Sunday, December 30, 2007

Order of Canada Awarded to Carnegie Chronic Civil Liberties Abuser

Canada's Governor General, Michaelle Jean, has just announced that former Carnegie Director, Michael Clague, will receive the Order of Canada. Just a moment. . . .

I had to vomit on the sidewalk.

Michael Clague gained a reputation for civil liberties abuses while Director of Carnegie, a job he left less than two years ago. Low income people were routinely barred from the Center without due process. Ask anybody on the Downtown Eastside and they'll tell you that either they have been barred from Carnegie or know somebody who has.

A conversation today amongst a few Carnegie regulars revealed that they were not pleased to hear that the Governor General had selected Clague for the Order of Canada. "Does she not do back ground checks?", a woman asked. "It's a committee that decides," a man named Nick responded. "They're the bend over team," joked Louis M., a Montreal native who swore upon hearing the news about Clague said. A woman told him, "I swore too when I heard it; I swore twice." She never swears. These people know Clague much better than Michaelle Jean and her "Bend over team" will ever know him. They experienced his policies on a daily basis for years while he was Carnegie Director. Several of them were barred from Carnegie while he was administrator.

Nick, a middle aged man who immigrated from Eastern Europe 20 years ago, recalled Clague barring him for a month. He says he told Clague that people in the Centre had to be allowed to express conflicting opinions, to debate. "He called me a troublemaker", Nick says. Nick was barred for a month. Clague seemed to take the position, Nick says, that he was going to create an "upheaval" in the Centre. He points out that this is a time worn tactic: whenever Carnegie wants to get rid of a member, they portray them as a threat. "You can portray anybody as a threat", he says.

An "incident report" exists to confirm that Nick was in fact barred for a month. But you can bet that the version of events in that report differs from Nick's. And that's part of the problem. When people are barred, the administration's version of events is written up in an incident report and later typed into a computer data base to be forever used against the named individual by City staff.

"Do you think Clague deserves the Order of Canada?" Nick was asked. "No," he responded calmly.

If Jean had done any real background checking she would have discovered that one case of civil liberties abuse under Clague's administration has been fought for eight years. And is still being fought. In fact, a complainant on this particular case corresponded with the City of Vancouver about it as recently as last summer. [The City of Vancouver was Clague's boss when he was Carnegie Director.]

The case involved a woman who lodged a complaint when she arrived to use one of the three Vancouver Public Library computers in the Carnegie Senior's Lounge and was told she was barred from using the computers. No reason given. She went upstairs to use one of the VPL computers in the third floor computer room and was told she was barred from there too. When she asked a Carnegie Security guard, Phil, to give her a reason, he said he didn't know why she was barred, despite the fact that incident reports are supposed to be filed to justify a barring from City property. Phil arranged for Director Michael Clague to speak with her.

She sat with her friend, Louis M. for a couple of hours waiting for Clague. When Clague arrived with a security guard in tow, he peeped through the window of the room in which she was waiting, gazed at her up and down, and skittered away. Louis, at the time, described Clague's behaviour as "odd", according to a written account on record with Carnegie and the City of Vancouver. Minutes later, Phil arrived to tell the woman that Clague had left her a letter at the front reception desk.

In the letter dated Saturday, January 15, 2000, Clague wrote, "Either Sandy [MacKeigan, a supervisor] or I will be back to you on Tuesay." The woman wrote in a document summarizing the case, "I was expected to serve my sentence for at least three days without knowing what I was accused of."

The woman found it a noteworthy coincidence that she was barred after lodging complaints about the fact that when she would go into the Senior's Lounge to use a computer, she was asked by a coffee seller to go home with him to watch pornography, or advised to die her hair and lose 20 pounds to make herself more attractive to men. [A female Board member at Carnegie said that she too had been asked by the coffee seller to go home with him and watch pornography.]

The woman pressed for answers about this abuse of civil liberties. She accused the Clague administration, in writing, of keeping the population of the Center down through forced "attrition", barring so many people that a large number simply never returned. One man who has been going to Carnegie for 30 years, says that he and everyone of his friends has been barred, most of them never returned, some got more involved in street life and died of AIDS or drug overdoses.

Two months later, the woman got a letter dated March 3, 2000 from City Manager, Judy Rogers, stating that if she wanted access to computers, she would have to respect Carnegie's policy of having no food or drink at the computer. "I would encourage you to accept this policy...." The woman says she had not violated any such policy and even individuals who do are not barred; they are given a warning.

The fact that Clague has a double standard for how women are treated and how men are treated is clear from an incident that occurred when the above woman was in the Seniors' Lounge some time later. A man whose offers to buy her coffee, etc. were declined became enraged kicked a coffee table into her kneecaps -- she moved her knees just in time to avoid serious injury -- and called her an "old cow" in front of a room full of witnesses. The incident was reported to a security guard and Clague was made aware of the event. But the man was not barred. He was simply told not to do it again.

