Monday, October 27, 2008

Hard to Get to Know Jenn McGinn

Above photo from Jenn McGinn's campaign website

Although "Get to Know Jenn McGinn" is the headline on the website of the NDP candidate in the current by-election in Vancouver-Fairview, it is not so easy to get to know her. McGinn ignored a written request by CUPEwatch to state her position on alleged abuse and illegal conduct by her campaign funders, CUPE, BC Federation of Labour and their respective leaders Barry O'Neill and Jim Sinclair, in what has become known as the “secretary scandal”. The alleged illegal activity was reportedly intended to silence secretaries about unfair labour practices inside CUPE.

The secretary scandal involves documented evidence that CUPE, with the cooperation of BC Fed President Jim Sinclair, allegedly employed intimidation tactics in an attempt to muzzle a secretary from CUPE Local 116 after she blew the whistle about unfair labour practices. The secretary had complained to Sinclair and O'Neill about the fact that CUPE was staffing the Local 116 office exclusively with non-union secretaries and then firing them when they complained about triple workloads. The whistle blowing secretary was highly credible as she was the only woman NOT fired from Local 116; she had earlier resigned her secretarial position and received a glowing letter of reference.

There is evidence to support allegations that CUPE, the BC Federation of Labour, and lawyer Ian Aikenhead (a former NDP President) arranged for the Vancouver Police to “harass” the whistle blowing secretary at her home. (The Vancouver Police do not have jurisdiction at Local 116 which is on the UBC Endowment Lands.) The secretary was shocked to discover that a polite, professional, letter she had sent to Sinclair about working conditions at Local 116 was filed in the Police Property office. A similar letter she had sent to O'Neill was filed there too.

There are also allegations of “evidence tampering” in this case. The secretary learned from the police report that a woman pursuing the issue of unfair labour practices with CUPE or the BC Fed is considered to be engaging in “WORKPLACE HARASSMENT”. The secretary then told Sinclair that she intended to ensure that this labelling stuck to his reputation. Later, she discovered that the label on the “CLOSED” police report had been retroactively – and illegally – altered to drop the word “WORKPLACE” and substitute “HARASSMENT/OBSCENCE COMMUNICATION”.

Although McGinn won’t state her position on the secretary abuse issue, the whistleblowing secretary has always been clear about her own position: If CUPE and the BC Fed think it is obscene or harassing for a woman to bring abuse of non-union secretaries inside CUPE to their attention, Jenn McGinn should not have been taking money from them. “She should have told them to stuff it”.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Trafficking in Disruption: Insite Supporters Hold Street Party in Rush Hour

I have an insight. The block party Insite supporters held yesterday afternoon was an attempt to embarrass freshly re-elected Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Insite supporters -- particularly the Portland Hotel Community Services Society executives and staff who operate Insite -- don't want Harper to shut down this space where junkies in Vancouver can drop-in to shoot-up. The Harper government is appealing a court decision that the nurse-supervised drug injection site must be kept open because it is a health service to which drug users have a right. The use of tax dollars to finance a cocaine and heroin shooting gallery is enough to make Harper shiver in his trademark sweater vest.

On Thursday, a party was held on the street in front of Insite on the Downtown Eastside in support of keeping the facility open. It was a party against the Conservative party.

The dark green building in the background with people clustered around the door is Insite.

A white tent at the block party in front of Insite housed speakers blasting recorded music and a huge poster with the words, “Play Music Not Politics”. A band was scheduled to play but the cops put a stop to it, as organizers did not have a permit for this rush hour street party.

Don’t ask me how Insite supporters believed they could get public sympathy by suddenly disrupting traffic on the 100 block Hastings St. during rush hour, just after 5 p.m. That’s a six lane — four lanes of moving traffic and two parking lanes — major commuter artery. A witness who arrived early at the party, says there was some traffic flow until police arrived and shut down the entire block, apparently for safety reasons.

