[Part one of a two part series]
Note: A hacker has changed text in this article. It's being corrected but if you come across offensive language, please ignore it.
A homeless man, Bill Simpson, has been permanently barred from the Carnegie Learning Centre. For daring to blog.
On Friday, Simpson was informed by Lucy Alderson, a teacher in the Learning Centre – an informal adult learning centre jointly run by the Carnegie Centre and Capilano College – that he was being barred because he had been observed using one of their computers to work on the Downtown Eastside Enquirer blog.
The blog has been critical of the poverty industry on the Downtown Eastside, and the scripted messages fed to the media to ensure constant injections of funding. The Enquirer has specifically criticized staff at Carnegie who earn a good union wage yet too often allow doors to remain locked, literally, to taxpayer-funded education and computer services for the poor.
Simpson insists that he is not the Downtown Eastside Enquirer blogger. And he is not one of the “reliable sources”, the term with which all postings on the Enquirer blog are signed. But so what if he was? He has the right to freedom of expression.
A witch hunt. That’s how one Carnegie member summarized activities leading up to Simpson’s barring. After bouts of verbal harassment by a Carnegie Board member, interrogation of a Carnegie volunteer tutor and an attempt to turn him into an informant against a longtime DTES friend, obstructionist tactics by CUPE members who staff Carnegie, misrepresentation of witness testimony (alleged by the witness after the barring), Simpson was found guilty in absentia of being the Downtown Eastside Enquirer blogger.
Since the barring, Simpson has continued to be denied due process by the Carnegie Learning Centre and the Carnegie Centre as a whole. For over 3 weeks, Simpson has been completely ignored after submitting a verbal, then written, request to have the decision to bar him put in writing so that he can launch an appeal.
While barring Simpson from the Learning Centre for having dared to blog where no man has blogged before, Alderson taped eye-catching, yellow posters to the desks: “Would you like to write about your life?”
Early censoring of the Downtown Eastside Enquirer
Months before the alleged blogger was targeted personally, access to the Downtown Eastside Enquirer had become mysteriously restricted. Last summer, Downtown Eastside residents noticed that the Downtown Eastside Enquirer could no longer be accessed by simply typing in key words on Carnegie public access computers.
Access to Enquirer articles opened up more when those involved discovered NowPublic.com. Enquirer articles were posted on NowPublic via an account held by one of the reliable sources, “jr”. A blogger going by the name “I SHOT JR” on The Downtown Eastside Avenger, responded by attempting to discredit the Enquirer by claiming it was composed of “radical shit disturbers led by Bill”. It’s not.
In December, just days before, Simpson was targeted for barring, the Enquirer was targeted by a hacker. Select articles were deleted. When they were restored, the blogger returned to delete the entire blog. The hacker cannot be linked to Carnegie but the timing was suspicious.
“Out the snake”
One of the early articles appearing on the Downtown Eastside Enquirer and NowPublic.com was titled, “CBC duped about Downtown Eastside homeless”. The author pointed out that comments made to the media about a Carnegie theatre production, like so much other information fed to the media by the poverty industry, were misleading. The CBC was left with the impression, according to an article on their website, that the cast was “mainly homeless and low income” members of the Downtown Eastside community when, in fact, only one cast member was homeless, homeless by choice, and several were homeowners from more affluent neighbourhoods. Carnegie postmodernists were outraged when they were exposed as importing the other from another neighbourhood.
The Downtown Eastside Enquirer received a message from an anonymous individual with intimate knowledge of the Carnegie theatre crowd, stating that the article had created tensions: “Not a good situation for a community, unless they find the snake and out him or her."
The hunt was on.
[Update: Carnegie Board member Gena Thompson later took credit for this comment when she accused the DTES Enquirer on NowPublic.com in 2007 of having "deleted" her. This comment was actually deleted when a hacker tampered with the DTES Enquirer.)
“Tattle tale Queen of the Carnegie!”
