Friday, February 29, 2008

Protester Lies to Media About Being "Homeless"

Downtown Eastsiders rallied on February 29th outside the office of developer Robert Wilson who owns Archer Realty and Georgia Laine Developments. They accused Wilson of charging rents exceeding the amount people are provided for rent on welfare cheques, forcing them to dip into their food money to cover the rent. They demanded that Wilson return their food money.

Charging tenants more than the welfare shelter allowance is not an uncommon practice. Certainly, Wilson was not the only landlord profiting from this practice.

Wendy Pederson, the woman with the red hair and the "Stop Speculation" sign, was a paid organizer of the event. She works for the Carnegie Community Action Project which agitates for higher welfare rates and more social housing.

Pederson had been expecting to pay the bus fares of the swarm of people she took to the rally from Carnegie Centre via BC Transit. But the bus driver, eager to show his support for the cause, made a snap decision to give them a free ride.

Rally participants and media -- lots of people with cameras -- met at Emery Barnes Park and then marched across the street to the office of Archer Realty, the one with the yellow sign (which can be seen across the street behind Pederson.)

CCAP claimed on posters announcing that Robert Wilson was "Wanted" for "Crimes Against the Downtown Eastside". They claimed on the poster that Wilson "refuses to pay back food money" despite being a "hotel flipper" who had recently sold five hotels for a profit of $10 million. What Wilson did, of course, was completely legal. Most or all of the hotels he sold were to the BC government to create social housing for the poor and mentally ill.

Nobody answered the door at Wilson's office.

A pre-arranged line up of people gave mini speeches in front of an "End Poverty" banner on which the Olympic rings were depicted as hand cuffs. But first the crowd was reminded that we were standing on Squamish land, a reminder that appears to have become obligatory at such events. Speakers accused the government of not doing enough while speculators worsen the homelessness problem.

Participants also sang. In the above photo, Earl Peach a professional musician who is paid to work on music projects with Carnegie Center -- he once sent the welfare poor emails requesting $20 to be in his choir -- is seen playing guitar as a small group sings. The song encouraged people to "rise up" and fight "oppression."

A tenant of the Shaldon Hotel, one of the hotels which Wilson has recently sold to the BC government, wore a "Stop Stealing Our Food Money" sign and spoke to the crowd. According to her calculations, Wilson owes $54,000 to those who had been dipping into their food money for the past year to pay rent. He was charging $450 for rent while the shelter allotment on welfare is $375. Tenants were therefore taking money from the "support" portion of their welfare cheque which is $180 (for food and other basics) to pay the rent.

Holding the microphone for the former Shaldon tenant is anti-poverty activist Jean Swanson, author of "Poor Bashing: The Politics of Exclusion". Swanson is an unpaid activist with the Carnegie Community Action Project and is considered by many Downtown Eastsiders to be a mentor to Wendy Pederson.

Another pre-arranged speaker, Ada, told the crowd and cameras that she had been evicted from 324 Carroll St., a building owned by Wilson and now being turned into condos. Ada emphasized that as of tonight, she had "no place to go" and was "homeless." She didn't mention that her homelessness would last just one night, as she had been accepted into the Ford Building run by Affordable Housing at Main & Hastings, and would be moving in tomorrow. In fact, before coming to the rally, she had moved her belongings over to the Ford where they were being stored until a suite became available the next day. Her cat was facing homelessness though, as the Ford building doesn't take pets.

About 50 people attended this afternoon's rally -- including numerous reporters and photographers, which of course are the ones who really count. " The rally was part of an ongoing effort by the Carnegie Action Project and the Citywide Housing Coalition -- Mel Lehan, head of the Coalition, attended the rally -- to pressure the BC government to keep it's promise to build social housing as an Olympics legacy.

Thanks to D.W. for passing on these photos to us.

Portland Hotel Society Tosses a Few Crumbs Back to the Poor

The Downtown Eastside has proven to be a goldmine for Liz Evans and Mark Townsend and other povertarians at the Portland Hotel Society. The Portland operates Insite, part of the growing medical-industrial complex eroding civil liberties on the Downtown Eastside. They also operate housing and an art gallery, and were even considering opening a daycare. The Portland Society has been accused by the Courier newspaper of 'empire building'.

But at lunchtime on Friday, the Portland Society was tossing crumbs to the poor. People lined up to get a plate containing a burger and coleslaw. It was the annual Portland Hotel Society barbeque at Pigeon Park.

The Portland knows the free food scene on the Downtown Eastside, that some people in free food line ups come back for seconds or thirds. They avoided that problem by giving out tickets which people then exchanged for their plate of food.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Poor Demand Food Money be Returned by Millionaire

Poor people on the Downtown Eastside are demanding that millionaire developer Robert Wilson return the food money he took from them. They allege he charged rents which exceeded the 'shelter portion' of welfare cheques. That meant tenants had to dip into the 'support portion' of welfare cheques, intended for food and other basic necessities, to cover their rent. The Carnegie Community Action Project is demanding that Wilson return a year's worth of this food money.