Photo: A cluster of Vancouver Police stood on Hastings, a few doors east of Insite, watching the party.

The City of Vancouver had refused the Portland Hotel Community Services Society a permit to hold the party on Hastings at rush hour, but organizers did so anyway. Breaking the law may not be a way for the Portland Hotel Community Services Society to convince Prime Minister Harper, who ran in this month’s federal election on a ‘law and order’ platform, to allow them to continue to operate Insite. (Insite needs the Harper government to renew it’s exemption from the law, an exemption granted temporarily by a previous Liberal government since Insite provides a place for injection of illegal drugs.)

Photo above: Motorcycle cops parked on Columbia St. to prevent cars and buses from traveling onto the 100 block Hastings once the party got going.

Anyone who listens to Vancouver talk radio knows that inconveniencing commuters by blocking traffic on streets and bridges is becoming an issue. This year commuters have demanded to know why police blocked them during rush hour on the Lions Gate bridge for a film crew and for hours on the Second Narrows for somebody threatening to commit suicide.

Photo above: Vancouver Police were preventing pedestrians from using the sidewalk on the south side of the 100 block Hastings, across from the party.

There were lots of placards saying, “Trust the Evidence.” Such slogans are often used by Insite supporters despite the fact that the evidence for Insite has been mixed. Margaret Wente of the Globe & Mail, Canada’s most liberal national paper, wrote a column in July, “We Still Await the Scientific Proof of Harm Reduction’s Success“, outlining just how mixed the evidence is.

The propaganda at the party was effective. There were several black and white posters of children, posters the size of bus shelter images — one of a kid posing with his bicycle, another of a kid posing for what appeared to be a school photo — with captions, “Before they were “junkies” they were kids.”

This party was a made-for-media event, like so many political events on the Downtown Eastside. Lots of media had obviously been notified of the event as they were everywhere taking photos and interviewing people. The mainstream Vancouver media is sympathetic to Insite and tends to accept the prepared scripts they are fed. As media personality Pia Shandel, who opposed the supervised injection site said while a host on CFUN radio, the Vancouver media seem to make up their minds early on to support Insite.

Once media are invited to a political protest on the Downtown Eastside, a crowd is attracted by giving out free food. A couple of hundred poor people lined up at yesterday’s party waiting to be served free burgers. Potato chips and pop were given out later. The line-ups may have been longer if the monthly welfare checks hadn’t come out Wednesday.

Photo above: A man serves burgers wearing a t-shirt reading, “Do what’s right, support insite.”

Note the bars on the windows of the shop in the background. About 20 years ago, I was in a bus going up Main St. and an American tourist said to his fellow travelers in a New Jersey accent, “What do you notice about this city? No bars on the windows.” Now there are bars on most shop windows. Cops say “drug sick” people needing fix are pulling many break-ins.

Photo: As soon as the party started on Hastings St., numerous police moved in and limited it to a couple of lanes. Police refused to allow any traffic onto the opposite lanes, apparently for safety reasons.

Vancouver Police spokeswoman Jana McGuinness said police and other City of Vancouver staff had discussions with the PHS Community Services Society about a less disruptive spot to hold the event. "We offered them a permit on a location 100 feet away on Columbia [Street] where they could party all night if they wanted to", McGuinness said. But these events are above all about attracting public attention to a cause. Disrupting Hastings St. traffic during rush hour, resulting in an inevitable clash with police, could draw more attention and get more press than a party on a side street.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Tom's Gone

Photo: Thornton Park in front of Pacific Central Station at Terminal & Main St. in Vancouver, Tues. Oct. 21/08

I had found myself looking out the window of McDonald's near Terminal & Main to see if Old Tom’s red car was in it’s usual corner spot in the parking lot. He hadn't dropped in for coffee for awhile.

I didn’t know he had died.

Tuesday morning, I dropped into McDonald's on the way to work and one of the regulars, a guy from New Brunswick, said in a softer than usual voice, “You know Tom died?” I got tears in my eyes as I thought of how there would be no more chats with him. I wanted more.