Carnegie Board member Bob Sarti suspected Bill Simpson of being the Downtown Eastside Enquirer blogger. On Dec. 6th, just hours after the Enquirer article, “Carnegie Director accused of failing to deliver tax payer funded services to poor” appeared on NowPublic.com, Sarti gave Simpson a tongue-lashing.
Simpson was outside the 3rd floor Learning Centre when he was spotted by Sarti, who was sitting at a table with a few Carnegie coordinators whose failure to consistently keep services open had been criticized on the Enquirer. Sarti jumped up out of his seat, hollering: “Tattle tale Queen of the Carnegie!” Wagging his finger at Simpson, Sarti repeated this accusation several times: “Tattle tale Queen of the Carnegie!”, “Tattle tale Queen of the Carnegie!…” Simpson, a laid back guy from Saskatchewan – he lived for years in Tisdale on which Corner Gas is based -- responded, “You’re just mad because you got caught with your pants down.” Bill firmly asserted, “I didn’t write that blog, but I wish I had. That author has my full support.”
Sarti managed to interject one more insult, “Everybody knows you’re a parasite!" From comments Sarti was heard making later to a Carnegie member, he was under the impression that Simpson was on welfare. Simpson isn't. That's why he sleeps in a nearby park.
A Carnegie regular who knows Sarti was just around the corner when this verbal attack occurred, and was left slightly shaken. Simpson was just walking across the lobby “minding his own business”, the witness said, when Sarti attacked him. Sarti too may have been left shaken as another witness saw his hand trembling slightly as he held a cup afterwards. As the story of Sarti’s “Tattle tale Queen of the Carnegie” tirade circulated, Carnegie members chuckled, many surprised at Sarti’s rancor as he is generally an affable guy.
Simpson reported Sarti's verbal attack to one of Carnegie's security guards, Trey. Trey assured Simpson that he would take his complaint seriously and see that Sarti was spoken to. Simpson hoped this would put an end to such harassment. It didn't.
“Sid Slick, oilier than a dipstick”
Here’s the mystery. Sarti worked for 30 years as a Vancouver Sun reporter, so why does he seem so hostile to Downtown Eastsiders getting their share of freedom of the press via Google blogger and NowPublic. Perhaps finding oneself on the wrong side of the printed word takes getting used to. Sarti’s name, first name only, had come up in blog criticism of Carnegie for too often failing to deliver taxpayer-funded education and computer services to the poor. Board member, “Bob”, it was reported, had walked past a group of low income students locked out of the Carnegie Learning Centre, entered the Learning Centre to get a prop for an “agitprop” skit, then locked the door again in their faces. The skit, about welfare rates, was called The Price is Wrong, with Sarti playing “Sid Slick, oilier than a dipstick”.
“Finally, some free journalism on the Downtown Eastside.”
Shortly after being called the Tattle Tale Queen of the Carnegie, Simpson was walking up the stairs inside Carnegie, when he ran into Paul Taylor. Taylor sits with Sarti – the two go back a long way; both are American Vietnam war resisters -- on the Carnegie Newsletter Committee. Simpson ribbed Taylor: “Finally some free journalism on the Downtown Eastside."
Taylor, who was sole editor of the Carnegie Newsletter for much of its 25 year history, until an editorial committee was created on which he still sits, is accustomed to such barbs. The Carnegie Newsletter, presented as the voice of the poor, is notorious for censoring the poor who aren’t in lock step behind Libby Davies, the NDP Member of Parliament who helps finance it. The Enquirer is not in lock step behind Libby Davies.
Round two: “Tattle Tale Queen of the Carnegie!”
A couple of days after Sarti’s first verbal assault, he spotted Simpson coming into the stairwell behind him, slowed down to let him catch up, and then started in on him again: “Tattle tale Queen of the Carnegie, Tattle Tale Queen of the Carnegie….”
Simpson, who says he was by this time fed up with absorbing abuse, shot back: “Commie Bob!” “KGB Bob!” Simpson was referring to the left wing Carnegie Centre Association which Sarti helped build – but Sarti has never been known to refer to himself as a Communist. He was involved with Anarchists in his youth and in recent years has enthusiastically hung balloons at Anarchist conventions held in the Carnegie theatre.