In fact, CCAP and it's paid organizer Wendy Pederson have put up posters intended to shame Wilson. "WANTED: Robert Wilson, Georgia Laine Developments, for Crimes Against the DTES." On the posters, it is claimed that Wilson "refuses to pay back food money for a year" despite being a "hotel flipper" who made $10 million selling five hotels. It is not, of course, illegal for a hotel owner to charge rent over and above the shelter portion of a welfare cheque. It is not uncommon.

Wilson is also under fire from CCAP because February 29th is eviction day for tenants at the building he owns at 324 Carroll St. (That building at Carroll & Hastings -- see photo above -- was in the news a couple of weeks ago when Nova Scotian Steve Seymour was shot to death in front of it.) Wilson is renovating the suites in this building, turning them into condos.

Ada, a Downtown Eastsider originally from Newfoundland, is one of the tenants who has to pack up and leave Wilson's Carroll St. building today. And as they say in the Maritimes, she is 'right mad' and is going to be speaking out about it to reporters today.

This is all part of a media event organized by CCAP. Poor people will march to Wilson's office at Georgia Laine Developments this afternoon and hold a rally. The usual tactics are being used to entice the poor to show up: free sandwiches and a ride to the starting point of the march are being offered.

One Downtown Eastsider who intends to attend the rally says, "None of this would be happening if it wasn't for the Olympics."

For article and photos of the rally, go to Poor Rally Outside Millionaire Developer's Office

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Author at VPL "Freedom to Read Week" Denies being "Jew Hater"

Greg Felton says he doesn’t hate Jews. But at the Vancouver Public Library last night, City Librarian Paul Whitney went into damage control mode over the decision to feature Felton and his book, “The Host and the Parasite: How Israel's Fifth Column Consumed America”, during Freedom to Read Week. Whitney explained that the library “must stand by the principal of freedom of expression” and therefore decided not to cancel Felton’s appearance, despite pressure from the public, including many Jews. "Intellectual freedom is not always an easy principal to uphold.”

There was tension in the crowd. One middle-aged man showed me the steel-toed, beige and white, alligator-skin cowboy boots he had worn in case a fight broke out. I sat at the back row near the exit door, just in case.

“The United States has been under Israeli occupation,” Felton stated as he spoke about his book. “Oh f--k off”, a woman in the audience blurted out. She later identified herself as a dosent at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Center, when she took the microphone to call Felton “an anti-Semite, a Jew baiter, a Jew hater.”

Felton stayed calm.

He explained that he sees a “fundamental distinction” between Jews and Israel. “I have never spoken ill of the people who died under Hitler,” Felton said. “I have never spoken ill of Jews. It is possible to speak honestly without being anti-Jewish.”

Truepeers, an audience member and writer at Covenant Zone blogspot, was not buying it. When he got home, he wrote, "[I]t was like a parody of a classic libel of the 'enemy within', which Felton now dressed up, most carefully, as "anti-Zionism": here is a man who obviously knows from experience that he must distinguish "Zionists" from "Jews" and profess sympathy for ordinary Jews in order to appear 'respectable'."

Felton was not without supporters though. That was clear from the clapping that drowned out the groans when he said, “Israel was actually created quite illegally in 1948.”

A man who was clearly not a supporter took the microphone and identified himself as having been a professor of American history for 30 years. The VPL’s Freedom to Read Week appeared to have become “an excuse for an attack on Israel”, he said, noting that he was not Jewish. “Just when will you use Freedom to Read Week to mount an attack on Arabs or gays?” Whitney responded that there was “no systemic bias” at the VPL. He also mentioned that he had not been personally involved in the selection of Felton as a featured speaker. The professor shot back, “Do you have an anti-semite working for you?”

A woman took the microphone to talk about how difficult it has become to talk about this issue. Speaking with an accent that sounded East Indian, she said people can criticize India without being called “anti-Hindi”. “You can’t say one thing critical about Israel without them getting defensive.” She was sensitive to the fact, she explained, that Jews had been “persecuted”. A woman called out from the audience: “I think the word is 'killed'." It was the Holocaust Education Center woman again.

A middle-aged man took the floor to say “Jews aren’t perfect”, he had “worked in Jewish sweatshops.” “But why not give them a homeland?, he asked. Felton responded that “Jews from Europe had no business going to Israel displacing 800,000 Arabs.” More clapping.

A woman took her turn at the microphone to suggest that this event be balanced by inviting other speakers such as Irshad Manji. Manji is a woman raised Muslim who has written the book, “The Trouble with Islam Today.” But such a level of freedom of expression was not going to be tolerated by a man with a Middle Eastern accent who had earlier taken the microphone to defend Felton's right to freedom of expression, even though he disagreed with some of his positions. The man began shouting that Manji is a “hate monger”. “She’s your daughter! We don’t want her! We hate her!”