This morning, the instant I woke up I knew something wasn't quite right. I felt sad. "Oh yeah, Old Tom died."

Tom Moore was about 73 years old. We called him Old Tom to distinguish him from a younger Tom who had also been dropping into McDonald's near Main & Terminal for coffee for years. Before McDonald's, Burger King next door had been the drop-in spot for Tom and his pals to have coffee, until the policy was changed and there were no more free refills.

Tom lived for years in the little house at Strathcona Park where he got free rent in exchange for doing caretaker work, like keeping the washrooms clean. In recent years, he's lived in the caretaker’s house at a park in Mount Pleasant.

From what I've heard, Tom died of a heart attack on Saturday. The guys at the coffee shop know it was the cigarettes that killed him. They knew him when he quit smoking 20 years ago after emphysema set in. But the damage was done.

I had seen Tom around for years but it was only in the last couple of years that I had begun sitting with him and his pals for coffee. Tom fit in on the Downtown Eastside and had a few street people as pals; they would make a few bucks doing odd jobs for him or selling him things they had binned, sometimes even stolen. But Tom stood out on the Downtown Eastside too, because he was smarter than average. He hadn't been to university but he was fun to chat with about politics because he had read a lot and seen a lot in his 73 years. He could usually be counted on to have a perspective -- he wasn't at all hamstrung by political correctness -- that you wouldn’t find in any newspaper.

Tom could be crusty. I told him to back off a couple of times, resulting in loud arguments. But I miss him now that he doesn't park his little red car or big red truck in the corner spot in the parking lot and sit at one of the tables out front. Today, as I sat out front in the sun with a friend who'd been having coffee with Tom for 16 years, I said, “I wish he could come back.”

Friday, October 17, 2008

Man Stabbed in Eye at Savoy Pub

Photo above: A Vancouver Police officer guards the door of the Savoy Pub this afternoon.

A man was reportedly stabbed in the eye this afternoon at the Savoy Pub on Hasting St., just east of Main & Hastings.

According to a witness, police took everybody out of the pub, stopping traffic to get them across the street to the police station for questioning.

The Savoy Pub is close to Main & Hastings, seen in the background.

Photo above: Vancouver Police officer guarding door of Savoy Pub this afternoon chats with a passerby. He was turning people away as they arrived to enter the pub.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Cat on the Hat

When this man dropped into Pathways Employment Centre at Main & Hastings last week to use one of the public-access computers, he had his cat with him. His cat Caylie, who was a day shy of 11 weeks old when this photo was taken, likes to crawl up onto his cap, whether he's sitting or standing.

Thanks to the Downtown Eastside resident who emailed this photo to us.

Monday, October 13, 2008

"Don't Believe the Truth": Oasis for Poor during Olympics to be Photo-Op for Media

The nerve. Ethel Whitty, Director of Vancouver’s Carnegie Community Center who has established a reputation for banning poor and homeless people from Carnegie quicker than you can say “Nixon’s enemies list”, has now announced that she is a prime organizer of a “refuge” for the poor and homeless at nearby Oppenheimer Park. It is called the Oasis Winter Festival and will occur during the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Whitty announced the Oasis Winter Festival in her Director’s Report at the Carnegie Board meeting membership of Carnegie Center at the Sept. 4 meeting of the Board of Directors. The Oasis will be held on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside for 7-10 days in February 2010, during the Winter Olympics. A trial-run Oasis will be held in 2009.

“We’ll set up two large tents,” Whitty wrote in her Director’s Report. “One tent will be a source of nutritious food and beverage for participants and one for art activities and entertainment. ….” Whitty, who knows the poverty game as well as any Olympic athlete knows their game, is aware that a sure way to draw a crowd to any event on the Downtown Eastside is to offer free food. The other tent at the Oasis will be “for art activities and entertainment.”

