunteer in the carnegie kitchen, but that people often bring him food for being who he is. maybe i didn't post it correctly.

Friday, November 24, 2006 2:41:35 AM

reliable sources said...


You mention that I may have not gotten your original posting of the above comment, that you may not have posted it correctly. I didn't get it.

I agree with your comment that people often bring food to the guy I referred to in the article as "homeless by choice". People regularly see him eating his free food on the third floor at Carnegie. You 'out' this guy as Mike, which indicates that my account of his life was accurate enough that you could identify him.

But your claim that "mike does not volunteer in the carnegie kitchen" is simply not accurate. He does occasionally volunteer in the kitchen. Actually, on the weekend the opera was playing, Mike was doing some volunteer work in the kitchen with a long white apron on.

In the sentence you're referring to, I also mentioned that this homeless-by-choice guy "sits for hours practicing music on the third floor at Carnegie". The point I was using this info to support was that: "He doesn't live his life on the streets."

We can fine tune every detail, but the basic point I was making does not change.

Friday, November 24, 2006 11:47:19 AM