"Do you think Clague deserves the Order of Canada?" she was asked this evening as she sat at McDonald's chatting with friends. "Noooo!," she said.

If the Governor General had done any real background checking such as speaking to low income regulars at Carnegie, she might have learned that, in the above woman's file, there is a document describing an assault of another woman under the Clague administration. A fifty-something woman with a British accent, had wanted to go into an AIDS banquet in the Carnegie Theatre. The "doorman" was an elderly woman who has been in and out of hospital with mental health problems. She decided she didn't want to allow the British woman entry. But she offered to allow the woman accompanying her to enter. The British woman protested verbally and security was called. Security are routinely called on people at Carnegie who raise their voice in protest.

Two security men grabbed the British woman and dragged her by the arms and legs out of the building as she continued to loudly protest. Nothing was done about this assault.

Such scenes are not uncommon at Carnegie.

Although the incidents described above could create the impression that women were prime targets for Clague's barring practices, it was primarily men whose civil liberties were abused at Carnegie. That remains the case. Single men make up the bulk of the membership.

During Clague's administration, barring became a contentious issue and he was under pressure to address it. Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users threatened to take legal action as their members, when they were not out of their minds on drugs, were denied access to VANDU meetings held in the building. How can you hold a meeting if your members aren't allowed to come? Although many Carnegie members were not particularly sympathetic to a bunch of drug addicts, VANDU did bring to public attention a barring policy which was affecting non- addicts as well. They began to embarrass Clague.

A Committee was struck during Clague's tenure to grapple with the barring issue. The Committee put in many hours, Carnegie Board member Peter Fairchild recalled at a meeting this summer, as members demanded an explanation as to why a homeless man, Bill Simpson, had been barred. Despite the work of the Committee, the barring policy remained largely unchanged.

And now Clague is awarded the Order of Canada, an award given to people who have achieved the highest level of lifetime achievement.

Clague's failure to make serious changes to curb civil liberties abuses at Carnegie Center is viewed by several longterm members as having laid the groundwork for the current "police state" environment occurring under his successor, Ethel Whitty. "He was her teacher!", Bill Simpson emphasized this evening as a group of Carnegie regulars had coffee at a nearby McDonald's restaurant. Clague stayed at Carnegie for two months after Whitty arrived in order to train her. Even after he officially left, he remained connected to Whitty, being Carnegie's arts funding "bag man", sometimes returning to the Center to speak with her.

With Whitty as Director, homeless Bill Simpson was barred from the Carnegie Learning Center in January 2007. He was told that he was barred for blogging on the Downtown Eastside Enquirer. He wasn't even a blogger for the DTES Enquirer. Then, two weeks after being elected to the Board of Directors in June 2007, Simpson was barred from the entire Carnegie Center indefinitely. Whitty personally delivered him a letter informing him that the barring was due to the fact that he operated a website which "features links" to the Downtown Eastside Enquirer blog.

Simpson asked Whitty if he would be allowed to enter the building to attend Board meetings and she told him no. Poor people were being denied representation by the man they had voted for. But the Whitty adminstration is being exposed for the environment of civil liberties abuses that exists at Carnegie in a way that Clague never was. There is a reason for that.


Downtown Eastsiders have discovered blogging. And bloggers haven't let the issue of unfair barrings go. Now the mainstream media is onto the story. The Vancouver Sun published an article on the Bill Simpson case on Dec. 24/07. CBC radio's Morning Edition with Stephen Quinn has arranged to interview Simpson on Jan. 2/07 at 6:55 a.m.

Previously, Michael Clague deftly deflected media interest in this issue. When the Georgia Straight newspaper contacted him about the unfair barring of low income people from Carnegie, they reported his response being that this was a "dated" issue. "There was nothing dated about it", says one woman who was still fighting her case at the time. But what could the victims of unfair barrings do, other than write a letter to the editor and hope it got published. They didn't know about blogging at the time.

Although the barring of members without due process is a major issue that the Governor General should have reviewed before awarding the Order of Canada, it is not the only issue. Bloggers have been reporting that low income people are too often locked out of services such as the computer room and Learning Center, which the taxpayer richly funds Carnegie to keep open. This problem, which bloggers have called "The Great Taxpayer Rip-Off" did not start under Ethel Whitty. It was an ongoing problem under Michael Clague's administration. Key services at Carnegie were routinely locked during welfare cheque week on the Downtown Eastside. "They seem to have a stereotype that everybody on welfare will be drinking and drugging until their welfare cheque is spent," says one woman. When the computer room is open on Welfare Wednesday, it's going full tilt, often with a waiting list.

Michael Clague and Ethel Whitty and other povertarians claim, especially when they have the ear of funders, to give a voice to the poor. Well, the poor now have one. They got it from Google Blogger. Get used to it.