Sarti’s history as an anarchist makes his hostility to a homeless blogger even more mysterious to those at the Downtown Eastside Enquirer: blogging is a Anarchism in action. Blogging disseminates the power of the press into the hands of ordinary people.
“I don’t think Bob is that kind of Anarchist,” an acquaintance of Sarti’s told the Enquirer. “He’s an anarcho-syndicalist; they seem more like Maoists to me.” Another credible person, an intellectual, says that years ago Sarti joked that he saw the Downtown Eastside as a Maoist Liberation Zone. Ignore that: hearsay can’t be given much weight. But don’t ignore this: the DTES is beginning to feel like a Maoist Liberation Zone.
The Downtown Eastside is actually Libby Davies’ riding and Sarti is one of her political operatives. For years, he has worked under the radar to keep his NDP pal in power. This is no secret. Look at the Carnegie newsletter; Davies is even identified in the back as a donor. The entire Carnegie Centre is Libby Davies' political machine.
Letter to Carnegie Director: “…please call the mad dog off”
After being verbally attacked a second time, Simpson wrote a letter -- his letterhead reads William B. Simpson, Home-free, Vancouver, B.C. -- to Carnegie Director, Ethel Whitty, complaining about the conduct of “your esteemed Board member”. In his letter, Simpson outlined the previous verbal assault by Sarti as well as the most recent, at times being colourfully descriptive: “his hair looked like he (sic) had been just styled by a lightening bolt, his body shook with the wagging of his finger.” Carnegie members insist that Sarti, whose hair usually looks normal, is not prone to such angry outbursts. But people closer to him may know different, according to teasing comments made in this month’s Carnegie newsletter by his ally Paul Taylor: “Bob is known to argue and even yell at staff when they just try to work around his quirks/idiosyncrasies/weird stuff….”
One thing that can’t be made light of though are “more wild accusations” Sarti made during the second attack according to Simpson’s letter to Whitty, “something about ‘looking down women’s dresses.’” Friends and acquaintances of Simpson are nonplussed by this accusation, saying they have never seen him sexually harass anyone.
Simpson’s ultimate purpose in writing to Whitty was to request that she “please call the mad dog off.”
Obstructionism by CUPE members
In his letter, Simpson told Whitty that immediately following Sarti’s second attack, he again reported the incident to Security. But Security guard John Dunnings, whom Simpson described as having an “English” accent, refused to write it up. Dunnings’ conduct can been seen in hindsight as part of an emerging pattern of obstructionism by CUPE members to ensure that Simpson is left unprotected.
When Simpson dropped off the letter for Whitty, Donna, the Carnegie receptionist, refused his request for proof of receipt. “I’m not signing for it,” she told him in a testy tone. Donna, who is usually congenial, told Simpson that she would simply put the letter with Whitty’s other mail.
There would be more uncooperativeness and hostility by CUPE members to come. Could this be related to the fact that the failure by a few CUPE members to consistently keep services at Carnegie open for the poor had been criticized on the blog?
Bill’s friend shows courage to take a stand
Frank, a man who sometimes volunteers in the Learning Centre and the Computer Room, told Sarti that his verbal assaults on Bill were “unfair”. It was Friday, Dec. 8th and Frank had stopped by the Carnegie newsletter office. He pointed out that Sarti did not know for certain that Bill had even written “that article”. Presumably Frank was referring to the “CBC duped” article which had caused the most furor. Sarti reportedly responded, ‘So Bill is sending his friends to threaten me now.’ I’m not threatening you, Frank assured him. “I feel threatened,” Sarti responded, adding that he did not even know Frank. Frank reminded him that they interact in the cafeteria, where Sarti does a stint once a week as a volunteer cashier, all the time: “You’re always telling me I fill my coffee cup too full.” Sarti then launched into a taunt: “Coffee thief! coffee thief! coffee thief….”
