Thursday, June 28, 2007

City on "weak, weak ground" in barring elected blogger.

Bill Simpson, a homeless Carnegie Board member, was standing on the sidewalk in front of Carnegie Centre on Monday evening while the Board meeting took place inside.

Ethel Whitty, the City of Vancouver's on-site manager at Carnegie, was inside at the Board meeting revising her story about why City Hall had barred freshly elected Bill Simpson from entering the Carnegie Center.

The new and improved version of Simpson's barring being presented inside by Whitty was so new in fact that the City had not yet run it by Simpson. This new version of the barring surfaced just a few hours after Internet news sites began reporting that Downtown Eastside senior, Wilf R., had asked Mayor Sam Sullivan to investigate the undemocratic barring of a Carnegie Board member by City managers.

Let's look at the three versions that the Vancouver City vacillators have now provided for the barring of Bill Simpson.

Various versions of the Vancouver City vacillators:

Version 1: Simpson was barred for "blogging" on the Downtown Eastside Enquirer

In Dec. 2006, William "Bill" Simpson arrived at the Learning Centre on the 3rd floor of Carnegie only to be escorted by Co-ordinator Lucy Alderson to the office of Skip, Head of Security, and told that he was barred from the Learning Center. It was because, Alderson told him, he was blogging on the Downtown Eastside Enquirer blog. In the weeks prior, a computer monitor, C.M., says he was interrogated separately by Alderson and Whitty about whether Simpson was blogging, and whether a woman who had been seen chatting with him was blogging.

Simpson quickly made a written request that Carnegie management provide him with the reason for the barring in writing so that he could appeal. But Whitty, Alderson and Skip in Security, have evaded responding for six months now, despite a reminder to do so.

Version 2: Simpson was barred for "linking" to the Downtown Eastside Enquirer blog
When Simpson arrived at the front door of the Carnegie Center last Friday, June 22, 2007, he was stopped by security and told to wait for the arrival of City managers, Ethel Whitty and Dan Tetrault, who work on the third floor. Whitty delivered a letter to Simpson barring him from the entire building indefinitely. In the letter, signed by City Hall's General Manager of Community Services,Jacquie Forbes-Roberts (who was paid $199,032 last year), Simpson was notified that he was being barred for operating a website which "links" to the Downtown Eastside Enquirer blog. He was no longer accused of having written the blog.

In the letter, Forbes-Roberts claimed that the DTES Enquirer blog to which Simpson "links" contains "inaccuracies". Upon reading the letter when Whitty handed it to him, Simpson asked, "What inaccuracies?" Whitty declined to provide him with even one example.

(The letter on City letterhead contained extensive smears, all in the form of sweeping generalizations about the Downtown Eastside Enquirer, all unsubstantiated. The DTES Enquirer will not be reproducing it as we are reviewing our legal options.)

Version 3: Simpson was barred because the Downtown Eastside Enquirer blog to which he "links" allegedly creates a "Work Safe" issue at Carnegie

Between last Friday and Monday, June 25, 2007, the Vancouver City vacillators changed their story again. Whitty arrived at Monday's Board meeting at Carnegie with the new and improved reason for the barring of Simpson, a version which to this day, now Wednesday, Simpson has not been informed of. Whitty announced that the reason for the barring of Simpson was that, "In fact, we are left with an unsafe situation in the Carnegie where there are staff members who are afraid to come into the building because of the situation with the blog." This new angle that Whitty referred to as a "Work Safe" issue had never previously been mentioned or even hinted at, not in the six months that the City of Vancouver management have been subjecting Bill Simpson to barrings. Whitty, predictably, pointed to no specific statement on the blog that had ever made anyone feel unsafe.

Board member Grant Chauncey told Whitty that he had the WorkSafe reference at home. "Maybe you could point it out, where this applies because," he said emphatically, "I don't see it…I want you to show it to me, right, as soon as we leave here." Whitty refused: "I'm not going to show it to you…" Chauncey reminded her that she had a responsibility to explain this barring to the Board. "I'm not actually responsible to you", she retorted.

Then Whitty told Chauncey, "I'm explaining it to you out of respect." But of course she had just refused to explain it.

Two people who several Carnegie members believe have some explaining to do are Mayor Sam Sullivan and City Manager Judy Rogers.

Sam? Judy? Why did the City of Vancouver suppress evidence?

