Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Homeless man barred for blogging, Part 2

[Note: Shortly after this article was posted, a hacker altered text, inserting libelous phrases like "child porn watcher", etc. etc. These criminally libelous insertions are being removed, but if you come across any that have been missed, please ignore them or notify us using the comment section. Thanks.]

An afterthought. . . .you're not a real student

After emphasizing to Bill Simpson that he was being barred from the Learning Centre for blogging on the Downtown Eastside Enquirer, even claiming to have a "reliable witness", teacher Lucy Alderson tossed in something else, almost as an afterthought: “You’re not a real student.”

Alderson didn’t push the latter point though. But she could be tempted to do so in the future, now that she is becoming a laughing stock for barring Simpson for blogging on the Enquirer.

Arguing that Simpson is not a real student is sure to become a quagmire for Alderson. First, Simpson is a registered student, which is more than can be said for some of the people using the Learning Centre. But even if he weren’t a registered student, that would not be grounds to bar him from the entire Learning Centre. Non-students have privileges in the Learning Centre; there is a steady stream of people from the street coming in to use the free public telephone or read the public access newspapers lying on the table.

But Simpson is not even allowed to access services available to non-students. An educated guess is that Alderson doesn’t want Simpson around to make a mental note of her occasional decisions to lock students out or evacuate them during prime school hours. When it comes to Simpson, Alderson wants to be out of sight, out of mind – and off the blog.

Singling out Simpson as falling short of real student status will be difficult in a Learning Centre designed to create almost no barriers for underclass people wishing to get onto a learning curve. Anyone can walk into the Learning Centre and say they want to learn a few computer skills. And Bingo, they’re a student. They’re given a little card to write their name on and assigned a peer tutor.

Simpson was a computer student, showing up regularly to teach himself how to build a website. He now has his website,, up and running. His volunteer tutor is Chad, the guy who comes in once a week from Deep Cove.

If Alderson and Carnegie staff claim that Simpson is not a real student, they can be accused of applying a stricter standard to him than to others.

Is Diane Wood a real student? Wood, a low income DTES resident, who uses the Learning Centre, is part of the inner circle at Carnegie. She hosts the Downtown Eastside Poets night in the Carnegie Theatre once a month. She is also involved in the Cultural Sharing program and a women’s sewing group – they’re working on a project related to the murdered women -- which Simpson dubbed ‘The Seamsters’ when they cleared the men out of the basement lounge. Like many Carnegie members, Wood does little more in the Learning Centre than write e-mail or type documents. But her politics are more aligned with those of the Carnegie staff and Association than Simpson’s or the Enquirer he’s accused of publishing. That’s why he’s barred and she isn’t.

Is Rick a real student? He sits in the Learning Centre and talks about DVDs he’s been watching, while he waits his turn to surf the net. He has been disappointed at times when arriving to find the Learning Centre door locked, but he believes it is futile for members to change that. Rick is a Libby Davies supporter too. He’s not a political thorn in anybody’s side. That’s why he’s in and Simpson’s out.

The ‘not a real student’ argument has actually been tried previously and failed. According to a tutor, there was an attempt to get Marilyn, a middle aged woman from Kitsilano who walks with a cane, barred from the Learning Centre computers on the basis that she was not a real student – although she was not being barred from the Learning Centre as a whole. Marilyn, an American ex-pat who went to school in Berkley in the 60’s, fought back. She wrote letters of complaint to assorted authorities, the tutor recalled, and made the situation uncomfortable enough for the Learning Centre staff that her privileges were re-instated.

The tutor's story about Marilyn has not been verified with Marilyn herself. But what is an indisputable fact -- Marilyn is vocal about it -- is that she uses the Learning Centre computers to disseminate material she produces to raise awareness about policies of the Harper government. Although she may be taking up a seat at a computer, the effort to clear her out was not as persistent as that faced by Simpson; she is not seen as threatening to the status quo at the Learning Centre, which encourages the production of anti-Harper material.

In fact, Marilyn has proven useful in this regard. James, the coordinator of the Canada Council funded Homeless Nation website, which last year made it’s home in the Carnegie Learning Centre and recruited students there, asked Marilyn to appear on a video. James had overheard her sitting at her computer talking about disseminating information on the internet critical of Harper for disallowing recipients of government grants to in turn use them to finance government lobbying. So he asked her, in front of several witnesses, to repeat her criticisms of Harper on a video for the Homeless Nation. “We have to get the word out,” he said. The Enquirer is getting the word out on Libby Davies but that's not welcome.

An afterthought: one of the skills the Homeless Nation was offering to teach students in the Learning Centre was blogging.

