Friday, September 7, 2007

Carnegie Board Member Resigns Over Barring of Homeless Man

Sophie Friegang resigned last evening from the Carnegie Center Board of Directors over the barring of a homeless man, Bill Simpson. Simpson was barred from Carnegie in June, shortly after he was elected to the Board. He has not been allowed into the building to attend Board meetings. The reason given for the barring in a City of Vancouver letter delivered to Simpson was that his website “features links” to the Downtown Eastside Enquirer blog. The blog has published criticisms of Carnegie staff.

Friegang had asked the Board in July to hold a review of the barring of Bill Simpson. The majority of the Board voted against a review. Carnegie President Margaret Prevost took the position at the time that the barring was “a City decision” and therefore not a Board matter. But the prevalent conversation amongst the membership of Carnegie is that the Board was complicit in the barring. Indeed, Vice President Gena Thompson stated in a NowPublic comment that she had been involved in the decision to bar Simpson.

Friegang stated at the July Carnegie meeting that she believed a “serious mistake” had been made in the barring of Simpson. She said she had “poured over” the blog and found nothing that would warrant barring Simpson. I believe in human rights,” she told the Board.

At a July Community Relations meeting, Friegang asked Carnegie Director, Ethel Whitty, if it bothered her that a man may have been wrongfully barred. Whitty did not respond.

Friegang did not attend last evening's meeting. Another Board member, Peter Fairchild, read her letter.

Friegang's resignation comes the day after another Board member, Rachel Davis, distributed a letter accusing Carnegie of a double standard in the barring of Simpson. Davis' letter will be covered in another post.

The barring of a homeless man has become an embarrassment to the Carnegie Centre which presents itself as a "progressive" organization committed to improving the quality of life for the poor and the homeless on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. The barring without due process is expected to haunt the Carnegie Community Center Association Project which has arranged for their representative, Jean Swanson, to speak to a United Nations representative in Vancouver about homeless. The United Nations representative has scheduled a visit to Vancouver to assess whether Canada is meeting its international obligations in regard to homelessness.