Thursday, August 9, 2007

Harper Asked to Cut Cash to Carnegie

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been asked to intercept a federal New Horizons grant applied for by Lucy Alderson, Co-ordinator of the Carnegie Learning Centre. That is, until allegations of human rights abuses against Alderson and Carnegie Director, Ethel Whitty, are investigated.

When Alderson's application for a $25,000 New Horizons grant was announced at the June Board meeting of the Carnegie Centre, it raised eyebrows amongst several Carnegie members. One purpose of the grant was "outreach to the homeless".

That started the jokes: "Maybe when Alderson is doing outreach to the homeless, she will run into the homeless man she banned from the Learning Centre for blogging."

In Dec. 2006, Alderson had escorted homeless man Bill Simpson to the office of Skip, Head of Security at Carnegie, where she told him that he was barred from the Learning Centre. She explained that it was because he had been writing on the Downtown Eastside Enquirer blog. Simpson says he is not a blogger but even if he were, the Downtown Eastside Enquirer is a legitimate blog which can support all claims with witnesses or documentation.

The Downtown Eastside Enquirer blog had criticized Alderson for too frequently locking low income residents out of the Learning Centre or evacuating them in mid-day. She consistently used the same excuse: a volunteer hadn't shown up. Bloggers took the position that with the massive government funding received by Carnegie Centre to provide services to the poor, whether doors to educational and computer services were locked should not be determined by whether an alcoholic volunteer had gone on a binge.

The blog also criticized Carnegie Director Ethel Whitty. In addition to being criticized for at times sitting in her office while doors to educational and computer services just meters away were locked, Whitty was criticized last fall for allowing misleading comments to be made to the public. Whitty and those under her, led the media to believe that an opera put on in the Carnegie theatre at considerable public expense had been written and produced primarily by homeless people. A DTES Enquirer blogger pointed out that when you get past the actors, writers, and musicians with houses, condos, or good social housing, you find just one homeless man.

Although Simpson was the only person barred from the Learning Centre for blogging, a witch hunt for the blogger was carried out in the Carnegie Learning Centre and the rest of the building last December. Volunteers were questioned. One long term volunteer was traumatized by being interrogated by six staff persons, including Whitty and Alderson. All interrogated him seperately, he says, with the exception of Alderson who paired up with a Learning Centre teacher, Betsy. Whitty and Alderson even attempted to get him to 'turn in' one of his closest friends, who had been seen talking to Simpson. He told them that his friend was not a blogger. But he admits giving them confidential information about medical research she was doing on the internet, claiming that he felt pressured: "I had to give them something." The volunteer has now recovered and holds no grudges against these staff persons but jokingly calls them, "The Inquisitors".

Shortly after these interrogations, when Alderson barred Simpson in the office of Carnegie Security, she told him that she had a very reliable "witness" to the fact that he had been blogging on the Downtown Eastside Enquirer in the Learning Centre. She gave enough information about this mysterious witness in the Learning Centre that it led Simpson to the volunteer interrogated by "The Inquisitors". But this volunteer denies that he ever told Whitty or Alderson with certainty that Simpson was blogging on the DTES Enquirer.

Whitty acknowledged at a recent Community Relations meeting at Carnegie that she had "supported" the barring of Simpson from the Learning Centre. And she acknowledges that he was never given a reason in writing. She says she did not give him one because the barring was not her decision.

Whitty is downplaying her role in eroding Simpson's civil liberties at the Carnegie Learning Centre. Before Simpson was barred from the Learning Centre for the long term, he had been barred for an afternoon in November 2006. Chad M., a monitor in the Learning Centre that afternoon, went to Whitty and told her that Simpson had done nothing that would justify barring him. He said Whitty refused to take his version of events into account and upheld the barring, which had been instigated by her staff person Colleen Gorrie and a Learning Centre teacher, Betsy. Chad, however, was the primary witness to the incident in which a woman, Bharb G., had launched into a verbal tirade against Simpson outside the elevator on the 3rd floor of Carnegie, accused him of blogging about the opera in which she had acted, stalked him into the Learning Centre, and continued the verbal abuse despite Chad repeatedly asking her to stop. There was a basis for barring Bharb for the afternoon in Chad's view, but none for barring Simpson.

[The Learning Centre is funded by Capilano College which has a largely hands off approach. Staff under Whitty's supervision are involved in the Learning Center: Rika Uto, Colleen Gorrie as well as security guards. The Learning Centre does not operate entirely independently of Whitty and the Carnegie. Certainly, it is Whitty's responsibility as Director to ensure that any member of the Carnegie is allowed due process and a written reason when being barred from an entire section of the building.]

It's now been almost eight months since Simpson claimed he was told by Alderson that he was barred from the Learning Centre for blogging. The barring was reported in the DTES Enquirer and on major internet news sites, and the details never disputed by Whitty or Alderson. Now Whitty has edited out the "blogging" reason for the barring. At a Community Relations meeting at Carnegie in late July, Whitty claimed that Simpson had been barred from the Learning Centre because he was not a student. Simpson can prove that he was a student. He was registered under the tutor, Chad M.

Carnegie member, Debbie Gosselin, pointed out the obvious to Whitty at the meeting: even people who are not registered students are allowed into the Carnegie Learning Centre. It's an open facility where people drop in to sit and read a book or a newspaper, sometimes eating their lunch at one of the tables.

Whitty appeared not to be entirely on the same page as Alderson who, after permanently barring Simpson from the Learning Centre, had "walked up behind [him] in the hall" and told him that he could return to the Learning Centre after three months -- indicating she did not dispute the fact that he qualified as a student. During that encounter, Simpson reminded Alderson that he had given her a letter requesting that the reason for the barring be put in writing, "And I would like a response in kind." Alderson didn't provide the reason in writing and never again raised the issue of him returning to the Learning Centre.

Despite being barred from the Learning Centre, Simpson managed to get elected to the Board of Directors at Carnegie in June 2007. Just days later, on June 21st, Whitty arranged for security guards to hold Simpson at the front door until she delivered a letter to him from the City barring him from the entire building "indefinitely". His crime? His website, he was told in the letter, "features links" to the Downtown Eastside Enquirer blog. It appeared that he was no longer being accused of being the Downtown Eastside Enquirer blogger, just linking to the blog.

Simpson recalls that just before he was barred, he was able to attend a Learning Centre Committee meeting in his role as a new Board member. He asked about the graduation scheduled for the following Tuesday, wanting to know who from Capilano College would be attending. (He was hoping to button-hole a representative of Capilano College management and ask their position on this barring issue.) Alderson, he said, appeared "rattled" but he noted that she didn't actually say anything. A day or two later, he was barred from the entire building. Guess who would not be attending the graduation to ask embarrassing questions?

The Bill Simpson case is not an isolated one. Low income people are routinely barred at Carnegie without due process. Board member Rachel Davis told Co-op radio two weeks ago that there is supposed to be an incident report written up by Security to accompany a barring. But often an incident report is not produced, Davis explained, and if it is the barred person is denied access to it.

Prime Minister Harper was contacted on July 18th and asked to ensure that the conduct of Alderson and Whitty was reviewed before another grant is approved. His office or somebody from the Ministry responsible really should have gotten back to us by now, says a community member who does not want to be identified. "I know it's cottage time back in Ontario but we have a human rights crisis here inside Libby's Davies [Carnegie] organizing base and it won't get better if he keeps throwing money at the offenders." When it comes to human rights, to steal a slogan from Harper, 'The West Wants In'.