In preparing to bar Simpson, Whitty pressed a long term DTES resident to act as an informant against another long term DTES resident and close friend, permanently damaging their support system

C.M. and a neighbour on the Downtown Eastside have been best friends for a decade. The fact that C.M. and M.R. have been an important part of one another’s support system for a long time is well known at Carnegie; the two are often seen together at Carnegie or inside the Learning Centre. Rather than respecting this support system, Director Ethel Whitty, teachers Lucy Alderson and Betsy Alkenbrack, and Volunteer Co-ordinator Colleen Gorrie attempted to exploit it for their personal political gain – damaging it in the process.

When Whitty interrogated C.M. in preparation for the barring of Simpson, she announced that MR “has been seen with Bill”. Is MR the blogger? Is MR blogging on the Downtown Eastside Enquirer? Carl gave Whitty a flat “No” in response to these questions. Whitty was fishing: she would have been aware that C.M. had already eliminated MR as a suspect when he was earlier subjected to the same line of interrogation by the two teachers across the hall.

When C.M. was being leaned on by Alderson and Alkenbrack to provide information about his friend, he mentioned medical-related work he had known MR to do on the internet, although not in the Learning Centre. MR had considered this information confidential. But C.M. felt that if he threw something to the Guantanamo gals – not his term – to bite into, they would be satisfied.

The teachers were not without leverage against C.M. as he is reliant on their approval to keep his $100 per month welfare top up for volunteering in the Learning Centre. This was never mentioned during the interrogation, but everyone in the room knew that he could not afford to lose it.

Is it time to revise the BCTF ads from “Teachers Care” to “Teachers Scare”?

What did Whitty, a former social worker, achieve by working with the teacher and the Volunteer Co-ordinator to manipulate a low income man’s critical support system? For starters, C.M. and M.R. stopped talking to each other for a week. C.M. got depressed and went on a long drinking binge and spent a chunk of the limited spending money he had for Christmas. But he pulled himself out of it by telling himself, “I’ll feel bad later if I let my Christmas be ruined.” Whitty earns $104,000 a year and this is how she’s spending her time.

The reckless disregard for this low income man’s support system has continued. On January 3, 2007, Volunteer Coordinator Colleen Gorrie nabbed C.M. in a hallway and questioned him about his close friend M.R. Gorrie noted that M.R. “seems to be really friendly with Bill”. Then she asked, “Are they blogging together?” C.M. told responded, “No.” But he told Gorrie that he was starting to find this stressful: “It’s taking it’s toll on me; I don’t want to be involved.” Gorrie said, “OK.”

“What about the community!”

Truth is, C.M. sided with Alderson, Alkenbrack, Gorrie, and Whitty. He didn’t at first. Ironically, he was the first person at Carnegie to point out that even though Simpson got on his nerves – he calls him Birdcall Bill for occasionally whistling in the Learning Centre – he had a right to freedom of expression: “It’s free speech”. After being interrogated, though, C.M. dropped this stance and began saying emphatically, “What about the community!”

This is the essential tension on the Downtown Eastside – the individual’s right to free speech vs. the community’s almost total reliance on government funding which could be jeopardized by an individual getting off message in the media.

The workers who flock to the DTES each day for hefty pay cheques have, with the help of the Carnegie newsletter, worked to ensure that they are viewed by the underclass as part of their community. Article after article in the newsletter encourages the underclass to believe that their quality of life will deteriorate without these workers. They have convinced C.M. An attack on one is an attack on all.

Former Director Michael Clague was a master of this false consciousness, even inserting the term “Carnegie family” on posters. Anyone doubting that this is false consciousness need only look at the attack on the support system of a man on welfare by Whitty, Alderson, Alkenbrack, and Gorrie when their own class interests were merely challenged on a blog.

“empowering learning centre” propaganda accompanies muzzling of homeless blogger

As the witch hunt at the Carnegie Learning Centre resulted in the barring of Simpson and the placing of others under surveillance, the Carnegie newsletter did not for moment veer off message. The propaganda machine continued to go through the loops, like the 9/11 message on the intercom as the trade towers burned, the one assuring people that their environment was secure and they could carry on as usual.

Sandy Cameron was like that drone on the intercom when he praised Bob Sarti in the Carnegie newsletter for helping to build an “empowering learning centre” – that was in the same issue in which Sarti was praised by Paul Taylor as an “unsung hero” for hunting down the “now verified” blogger. Cameron, who writes Downtown Eastside social history in the working class hero genre, was in a position to know about the blogger witch hunt from the get go. He’s tight with Sarti and the other comrades; he has huddled with them for years in the newsletter office; his spouse, anti-poverty activist Jean Swanson, currently works in the newsletter office on campaigns to increase welfare rates and reduce homelessness. But Cameron can be counted on to stay on message.