The new 'unsafe Simpson' angle was floated by the City almost immediately after the following politically uncomfortable stories appeared on internet blogs and news sites in response to the barring of Simpson: 1) the City of Vancouver letter barring Simpson had been signed by Forbes-Roberts' who, along with her boss Judy Rogers, had a documented record of complicity in a previous suspicious barring at Carnegie of a politically vocal individual without due process and 2) the Mayor was being asked to remove Rogers as City Manager and member of the Olympic Organizing Committee until a criminal investigation could be carried out into allegations that people on the City payroll were arranging for police harassment of DTES Enquirer bloggers, bloggers who had been vigorously criticizing City managers and supervisory staff for failing to deliver services.

There is speculation that after those stories broke, the City Legal Department, which answers to Judy Rogers incidentally, scrambled to come up with a way to cover asses. They came up with an angle that would make the City calling police on bloggers more palatable to the public: Simpson had been making the Carnegie "unsafe" and employees were "afraid".

When drawing up their new claim that Simpson was creating an "unsafe" environment at Carnegie, the City suppressed evidence to the contrary. That evidence was in the possession of Mayor Sullivan and Judy Rogers. Mayor Sullivan had received a lengthy e-mail dated Mar. 21, 2007, just three months earlier, informing him that Carnegie patrons “using the internet to speak freely about practices at Carnegie” were being placed at risk by the conduct of Board members and workers at Carnegie. The e-mail author portrayed internet writers as the victims, not the cause of the increasingly "toxic" environment at Carnegie. The e-mail began:

"Last Friday, …Bill [Simpson] was subjected to a rude verbal tirade by Robert Sarti, a Board member of the Carnegie. Sarti accused Bill of writing about Carnegie in the news media.

While at Carnegie, [a female patron can be] often seen chatting with Bill. That may be one reason [she has] now become a target of verbal abuse by [a Carnegie Coordinator]....”

The author went on to describe specifics of verbal abuse by workers at Carnegie, including one instance of degrading, misogynous, verbal abuse accompanied by physical aggression, to which this female Carnegie patron had been subjected. Names, times, witnesses, and other specifics were provided.

Sullivan was made aware that he was being contacted because City Manager Judy Rogers had persisted in ignoring the same e-mail. The information had first been sent to Rogers on Dec. 4, 2006. A second copy was sent to her on Dec. 14, 2006, along with a reminder that a response was being awaited.

Like Rogers, Mayor Sullivan did not respond.

Carnegie members want answers. Why was evidence that favored Simpson suppressed by the City when the decision to bar him was being made? Witnesses to the events outlined in the e-mail were never contacted. Neither was the author of the e-mail who had signed with full name and contact information.

City Department headed by Jacquie Forbes-Roberts provides an official website link to a publication verbally abusing bloggers

Evidence revealing that it was the City of Vancouver, not Simpson, that had actively created an unsafe environment at Carnegie, did not have to be hidden in the offices of Mayor Sullivan and Judy Rogers to be ignored in this case. The City ignored a witch hunt approach to the blogger being encouraged in the Carnegie Newsletter, a publication that the City of Vancouver official website identifies as being produced under the managerial eye of Ethel Whitty and Jacquie Forbes-Roberts in Community Services. In the Dec. 15/06 issue, editor Paul Taylor called the DTES Enquirer blogger a "blog bozo", "slimy", a "blank", a "four year old spoiled brat pissing his pants", a "pest". The blogger was further described as a "neighborhood snitch", a "dismal excuse". The City's official website, specifically the page pertaining to the Community Services Dept. headed by Forbes-Roberts, provides a promotional blurb about the "lively" Carnegie Newsletter and a link to it. A link? Isn't that what they barred Simpson for?

Any member of the public choosing to use the link provided by the City department headed by Forbes-Roberts, can treat themselves to Carnegie Newsletter editor Paul Taylor praising Board member Bob Sarti for his role in a witch hunt (by then Bill Simpson had been falsely identified as the blogger) for the blogger: "Bob is one of the unsung heroes for getting to the bottom of this guy's attempts to remain anonymous...." Sarti, who for years wrote in the Carnegie Newsletter under pseudonyms as he worked as a Vancouver Sun reporter, had on two occasions approached Simpson in the corridors of Carnegie, yelling, "Tattle tale Queen of the Carnegie! Tattle tale Queen of the Carnegie!", and wagging his finger wildly at his face. Simpson wrote to Whitty requesting that she call off the "mad dog".