Turned out Felton wasn't crazy about her either: “I have a problem with a Muslim woman who is funded by Zionists.”

A member of the audience pointed out that Manji had previously spoken at the library. Whitney agreed. Whew!

Whitney closed the event as defensively as he had opened it: “The library is not endorsing the views presented by individual speakers.”

Felton got the last word. He thanked “the library for having the courage to stand up to the barrage of insults and intimidation”, adding that the "Israel Lobby" -- a phrase he used repeatedly throughout the evening -- "came here and hurled insults at me.”

Saturday, February 23, 2008

SFU Asked to Disclose "Sexual Harassment Ring" to Donors

The Simon Fraser University Board of Governors has been asked to meet its obligation to disclose to potential donors SFU’s unresolved history of allegedly “operating a sexual harassment ring” in the Center for the Contemporary Arts. The DTES Enquirer has obtained a copy of the request to the Board dated February 12, 2008.

The sexual harassment ring consisted of professors in the 1970's, 1980's, and possibly 1990's targeting female students, resulting in at least one student dropping out.

The sexual harassment ring operated out of the Visual Arts Department at the Center for the Contemporary Arts and consisted of the entire studio faculty: Jeff Wall, founder and head of the department, Greg Snider, Assistant Professor, and David McWilliam, Assistant Professor. Sexual harassment was not restricted to Visual Arts professors or students though.
The Center for the Contemporary Arts was billed as "interdisciplinary" and certainly this approach extended to the sex lives of professors, with Jeff Wall having sexual relations with Lisa, a student in Dance -- at the same time as he and Greg Snider were competing to get a particular Visual Arts student into bed.

After one student revealed on a Course Drop form that she had been sexually harassed, Jeff Wall left to take a job teaching photography at the University of British Columbia from which he was later fired. David McWilliam took a job teaching painting at Emily Carr College of Art & Design. It is not known whether the sexual harassment allegations had any bearing on these men leaving SFU. Greg Snider, the sexual harasser referred to on the Course Drop form, was promoted at SFU to head of the Visual Arts Department.

SFU's Downtown Visual Arts Studio (the top three floors of the white building in center of photo above) on Hastings St. in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside was a major site of sexual harassment. Studio space on the Burnaby Campus was another site.

This month's request for full disclosure to prospective funders comes almost two months after Premier Gordon Campbell was criticized on the internet for giving the SFU Center for the Contemporary Arts almost $50 million, despite it's unresolved history of operating sexual harassment sites. President Stevenson has launched a campaign to raise an additional $30 million privately.

Michael Audain, President of Polygon Homes, who boasts having participated in the Black civil rights movement in the U.S., responded to the campaign for private funds by donating $2 million to the new Center for the Contemporary Arts. Audain was asked via an e-mail -- SFU published his e-mail address -- if he was aware of SFU's unresolved history of operating a sexual harassment ring when he made his donation and agreed to have the teaching gallery named after him. He did not respond.

Past communication addressed to SFU President Michael Stevenson about the sexual harassment ring has been ignored.

The Feb. 12th request for full disclosure to donors was addressed to Nancy McKinstry, Chair of the Board of Governors, along with other Board members. SFU promotes Nancy McKinstry on their website as a current mentor and "founding member and past-chair of the Minerva Foundation for BC Women, an organization dedicated to supporting women throughout British Columbia to attain their educational and leadership goals."

Povertarians Deny Services to the Poor on Friday Night

Yesterday at around 3:30 p.m. the power went off in part of the Downtown Eastside. Hydro workers promised to have it restored by 7 p.m. at the latest. Pedestrians were darting across streets with no street signals as rush hour traffic began.

Carnegie management saw an opportunity.

They and their CUPE cohorts could get a Friday night off with pay. A decision was made that there would be no night shift at the Center which stays open until 11 p.m., although services close at 10 p.m. Staff were telling patrons this so many did not bother return when the power was restored at around 6 p.m. But in the end, Carnegie made a decision to keep the building open.

But it was clinically dead.

The primary services that draw members into Carnegie Centre on a Friday night were shut down. The third floor which houses the computer room was completely locked; nobody could even get onto the 3rd floor. Kereoke in the theatre was canceled, even though the volunteer who was going to handle it was there. And the library was locked. There was a sign in the front lobby announcing: 'No third floor computer room, No Kereoke.'

It is not known whether any staff other than security guards and a receptionist were in the building. The number of service closures would suggest that staff had made themselves scarce. Certainly, there would have been no management staff and no volunteer supervisor on duty if the entire third floor where their offices are located was shut down.

Closing services without adequate justification is a constant problem at Carnegie. Last Saturday, the Learning Center, much in demand for it's computers, was closed.

Mayor Sullivan has been made aware by several people that CUPE is ripping off the taxpayer by locking the poor out of services at Carnegie on a whim. Yet he appears hapless in the face of CUPE.

Bloggers have curbed the problem of service closures somewhat by relentlessly reporting on them. By doing so, though, bloggers face ongoing risk of retaliation by Carnegie staff and Director Ethel Whitty.

[Sorry: When this article was originally posted, it was based on the fact that Carnegie staff were announcing to members that the entire building would be shutting down for the night. Bloggers didn't realize until 24 hours later that a decision had been made to keep the building open, albeit with services almost non-existent. When we got feedback from a reader that the post was incorrect, we double checked with our sources and made the necessary corrections.]

Dollar Store to Open

Good News: On Monday, a Dollar Store will open near Pender & Main St.

Friday, February 22, 2008

$100 Green Dividend Cheques to be Issued in June

In June, British Columbians will receive $100 "green dividend" cheques. The cheques are to offset the cost of going green, Finance Minister Carole Taylor announced when introducing the new provincial budget this week. She increased gas taxes in the budget.

Low income people will continue to get $100 green dividend cheques annually.

Did CFUN Host Shane Foxman Quit or Get Fired?

I fell asleep last night to the Coast to Coast show on CFUN radio and awoke this morning to the chatter of perma perky Shannon Nelson.

Shannon Nelson? I thought she left CFUN two years ago.

I noticed that after commercial breaks, the announcement was just plain: "You're listening to the CFUN Morning Show". Nobody was saying Shannon Nelson was "sitting in" for Shane Foxman. Then I knew.

Another one bites the dust.

I looked on the CFUN website and there was a short -- too short -- notice from CFUN management that Foxman had left to pursue "other interests". They also announced Shannon Nelson as the interim host. The chatter on the internet is that Foxman was fired. But some people are saying that he quit.

On Foxman's consulting firm website where he promises to teach you how to deal with reporters, Foxman's time at CFUN is conspicuously absent from his biography.

CFUN is being accused of lying to listeners by claiming on Friday that Foxman was off sick and would be back next week. He never came back.

I had wondered whether Foxman would last when he first took over the morning show about a year and a half ago. He replaced Pia Shandel. Pia's show was women-oriented, as are most shows on CFUN other than the late night Coast to Coast. So when Foxman, a sports junkie, made his debut, I thought, "This might not work." But I took a liking to him. I liked when he would invite a boy about 10 years old, a hockey prodigy and major Luongo fan, on the air to give the wrap up on the previous night's Canucks game.

Foxman was more daring than many CFUN hosts. Once, despite being half asleep, I was impressed when he took on Air Canada for absolutely shitty service. And to celebrate Hanukkah just after he started at CFUN, he aired a hilarious tape of a Jewish guy poking fun at Jews. I can't remember the content of the tape, just that it made me laugh and I told a friend later that it had made me laugh. Foxman could get away with that kind of humor because he's Jewish, I recall thinking at the time, but no other host would dare do that. He also had bumper music that made me laugh. Don't ask me what it was; it was early morning and I was often only half awake so I can't remember.

Foxman may have gotten tired of getting up at 4 a.m. to do a radio show at 6 a.m. I recall CFUN one morning this year announcing that he had slept in and would be arriving late. Pia Shandel told her audience that it was the early morning hour that made her quit the Morning Show. Shannon Nelson may be better suited to that early morning slot as she once said she is strict about her 10 o'clock bedtime. In fact, she once did a show about how to nudge out a dinner guest whom she anticipated would hang on well past her ten o'clock bedtime.

I know everything about Shannon Nelson from listening to her on CFUN, first her evening show and then her afternoon show when she switched time slots. She talked about her kids, Adam, Julian, and Tommy. She was honest about the fact that she never took to breastfeeding and didn't do it for too long, hating having "udders hanging off" her. She went back to work just weeks after her first kid was born, as staying home "bored the daylights out of me".

I know that Shannon has, as Oprah claims to have, "a forgivin' heart". Her previous husband, a stock broker, betrayed her by having an affair. I think his name was John or something, but his last name was Humphries because a caller who knew her slipped up and revealed it. You could hear Shannon getting stuffed up with tears on air when she would talk about how he broke up with her by saying, "Shanni, you're too much for me. You're too much for me." She admitted, "I was pretty busy", hinting that she had not given him much time (Dr. Laura, who is on CFUN at 1 p.m. is clucking in the background.) It bothered Shannon that she had been with a man who would "give up so easily." Her mother never forgave him and stopped speaking to him, but Shannon still gave him free haircuts. That's right. He would come over to her place and she would cut his hair and they would use the time to talk about their kids.

Shannon's listeners know quite a bit about her new husband too, George. She posted their wedding photos on the CFUN website. George, she once said, "has some money". He had better have some money, as she once said she would never consider going out with a man who "didn't have a job."

While engaged to George, Shannon moved into his house in West Vancouver, albeit with some resentment over his desire to stick her ugly piano in the basement. Before moving in with him, she sold her own house in Ambleside -- the one she moved into after her divorce -- for over $900,000. She was roughly 48 years old at the time and was taking trips with George to Mexico, New Zealand if I remember correctly, and other places, and seemed to be absent from CFUN for long stretches of time; I figured her days as a radio host there were numbered. Then she suddenly disappeared. Even though CFUN slogan is "Life happens; we talk about it," they tend to avoid talking about hosts that drop off the air.

Today, her fifth day back, Shannon Nelson was talking about how George had made the mistake of steaming brocolli, cauliflower, and peas together. The peas turned into mush. Shane Foxman could not compete with this.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Bullet Pierces Window

When Earl Stephen “Steve” Seymour was sprayed with bullets across from Pigeon Park on Friday evening, there could have been another victim. Rob Hewitt or his fiancĂ©e Venessa Marshall could have been hauled away in a body bag too.

A stray bullet pierced the window of the second floor suite Hewitt and Marshall share on Carrall St. near Hastings. The next day Hewitt noticed an orange dot outside his front door where police forensics had marked the spot where the shell casing had fallen to the ground. [Above is a photo of the building in front of which the shooting occurred. Police searched for bullet casings in front of the door covered with plywood to the left.]

Hewitt, a City employee, is upset about the shooting, according to comments he made to Vancouver's 24 Hours newspaper: "I'm sick of the attitudes towards the people down in this area who say, 'F--k, it's just a drug dealer. Who cares?'

"I care. A lot of people down here care about each other."

Hewitt is keeping the window with the bullet hole, as a reminder of what happened.

Povertarians Witholding Pay from Poor who Participated in Poverty Olympics

Povertarians who organized the Poverty Olympics are being criticized by poor people who feel ripped off. Poor people are claiming that they were led to believe that they would be paid an honorarium of $20 if they "volunteered" at the Poverty Olympics. Now Olympic organizers at the Carnegie Center Community Association [CAPP] won't pay up.

The excuse provided for not paying people, according to one poor person, is that too many "volunteers" showed up and the money is not available. Twenty dollars was no doubt attractive to people living, as CAPP's Jean Swanson claimed in her speech at the Poverty Olympics, at starvation welfare rates, people forced to do all kinds of demeaning things to get the money to survive.

Something to remember when you turn on your tv or open an newspaper and see an anti-poverty event: paying people cash honorariums or volunteer tickets/food vouchers is a regular method used by povertarians to entice the poor to participate in political events.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Who is on Welfare?

Today is welfare day and five cops -- four uniforms and one under cover -- were standing around laughing and shootin' the breeze in front of Pathways Employment Center at Main & Hastings. The under cover waved at the photographer when he noticed the camera pointed at him. The photographer says the cops were standing around for at least half an hour. When she arrived at Pathways a little after 3 p.m. they were there, and when she looked out the window at almost 3:30, they were still there.

But a Carnegie member says the cops were there for longer than half an hour. "I figure a good hour," he says. He repeatedly noticed the cops as he did his errands this welfare day. He went to the Quest food store on Hastings just east of Main, browsed around and bought some chicken. Then he went to the TD bank on Main St. near Hastings, then on to VanCity on Pender St. Then he went to Carnegie Center at Main & Hastings and had a bowl of soup. Then he dropped in briefly to Pathways to chat with friends and went on to the Empress Hotel, just meters from where the cops were standing, in search of another friend. Then he went back to the Quest food store, then home on Powell where he stayed for about 15 minutes feeding his animals, etc. On the way back, he dropped off at another social housing building and buzzed a friend who wasn't home. Then he came back to Carnegie. "The cops were still there", he says.

One observer said it was possible that a shift change was occurring. Whatever, it is not uncommon to see cops standing around schmoozing on the Downtown Eastside. Last year, I was walking from Chinatown to Main & Hastings and saw a couple of cops arrive and pull a guy off a bus. Then four back up cops arrived, but the suspect was already lying on the ground handcuffed. Afterwards the six cops stood around chatting for 15 or 20 minutes. Of course it's human nature to feel the need to debrief, but this down time has to be considered when the police union and Chief argue for more money to hire more officers because they are run off their feet.

Before submitting the above photo to the DTES Enquirer, the photographer asked a guy at Carnegie, not entirely jokingly, "Do you think [the cops] will kill me?". The guy laughed and said, "No."

The Vancouver cops do deserve praise for their performance over the past week. They quickly apprehended the man suspected of pumping a few bullets into the head of Nova Scotian, Steve Seymour, at Pigeon Park on Friday night.

Despite the many competent cops, though, the public is losing confidence in the VPD due to their persistent covering for cops against whom there is clear evidence of wrong doing. An example is Sergeant Garry Lester, whose documented involvement in "political psychiatry" in his role as VPD School Liaison and the alleged cover-up by the VSB and the VPD has been highly destructive. It has resulted in Canadians Opposing Political Psychiatry organizing, as a last resort, an international boycott of diplomas issued by the Vancouver School Board.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Stephen Seymour's Killer was a "Good Shot"

Photo of Earl "Steve" Seymour: CTV News

"He was a good shot." That's what one Downtown Eastsider said about Matthew Ryan Wall, who has just been charged with first degree murder in the shooting death of Earl Stephen Seymour. To shoot a moving target with a handgun and manage to get several bullets into the guy's head, you have to be a good shot, explained the Downtown Eastsider who has practiced using handguns.

Wall, 26, is known to police as a drug dealer on the Downtown Eastside. He was arrested, according to CKNW radio, in a "rooming house" on Cambie St. That could explain why there was such a strong police presence around the Cambie Hotel & Hostel just after the shooting.

Any lawyer representing Wall will be banging his head against a wall. How do you help a client who walked up to a minivan near a busy corner and said "The war is on", then started shooting a man in front of a woman sitting in the front seat?

Not that people are feeling sorry for Seymour. One long time Downtown Eastsider said, "He got what he deserved." According to the Vancouver Sun today, Seymour had been one of the kingpins in a drug dealing operation based in the Station Inn on Cambie. The operation involved the sale of crack cocaine from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., pulling in an estimated $300,000 per month. The ChronicleHerald in Halifax put it this way: "For five years starting in the late 1990s, Mr. Seymour ran a gang that sold crack on Vancouver’s east side. The operation intimidated rivals with gunfire and beatings."

But CTV reporters had no difficulty finding people on the streets of the Downtown Eastside who had good memories of Seymour. On last night's news, an aboriginal man who had the gaunt look of an addict said he had known Seymour's ex wife; Seymour had taken a liking to him and would hand him "a five here, a ten here." You have to read between the lines though: that guy may have been a good customer on welfare cheque day. All of the comments from Downtown Eastsiders aired on CTV about Seymour were positive; people remembered him as a likeable guy.

Steve Seymour was not the first member of his family to be gunned down though. In Dec. 2005, Ken and Don Seymour, cousins with whom Steve Seymour and his brother Cliff Seymour had run the West Coast cocaine ring, were gunned down. The shootings occurred in 'the Hub', a run down neighbourhood of Glace Bay, the ChronicleHerald reported. Ken Seymour died and Don Seymour survived with serious damage to his liver and other organs. Both had done six years in prison for their roles in the West Coast cocaine ring. The shootings were over a drug debt. The shooter, a fellow associate of the Hell's Angels, was recently sentenced to 15 years.

Some of Steve Seymour's relatives have insisted in internet comments that he was turning his life around since being sentenced in 2001 to six years and four months for cocaine trafficking. When he was sentenced, his lawyer Glen Orris told the judge that he wanted to get a regular job to support his four children, all under the age of six at the time. But there was no sign of that regular job when a CTV reporter asked a Downtown Eastsider, two days after the shooting, what Seymour did on the Downtown Eastside: "I'm not at liberty to say," was the response.

One woman with the hollowed out cheeks of an addict, told CTV that the shooting had left her feeling that you have to be careful what you say to people because you can never tell how they're going to react.

My guess? Wall will end up being convicted of second degree and will be eligible for parole after ten, since the killing took place in the context of the drug trafficking world. But you never know. Judges are under pressure now to take seriously these shoot 'em ups on Vancouver streets. The man who shot Lee Matasi just a few blocks away had no record of criminal involvement but didn't get off easy. When the judge sentenced him, just the day before Steve Seymour was shot, he told him he would not be eligible for parole for 16 years.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Bluenoser Blown Away

Photo: police officers collecting evidence at crime scene immediately following the shooting

The man shot and killed at Hastings & Carrall St. on Friday night has been identified as 40 year old Earl Steve Seymour. He was from originally from Glace Bay, Nova Scotia but then moved to Bible Hill, Nova Scotia. In recent years, he had been living in Vancouver. He was known to police, according to VPD spokesperson Jana McGuinness.

Further details of the murder have now surfaced. The suspect reportedly arrived in a car, parked at Pigeon Park, and then walked across the street to a parked minivan in which Seymour sat with a woman.

Upon reaching the van, CBC reports, the suspect said, "The war is on."

"Turtle" McDonald, a witness, says the victim "jumped out of the driver's seat because there was nowhere for him to go." He jumped across the hood of his minivan but by the time he managed to do so, he had taken four or five shots to the head.