Carnegie continues to deny homeless man due process

In the handling of Simpson’s case, Carnegie has continued what is a longstanding tradition of lack of due process for low income people who cannot afford lawyers. For 3 weeks now, they have ignored his requests – first made verbally, then in writing – that the reason for the barring be provided to him in writing, to aid him in launching an appeal.

On the day the barring was executed, Simpson e-mailed friends about being “banished” permanently from the Learning Centre” and one encouraged him to, “Get it in writing”. Later that day, Dec. 15th, Simpson returned to the office of Skip, the head of Carnegie Security and requested that he put the reasons for the barring in writing so that he could appeal. Skip refused. “This has nothing to do with me,” Bill recalled him saying in a defensive voice tone. You were the primary witness, Bill told him. “I’ll talk to Lucy,” was the most he could get from Skip. Nobody got back to Simpson.

A week later, Simpson wrote a letter to Alderson repeating the request that the reason for the barring be given to him in writing so that he could appeal it. He dropped the letter off to her in the Learning Centre on Dec. 21st, in front of two witnesses. “She just smiled when I gave it to her,” Simpson said. Alderson would be at Carnegie for the remainder of that day as well as another full day before leaving for Christmas holidays, but she gave Simpson nothing. And she apparently did not arrange for Director Whitty to respond to the request, even though Whitty was scheduled to take much less time off during the holiday season.

Permanently barring a citizen from an educational institution funded by the Canadian state is serious business. Yet due process has been completely lacking every step of the way: the barring of this homeless man began as a star chambers affair with a secret witness an no right to a defense; his requests for written confirmation were evaded; his ability to appeal was stalled for weeks as he looked through the window of the Learning Centre, sneaked in for five minutes on a Saturday to use the precious phone, or stood in the doorway trying to get the attention of a friend who accompanies him to the free food joints.

Alderson and Skip pump union dues into the BCTF and CUPE, which in turn finance campaigns accusing Israelis of disregarding human rights and human dignity. Meanwhile, back at the ranch….

Who you gonna call? A relative at CSIS
After Simpson was barred, there were rumblings at Carnegie and on the Downtown Eastside blog about Carnegie getting the wrong man. On Wednesday, Dec. 27th, at a staff meeting in Colleen Gorrie’s office -- although Gorrie was off that day -- the need to track down the blogger was discussed.

On individual at the meeting announced that they intended to call a relative who worked for CSIS to request help with this matter. So they’re seeking the aid of Canadian Security Intelligence Services, the secret police, to deter freedom of expression by citizens on Google blogger in Canada. There’s that Maoist Liberation Zone again.

The “pest” is at risk of being barred from additional Carnegie facilities for continuing to blog

Something strange happened on the way to extinguishing Simpson’s Charter-protected right to freedom of expression. Skip did an end run about a Carnegie policy. Members are reminded of this policy through posters: If you’re barred from computers in one area of the building, you are automatically barred from computers in other areas of the building. So people at Carnegie who had pressed to have Simpson barred wanted an explanation as to why Skip had ignored policy.

An individual from outside the neighbourhood article who had been upset about the “CBC duped” article, had been given an explanation: “Skip is waiting to see if he can behave.” Translation: Skip is waiting to see if Simpson voluntarily extinguishes his Charter-protected right to write about Carnegie and the Downtown Eastside.

Another individual not mentioned on the blog made a similar comment about the Simpson decision: “Skip decided to give him a chance”. When asked if this was speculation or if Skip had actually said this, the individual responded, “Colleen told me”. Colleen Gorrie had wanted Simpson’s banishment from the Learning Centre to be extended to the third floor and basement computer facilities, this individual explained, but Skip had wanted to hold back. This is the same Skip, incidentally, who earlier told Simpson that his barring “has nothing to do with me.”

But as Paul Taylor had predicted in the Dec. 15th Carnegie newsletter, the blogger would “continue being a pest.” Fresh postings continued to appear on the Enquirer after Simpson was barred.

What was to be done about this run-away free press?

There were indications that Skip had not abandoned the idea of barring Simpson from other computer facilities. On Thursday, Dec. 28th, Skip read through the log book kept in the 3rd floor computer room in which notes are kept by monitors on misconduct by users of the computer room. Skip didn’t seem to find anything that interested him in the log. A theatre person who had been angry about the “CBC duped” article said to Skip, “Well, I hope you get to the bottom of it.” Skip responded in a jocular tone, as if pretending to be a detective, “I’m on the case.” “Where they talking about you?,” an individual who heard this conversation later asked Simpson. “It sounded like it was you. I thought they were finished barring you.” Simpson did not believe they were finished: “Skip can’t look me in the eye.”