Totem pole in Oppenheimer Park where the Oasis Festival on the Downtown Eastside will be held. Photo taken Oct. 2008.

“The intention”, Whitty writes in her report, “is to give homeless and poorly housed residents of the Downtown Eastside a chance to receive support from the community at a time, during the Olympics, when they will otherwise be the subject of media scrutiny and tourist interest.”

That’s not the real intention though, according to poverty industry watcher Dag Walker. The intention is to create “a sea of poor people” in plain sight of the media. “It’s not nearly as effective if the media just sees a few homeless people here and there,” Walker explains, “It’s more effective to attract a huge number of the poor and homeless to a small space.” Whitty and her povertarian partners will essentially be telling the media, ‘Don’t look at the elephant on the table’, but they know that the media scouring the notorious Downtown Eastside during the Olympics in search of stories will take photographs of this large congregation of poor people, photographs that will be transmitted around the world. The povertarians are arranging a media event, a photo op, with the intention of embarrassing the government globally.

The message transmitted through the global media will be the same as that regularly transmitted by the povertarians through the local media: “Poverty is an out of control problem on the Downtown Eastside and the government must direct more money toward this problem.” More money directed toward the Downtown Eastside means more money for povertarians who make their living in the lucrative poverty industry here.

Box for discarded needles of drug users attached to the fence of the baseball diamond at Oppenheimer Park. Photo taken Oct. 12, 2008.

Anyone unaware of Whitty’s record of human rights abuses targeting the poor and/or homeless — she was even caught feeding fraudulent “evidence” to a CBC Radio interviewer about the reason for the barring of homeless man, William Simpson, from Carnegie after poor people elected him to the Carnegie Board — could get the impression from her Director’s Report that she cares about the poor: “This event will be ongoing everyday and will provide a refuge and a comfort zone where participants can be entertained or take part in organized art activities arranged by those who know them best; their fellow community members.” Arranged by their fellow community members? Most of the people working at Oasis will be well paid unionized povertarians who, at the end of their shifts on the Downtown Eastside, can’t get out of the neighborhood fast enough.

Just look at the groups Whitty lists as being recruited to operate the Oasis: “We hope the community partners will include Carnegie Centre staff from Oppenheimer [Park] and the Outreach teams, Aboriginal Front Door, VANDU [Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users], VCH, Pivot, DEWC, Community Arts Network, Gallery Gachet, etc.” The overwhelming majority of workers in these groups do not live on the Downtown Eastside and their loyalty to one another is stronger than their loyalty to poor people.

Take Pivot Legal Society, a group of radical young lawyers who claim to be committed to improving civil liberties in the poor Downtown Eastside neighborhood and creating “trickle up” benefits for everyone else in society. When homeless William Simpson asked Pivot for help after Whitty hand-delivered him a letter banning him from the Carnegie premises and Board meetings just two weeks after poor people had elected him to the Carnegie Board – the barring was carried out under the supervision of City Manager and Olympic Organizing Committee member Judy Rogers – Pivot turned him away with the response, “But they’re our friends.”

All of these “friends” running grant guzzling organizations on the Downtown Eastside are experienced in dealing with media; they can be counted on to have designated spokespersons at Oasis who can be trusted not to veer off the message about the government obligation to give more to their assorted projects. Those projects range from a supervised drug injection site a few blocks from Oppenheimer Park to the annual Heart of the City theater production by Carnegie in which Whitty has been exposed for passing off actors from more affluent neighborhoods to the media as Downtown Eastside poor people speaking on behalf of their fellow poor people — not unlike the way Whitty is passing off Oasis as a refuge for poor people “arranged by those who know them best; their fellow community members.” Let the games begin.

On the morning of Oct.12, 2008 when this photo was taken, there was one person sleeping in Oppenheimer Park.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Pouring Rain

It was pissin' down rain late yesterday afternoon as this pedestrian walked across the Georgia Viaduct toward Main St.