Three Security men arrived. One, whose name is better left unspoken, reportedly joked to Frank, “You sure pushed his buttons.”
It was not Sarti who called the “coppos” but Wendy Pederson, a community organizer who sits in the office. Pederson works in the newsletter office with anti-poverty activist and American ex-pat Jean Swanson. The two write for the newsletter and work on campaigns pertaining to the poor – welfare rates, shopping cart confiscation, homelessness, lack of affordable housing. Lack of free speech hasn’t made the list.
Bharbara Gudmundson calls Bill Simpson a “liar” and a “coward.”
Next, it was a woman who tore into Simpson. As he walked to the washroom on the same floor as the Learning Centre, he passed Bharbara Gudmundson, who was waiting for an elevator. Gudmundson confronted Simpson about writing the blog article, “CBC Duped about Downtown Eastside homeless”, in which comments she made in a CBC interview were scrutinized. She called him a “coward” and a “liar”. Simpson responded, “It was you who got caught in a lie to the press.”
Gudmundson told Simpson that his familiarity with the article – in which she was never explicitly accused of lying – suggested that he had written it. She would later make this case to another Carnegie member when recounting her confrontation with Simpson: how come he is so familiar with the article if he didn’t write it? He could have read it, of course.
Simpson returned to the Learning Centre where he told Chad, a volunteer tutor who comes from Deep Cove once a week, “Bharb abused me in the hallway.” Simpson heard Gudmundson’s voice at that point and turned around to see her in the Learning Centre, grinning at him. She started in on him again about the article. “Bill was minding his own business,” Chad said later, using the same words as those used by another witness describing Simpson’s behaviour prior to being attacked by Sarti.
Both Gudmundson and Simpson raised their voices during the exchange so Betsy Alkenbrack, a teacher on staff, told them that they would have to stop or go outside. Simpson immediately stopped, according to Chad, and went back to doing his work. But Gudmundson wouldn’t let up. Chad told her multiple times to stop or she would have to leave. Bharb responded, “I’ll leave when Security kicks my ass out.”
Eventually, Gudmundson walked out and button-holed Colleen Gorrie, the Volunteer Co-ordinator who has an office across the hall. Gorrie had become cool toward Simpson in previous weeks, he had noted to friends. “Colleen has stopped saying hello to me.” That was shortly after criticisms of Gorrie appeared on the blog – although she had not until now been identified by her full name, only by her first name or her job title. Criticisms of Gorrie were similar to those made of Alderson and Whitty, centering around the too frequent locking of DTES residents out of publicly funded services, always with the same excuse, “The volunteer didn’t show up”.
After listening to Gudmundson’s account of events, Gorrie talked to the teacher, Alkenbrack, who in turn barred Simpson from the facility for the day. “You’re going to allow this abuser to do this?” Simpson asked Gorrie, referring to Gudmundson. “You’re the biggest abuser in the Carnegie,” Gorrie responded.
A witness overheard Alkenbrack justifying the barring by saying that if you ask one to leave, you have to ask both to leave.
Mike McCormack, a volunteer tutor who has been at Carnegie for years but may not have been officially on duty at the time of the barring, said, “This is politics, I don’t want to be involved.”
The barring did have the stench of politics. Chad doesn’t want to be involved in internal politics at Carnegie either, but he was the classroom supervisor at the time of the barring and couldn’t see any justification for it based on Simpson’s behaviour – and he later told Director Ethel Whitty that.
A little courage
When Chad saw Whitty outside, he told her, “Bill complied.” Chad took the position that when a student is asked to be quiet and they comply, they don't deserve to be barred. But Whitty would hear none of it; her position was that both Simpson and Gudmundson had been involved in the argument so they should both be barred. Whitty’s unwillingness to allow Chad’s eye-witness account of the situation to interfere with the decision to bar Simpson came as no surprise to members of Carnegie. Politics trumps facts every time.