It's time the Vancouver Public Library took an interest in efforts to prevent Simpson from blogging. The computers he has been barred from in the Learning Centre and is at risk of being barred from in other rooms are operated by the Vancouver Public Library and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in conjunction with the Carnegie Centre.

Elvis sighted at Carnegie ... and he's blogging

Elvis, a 40 something native guy who is often in the Carnegie basement playing pool or using the internet, told Simpson that efforts have been made to censor him too. "He has a blog or something," Simpson says. "He writes about the Downtown Eastside."

Elvis' most recent experience of censorship occurred when he was typing an e-mail. A security guard came up behind him and said, "What are you writing. You can't write that here." Elvis, who claims that Assistant Director Dan Tetrault is aware of the security guard's conduct, believes that the names of certain computer users have been red flagged for surveillance.

A woman who heard about Elvis' experience had no trouble believing it. She told Simpson that in the first week of January, she was using a computer in the basement and got up to buy a coffee on the other side of the room. When she turned back, she saw a security guard bent over slightly, looking at her computer screen.

"I'm the blogger."

Word is spreading on the Downtown Eastside about the barring of the blogger. Dave, a Dukabour man at Carnegie who knows Bob Sarti, told Simpson, “Tell him I’m the blogger.” Dag, an immigrant from Idaho, raised on the First Amendment, said, “I’m the blogger. Give them my name.” Too late. The Carnegie newsletter claims that Sarti has verified the name of the blogger.

“The now-verified blog bozo”
In the December 15th issue of the Carnegie newsletter, Paul Taylor called the blogger a “blog bozo”, “slimy”, a “blank”, a “pest”. Others described the blogger as a “neighbourhood snitch”, a “dismal excuse”. Never in the newsletter was Simpson called what he is well known to be: homeless. His homelessness is an awkward fact for the newsletter committee and staff working out of the newsletter office on projects to pressure governments to be more sensitive to the needs of the homeless and the poor.

What Taylor did acknowledge was that the blog – the actual blog name, Downtown Eastside Enquirer, was censored in the Carnegie newsletter – had a humorous side: “Now I don’t want to ruin any laughs that Bob and Muggs [Carnegie Vice President who is also Bob’s spouse] get out of all of this stuff….” Sources at the Downtown Eastside Enquirer got a few laughs too. Like when they read comments by individuals who criticized the blogger for remaining anonymous and then signed, “anonymous”.

Or when Taylor, in his editorial in the newsletter, seemed to be getting into a pissing match after truepeers left a comment at the Enquirer.

truepeers: 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....

Taylor: "I'll put the blank back in the well-deserved category of a four year old spoiled brat pissing in his pants."

One part of Taylor’s article in the newsletter that was not funny, though, was his revelation that Bob Sarti had been a central figure behind the witch hunt: “…Bob is one of the unsung heroes for getting to the bottom of this guy’s attempts to remain anonymous….” [Bob Sarti, incidentally, wrote for years under pseudonyms in the Carnegie Newsletter, even after he had retired from the Vancouver Sun.] The witch hunt had now, without a scap of credible evidence, been brought to a conclusion with Taylor referring to the “now-verified blog bozo”.

Security was called yesterday on Simpson who dared to enter the Learning Centre

Since being barred, Simpson has been known to use the free telephone just inside the door of the Learning Centre when staff aren't looking.

That may have been what he was doing yesterday afternoon, January 9, 2007, when he forgot his coat in the Learning Centre. He ducked back in to get it and within 30 seconds had ducked out again. Not quick enough. Colleen Gorrie, who has an office across the hall, spotted him and called Security. There was concern that he would be barred from the entire building, but he wasn't.

The establishment at Carnegie and on the Downtown Eastside can no longer tightly control the message

M.L., a DTES resident who has been going to Carnegie Centre for 20 years, has been watching the unfolding saga of the “blog bozo” in the Carnegie newsletter. He has a grade 6 education but as a daily internet user, he is aware of the futility of attempts by the Carnegie staff and Board to “villify” a blogger and silence him. “They have to learn to accept criticism,” he said, “valid or otherwise.” He added, “Don’t tell them my name; I don’t want them coming after me.”

It’s a new world. The underclass are going to be on the internet more, not less, interrupting the tightly controlled message of the left-wing establishment at the Carnegie Centre and on the Downtown Eastside in general. As Peter C. Newman, author of the Canadian Establishment, says, the internet is the “great democratizer”. People are on it “knocking down the walls of the castle.”