After firing a total of six or seven shots, the suspect ran west, on foot, down the alley in the direction of the Army & Navy store and the Cambie Hotel Hostel.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Man Murdered in Mini-Van Near Pigeon Park

In what police are saying was a targeted hit, a man was shot in a minivan tonight near Pigeon Park at Carrall & Hastings St. A young woman in the van cradled the dying man in her arms screaming that she couldn't believe this was happening.

VPD Constable Jana McGuinness said the victim was known to police.

People at Pigeon Park, where drug users and dealers hang out, reported hearing six shots. A male neighbour who had been sitting in his room listening to the radio told the media that he had heard seven shots. Alberta, a thirty-something aboriginal woman who lives at 334 Carroll St. in a suite just over the site of the shooting, told a DTES Enquirer reporter that she heard seven shots. It appeared to Alberta that the victim had been shot multiple times in the head. It was too late to help him as "he was already dead", she said solemnly. Alberta saw a woman with him, whom she assumed to be his girlfriend.

Alberta said the victim was caucasian. The word is that his name was Steve.

Vancouver Police blocked off Pigeon Park and a nearby alley, as well as the Cambie Hostel pub [known by locals as the Cambie Hotel] a couple of blocks west, with reams of yellow tape and several police cars. They weren't allowing any new customers into the Cambie pub, a blow to revenues on a bustling Friday night. A few clusters of people who were already inside the pub were allowed to remain.

The police were not saying whether there was a connection between the heavy police presence at the Cambie Hotel and Pigeon Park. But witnesses say they saw police cars racing to the Cambie Hotel shortly after the shooting.

A female police constable standing beside yellow crime scene tape at Columbia & Hastings, told photographers to be careful where they stepped as blood was streaming down along the curb. I looked down and sure enough, there was water mixed with blood flowing past my foot toward the sewer grate. The body was apparently lying on the street near the Columbia Street entrance to the old Sunrise Hotel on Hastings St. I couldn't see it from where I was standing behind the yellow tape at around 8:00 p.m. but, according to Alberta, it was not removed by the coroner's black vehicle until 12:30 or 1:00 am.

The windshield of the van was cracked where it had been penetrated by bullets. There were also bullet holes on the side of the van.

The shooting occurred at roughly 6:30 p.m. and at 8:00 p.m. the police crime scene van (see the van with the open rear door in the center of photo at top of page) was processing the crime scene.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A Game at Poverty Olympics: Stretching the Truth

With just 2 years to go before the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, the Poverty Olympics were held on Sunday. Participants marched up Hastings St. to Carnegie Center on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside carrying an Olympic torch and a banner in which the Olympic rings were handcuffs. Inside the Carnegie Center theatre, a packed audience watched as medals were awarded for such games as: Welfare Hurdles, Bed Bug Broadjump, Buy-athon, and Poverty Line High Jump.

But another game was clearly being played here: Stretching the Truth.

Jean Swanson (photo above), representing 'Raise the [Welfare] Rates' and the 'Carnegie Action Project', told the crowd that one reason the Poverty Olympics had been organized was to draw the world's attention to the fact that: "People in Canada, like people in poorer countries, have to search through garbage for food and things to sell. In Canada. So they can survive."

Swanson deserved a medal, at least a silver. She must have spent years in training to stretch the truth that far.

Nobody in Vancouver needs to go through garbage as a means of survival. Bill Simpson, a homeless man on the Downtown Eastside, says he doesn't get welfare, has no source of income, yet never goes through the garbage. He eats at the charity places, the Salvation Army and churches which offer free meals on a daily basis. And he stays clean by using the free showers and laundry at the City-run Evelyn Saller Center.

In most cases, people who choose to "search through garbage. . . for things to sell" are addicts, according to a former worker at the United We Can Bottle Recyling Depot, a Downtown Eastside facility were poor people get cash for bottles and cans they have collected from garbage dumpsters. No amount of welfare will ever be enough.

For a few non-addicts, collecting bottles and cans is a way of earning 'under the table' cash that welfare can't claw back. They use the money to buy extras, on top of the food allowance they get from welfare. I have spoken several times -- this was a couple of years ago now -- to a "binner", roughly 30 years old, who said he can't be bothered with the welfare hassles, so he collects bottles and cans full time and sleeps outside. But he's amongst a small minority of binners. Most are on the welfare rolls. Why do you think United We Can Bottle Depot closes for half a day on welfare cheque day? Business is slow that day.

United We Can also operates a program offering binners a few hours work a week sweeping alleys. But many prefer the freedom of binning over having to show up at a job at a specified time.

With a strong performance in the first leg of “Stretch the Truth”, Swanson entered the second leg: "We're also holding these Olympics because Mayor Sullivan's Civil City[Project] is cracking down on all the things that people have to do to survive when they can't get welfare or when they do get welfare and it's too low to live on. He's doing things like locking garbage bins, arresting panhandlers. . . ."