Whitty never barred Sarti, even though several staff persons witnessed his conduct. In fact, Sarti who has recently retired to Hornby Island, was visiting with Whitty, both inside and outside Carnegie, in the days leading up to this month's barring of Simpson. Witnesses report that Sarti was allowed unsupervised access to the Carnegie Association office. Special privileges for special people.

Forbes-Roberts can't claim she didn't know what her Department was linking to. The vitriole she was sponsoring in the Carnegie Newsletter was outlined on the DTES Enquirer in an article about the previous barring of Bill Simpson. Forbes-Roberts had a obligation to familiarize herself with the content of the DTES Enquirer before signing a City letter barring a man for featuring links to its content, and doing severe damage to his life and reputation in the process.

The witch hunt generated in the newsletter and elsewhere by the Carnegie establishment was frightening to one low income member who had been aiding bloggers by confirming dates and times that members were being locked out of publicly-funded services at Carnegie. That individual raised concerns about personal safety back in Dec. 2006, insisting on complete anonymity. It wasn't Simpson that this member was frightened of.

Want to smear bloggers? Do it on City of Vancouver letterhead.

When introducing the new improved third "unsafe" version of the barring, Whitty did not entirely discard the second version. In fact, she allowed photocopies of Forbes-Roberts' letter to be disseminated to all members of the public and Board members at the meeting, despite the fact that it had the label "confidential" on it in tiny letters at the end.

While Whitty had a live audience in front of her, she took the liberty of extending the smear campaign against DTES Enquirer bloggers that her boss at City Hall, Forbes-Roberts, had begun in the letter. Whitty read aloud some of the worst smears that Forbes-Roberts had written and, as was the case in the letter, made no attempt whatsoever to substantiate any of them. Whitty topped up the letter by uttering vicious verbal smears, not all of which had appeared in the letter, and claimed to be relaying the position of the "the City" -- again, no substantiation whatsoever. The DTES Enquirer will not repeat the smears as legal options are being examined. But suffice to say that sweeping, false generalizations were recklessly disseminated at public meeting, with City of Vancouver letterhead being used as a legitimator.

When later in the meeting, a male Board member asked Whitty to be more specific in her critique of the blog that Simpson had linked to, Whitty referred him to the City Hall letter signed by Forbes-Roberts -- knowing that he would find no examples, in that letter, when he got around to reading it.

Whitty ensured that only the false claims she was making would be heard at the public meeting, no other perspective. She refused to answer questions at the meeting about the Simpson matter. Board member Rachel Davis ( a.k.a. Rosetta Stone) balked at this, reminding Board President Margaret Prevost, "You e-mailed me and said that Ethel was here to answer questions." Davis met only with intransigence: individuals with questions would have to go to Whitty's office later to speak to her and another City manager, Dan Tetrault.

When Board member April Smith, a supporter of Simpson, announced that she would like to read a letter on "the Bill Simpson matter", she was quickly told by Jeff Sommers, an old guard left-wing Board member, that she was not allowed to. Sommers, Ph.D. SFU (Geog. '01), a founder of the Strathcona Research group has spoken in the media on issues ranging from housing to human rights on the Downtown Eastside, yet seemed to have no qualms about silencing a perspective favoring a duly elected homeless man. Later in the meeting, when Simpson was nominated for President, Sommers refused to even write his name on the list on the blackboard.

Chauncey confronted Whitty again and again, "These are allegation and there's no crime. And it's not good enough, not good enough! No proof at all." Whitty's admitted that people can be barred from Carnegie without proof: "People are sometimes barred for an allegation." She further admitted that the facts are not always paramount in a decision to bar an individual from Carnegie, that she has in the past been willing to bar a member based on an employee's "feelings." Board member, Sophie Friegang then expressed a view that members have been expressing for years, "There's no protection; anybody can be barred for anything that is allegated [sic]."

Member Terri Williams, with a slight Mississippi accent, pointed out a double standard, that allegations against Carnegie staff are not treated as seriously as those against members. "Ethel," she called out. "What happened with the allegations against Colleen? [a staff person]…Why didn't she get barred?"

Towards the end of the meeting, Chauncey said that although he was not a fan of Simpson, he would defend Simpson's right to free speech. He summarized the view that numerous Carnegie members have expressed about Whitty and Tetrault working with a City Hall lawyer -- without once speaking to Simpson -- to finesse the barring: "They're on such weak, weak ground, they had to get some back-up!"