Chad, like Frank, was amongst the small number of people with the courage to speak up when he believed Simpson was being treated unfairly. It has been chilling to see how many people have been willing to go along to get along.
Gudmundson returned to Carnegie the following day. Odd, since she is not often seen at Carnegie as she does not live on the Downtown Eastside. She met with Alderson. And she met with Colleen Gorrie. Jerry Santino, a kitchen staff person who had also been criticized on the blog also attended the meeting in Gorrie’s office. “They’re plotting,” Simpson speculated as he looked out the window of the Learning Centre.
Bill gets barred permanently
On Friday, Dec. 15th , Alderson met Simpson at the door of the Learning Centre and asked him to accompany her to the downstairs Security office. With Skip, the new head of Security listening, Alderson informed Simpson that he was permanently barred from the Learning Centre for being the Downtown Eastside blogger.
Alderson emphasized that Simpson had been observed by a witness in the Learning Centre blogging on the Downtown Eastside Enquirer. That witness is a “a bald faced liar”, Simpson insisted. “Or you’re the liar,” Alderson responded. The witness, Alderson said, was a “long term volunteer” whom she considered “very reliable”.
Alderson told Simpson that the Downtown Eastside Enquirer was “derogatory”. Could Alderson have been referring to the article in which the blogger exposed her for sitting in the locked Learning Centre in the middle of the afternoon by herself as students peered at her through the plate glass windows: “She was hired as a teacher in the Learning Centre but today she was a sea otter in the aquarium.”
Simpson’s claim that he is not the Downtown Eastside blogger is gaining traction. Since the barring, a long term volunteer who is believed to be Alderson’s “very reliable” witness has contradicted her.
Carnegie witness contradicts Alderson’s claim that Simpson was seen blogging on the Downtown Eastside Enquirer
Alderson did not adequately cover for her “long term volunteer” witness and it took Simpson about five minutes to clue into who it probably was. He suspected it was C.M., a long term tutor in the Learning Centre. Simpson shared his suspicion with a friend of C.M.’s who in turn asked C.M. about it. C.M. recalled being called into the office of Alderson and Alkenbrack, and interrogated as part of their effort to determine the identity of the blogger. Whitty had later spotted him at Carnegie, taken him into her office, “closed the door behind her” and subjected him to a second round of interrogation.
“Have you seen Bill blogging?” Whitty asked C.M. He acknowledged that he had seen Simpson blogging or at least working on a web site of some sort. “Can you prove,” C.M. recalled Whitty asking, that Simpson was blogging on the Downtown Eastside Enquirer? “No, I can’t prove it,” C.M. claims to have responded. “I don’t look over his shoulder, I’m not a spy.” Not long afterwards, Whitty approved the barring of Simpson for having contributed to the Downtown Eastside Enquirer.
It doesn’t actually matter who Alderson, Alkenbrack, and Whitty slot in as their “reliable” volunteer witness, Simpson insists nobody could have seen him blogging on the Enquirer because he is not a blogger. But blogging on the Enquirer, a legitimate news and opinion site, would not constitute grounds for a barring without warning anyway.
To be continued. . . .
In part 2, get more details of Carnegie's harassment and barring of the homeless blogger:
- Carnegie Director, Learning Centre teachers, and Volunteer Co-ordinator, are exposed as showing reckless disregard for the support system of a long term DTES resident by pressing him on three occasions to act as an informant against another long term DTES resident and close friend. Despite his insistence that his friend was not the blogger, they have persisted, interrogating him as recently as January 2/07, at considerable cost to his psychological and social wellbeing.
- Carnegie denies Simpson due process by failing to provide him with written notice of the reason for the barring
- The Carnegie newsletter, partially financed by Libby Davies, gives Bob Sarti credit for tracking down the identity of the “bozo blogger".
- Blogging at the Enquirer doesn’t cease. Doubts arise about whether Carnegie nailed the right blogger. At a Carnegie staff meeting, an individual announces that they intend to contact a relative at CSIS (secret police) for help in tracking down the blogger.