Swanson was a now a contender for the Gold. To claim that panhandling is something people “have to do to survive” in Canada, is such a stretch.

The thriving poverty industry on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside has created a plethora of free food places. Every week day morning the Dug Out Drop-in, for example, gives out hot soup and coffee. Homeless Bill Simpson has never panhandled and he is no where close to starvation. In fact, he was at the Sally Ann soup truck on Main St. Sunday night having a piping hot bowl of vegetable soup, along with bread and sandwiches. Sometimes he goes back for seconds. Various Christian churches both in and out of the Downtown Eastiside neighborhood also have regularly scheduled nutritious meals. And a Sikh Temple has a popular meal, although they have recently nixed the chapatis. This is Vancouver's free food "circuit".

Swanson was by no means a shoe-in for the Gold, though, in the “Stretch the Truth” event. She saw stiff competition from Kelly, a woman also representing the Carnegie Action Project. Kelly announced that the “Welfare Hurdles Race” would begin: "This is a race where penniless, homeless, sick people, unable to read and write, will be attempting to jump over hurdles or under hurdles trying to keep them off welfare, and hungry and homeless."

Kelly wowed the crowd with the stretch that the welfare office in Vancouver is trying to “keep” people “hungry”. A truly remarkable stretch. The amount of free food given out in Vancouver would make it difficult for anyone to stay hungry.

Kelly concealed something here, something now showing up like steroids in a urine test. Rather than making the homeless jump welfare hurdles, the government is actually expediting the welfare process for the homeless. Street worker Nancy Graves told the Vancouver Sun last year that her job is to walk the streets and approach homeless people, use her contacts at the
welfare office to get them immediately onto the welfare rolls, and get them a place to live. And Graves is not the only street worker on the Downtown Eastside, although she may be the only one whose job description is restricted to expediting welfare and getting people into housing.

A Downtown Eastside resident told me that she saw another street worker, Bernadette, helping a street person at the wicket in the welfare office about six months ago. In addition to street workers, there are welfare advocates at First United Church, the Downtown Eastside Residents Association and elsewhere to help people get on welfare.

It is a fact that a few years back, the provincial government created hurdles to getting on to welfare and staying on for a long period of time. Hurdles such as a three week waiting period before being eligible for welfare, may continue to be enforced -- I haven’t checked. But the hurdle in the form of a two year time limit for an employable person to remain on welfare is simply not being enforced, according to people on the Downtown Eastside who have been on welfare over two years.

The claim that the welfare office is turning away people who are “unable to read and write” is yet another remarkable stretch. Possibly record-setting. It is common to come across people in Downtown Eastside welfare culture who do not have much formal education, but it is rare to find someone completely “unable to read and write”. In 20 years on the Downtown Eastside, I have known just one completely illiterate man, an aboriginal man from the Canadian prairies whose mother hid him from agents arriving to take him to residential schools. He's on welfare, has been for years.

The Poverty Olympics were clearly an effort to inflict some world class embarrassment on the provincial government, to pressure them to cough up some dough in this month's provincial budget. Bob Sarti, Master of Ceremonies dressed as an alternative Olympic mascot, “Chewy the Rat”, told the crowd that press releases had been sent out “all over the world” resulting in an article on the event turning up in Pravda.

Swanson, in addition to announcing to the crowd that February 19th was budget day, accused the government of not honoring the committment about "housing and inclusion" that it had made when we won the 2010 Olympics. They have ignored the recommendations of a government-created committee that 3,200 units of social housing be built as part of the Olympics plan. At least 1.3 billion dollars must be in the upcoming budget to end the homelessness and increase welfare rates, Swanson told a cheering crowd. The Poverty Olympics are being held to "tell this government that they have a fantastic opportunity," she said. "Ending poverty and homelessness could be an Olympic legacy.”
(photos courtesy of dag)

Gang Violence Task Force at No. 5 Orange Again Last Night

Last night, the Gang Violence Task Force was once again at the No. 5 Orange strip bar at Main & Powell St. They were also spotted there the Sunday before last. And once previous to that too. When the Task Force was first set up in 2006 after a series of brazen gang shootings, a member told the media that they would be 'in the faces' of gang members, showing up at places they hang out.

The officers seemed startled when the camera flash went off, says the photographer, "but they were friendly". The white male to the right asked where the photos would be posted. The photographer told him that one of the sites would be, "NowPublic".

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Props Prepared for Poverty Olympics

The finishing touches were put on props yesterday for Vancouver's Poverty Olympics on Sunday. A garbage can was wrapped in newspaper articles about homelessness and displacement on the Downtown Eastside, some of which anti-poverty activists blame on the 2010 Olympics. Crawling over the garbage can were mice, rats, a bedbug, and sitting on top was a cockroach.