Residents of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside were all ears this morning when CBC Radio 'Early Edition' host, Stephen Quinn, began asking questions about a denial of democracy and free speech at the Carnegie Community Center. Quinn interviewed
William "Bill" Simpson, a homeless man who was banned from the Carnegie Center in June 2007, two weeks after being elected to the Carnegie Board of Directors. The written reason given to Simpson for the banning was that he operates a website which "features links" to the Downtown Eastside Enquirer blog. The DTES Enquirer blog reports on frequent closure of services that Carnegie management and staff are funded to provide to the poor, as well as on the frequent banning of people without due process.
When asked why he was banned from Carnegie, Simpson said, "...I'm banned because I'm one of the voices that wants to hold management accountable and I think accountability is something they don't want to face." Simpson went on to explain that he wanted more accountability for abuse at Carnegie, including "management abuse or staff abuse." Complaining at Carnegie, he said, tends to get members nowhere.
Simpson said that a "solution" found by a blogger to the issue of accountability on the part of management and staff was to act "as a reporter on events going on at the Carnegie." He added, "I applauded the blogger's work...and I stood up for the blogger, and they didn't like that very much."
Carnegie Director, Ethel Whitty, who hand-delivered Simpson the letter banning him from the Center -- a letter signed by her boss at City Hall, Jacquie Forbes-Roberts -- was invited to be interviewed by CBC this morning but declined.
"They do have a history of coming down pretty hard on whistleblowers at the Carnegie," said Rachel Davis, a Carnegie Board member who was interviewed this morning along with Simpson.
Davis said the banning of Simpson was an "entirely politically motivated act." It had nothing to do with protecting the membership, she said, who ended up “frightened” that they too could be banned, or "barred" to use the official Carnegie term. "This barring was entirely about protecting the psychological and political comfort of City staff; they didn’t like being held accountable for their actions and they were willing to do anything to stop it, including barring a duly elected board member."
When asked by Quinn to elaborate on the abuse that Carnegie members suffer, Davis said, "People are being barred for no more reason than they make someone feel uncomfortable." "Management", Simpson interjected.
Because Simpson had been informed in the June letter that he was banned from Carnegie while an investigation into his conduct was ongoing, Davis has attempted to determine the status of this investigation: "I've inquired about this investigation recently and been told that it's really none of my business."
Davis went on to say that many letters had been written to City officials "all the way up to the Mayor" about the banning of Simpson, with no satisfactory response.
Wilf, a Carnegie member, has made an audio of the interview available at: