Thursday, January 3, 2008

Carnegie Director, Ethel Whitty , Blows Hot Air on CBC Radio

Carnegie Director Ethel Whitty declined an invitation by CBC's Early Edition to be interviewed yesterday along with William "Bill" Simpson, the homeless man barred from Carnegie Board meetings two weeks after being elected to the Board. But Whitty turned up on the show this morning. Dag, a Vancouver blogger, commented on the DTES Enquirer, that Whitty conveniently waited until Bill Simpson and another Board member, Rachel Davis, were not in the CBC studio to "contradict" her.

When interviewed this morning, Whitty told a very different story than Simpson and Davis had told yesterday. Witty claimed that Simpson had been barred from Carnegie because an employee had laid a WorkSafe complaint against him.

But Whitty's story doesn't hold up.

There had been no mention whatsoever of a WorkSafe complaint in the official letter that Whitty delivered to Simpson notifying him that he was barred from Carnegie. The reason given in the June 2007 letter on City of Vancouver stationery was that Simpson operated a website which “features links” to the Downtown Eastside Enquirer blog.

Even Whitty’s boss at City Hall, Jacquie Forbes-Roberts who signed the official letter barring Simpson, doesn’t seem to be pushing a WorkSafe angle. Miro Cernetig spoke to Forbes-Roberts when writing his column on the Simpson case for the Dec. 24th Vancouver Sun and made no mention of any WorkSafe complaint. Forbes-Roberts did acknowledged, according to Cernetig, that she didn't know whether Simpson was a blogger.

The WorkSafe complaint Whitty referred to was an extension of harassment of bloggers at Carnegie Center. A Carnegie staff person made a WorkSafe application after being exposed on the DTES Enquirer for allegedly having sexual relationships with sometimes troubled clients, some of whom later attempted or committed suicide (for undetermined reasons). There are witnesses to the fact that this staff person, who was not actually named on the blog, was having sexual relationships with clients. [Since then one of her ex-boyfriends suspected of kissing and telling has been barred from Carnegie too -- even though he hadn't set foot in the place for two years!]

Whitty stated at a Carnegie Community Relations meeting at Carnegie last summer that City lawyers and WCB lawyers got together to work on the employee’s complaint that Simpson created an unsafe environment for her at Carnegie due to his involvement with the DTES Enquirer blog and Bill Simpson’s relationship to it. Whitty stated that when WCB decides that there is a safety issue at Carnegie, they instruct her to, “Make it safe”. Hence, the barring of Bill Simpson. The fact that Simpson wasn’t the blogger and that the content of the blog can be supported by witnesses apparently did not act as a deterrent in such decision-making.

A further indication that WorkSafe is a damage control strategy is that Carnegie management and staff had been barring Simpson for political reasons long before the WorkSafe complaint had been lodged. The WorkSafe complaint was lodged in response to a Feb./07 article about sexual misconduct on the DTES Enquirer. That article was published after Simpson had already been barred from the Carnegie Learning Center (not yet the entire Carnegie Center) in Jan./07. He was taken by Learning Center Co-ordinator, Lucy Alderson, to the office of Carnegie Head of Security, Skip, and told that was barred from the Learning Center (situated on the third floor of Carnegie Center) for blogging on the Downtown Eastside Enquirer.

Two years before that, in 2005, Simpson was barred from Carnegie for handing out election literature in the building. The literature criticized management. After being barred, Simpson stood outside Carnegie handing out his election literature. Assistant Manager,Dan Tetrault, then allowed him back into the building on the condition that he not hand it out inside the building.

Whitty has a record – caught on tape – of smearing both Bill Simpson and the DTES Enquirer. At both a public Carnegie Board meeting and a Community Relations meeting last summer, she made defamatory statements about the blog and Simpson, providing no examples to support her claims. Even when Simpson specifically asked her for such an example, after he read the letter she delivered to him in June 2007 barring him from Carnegie, she offered none.

"They have nothing," said Board member Grant Chancy at a Board meeting last summer.

Chancy, a former unionized worker who has the WorkSafe manual at home, announced at a Carnegie Community Relations meeting last summer that he saw nothing in Simpson’s conduct that would justify a WorkSafe complaint. Chancy said he had found “no threats” on the DTES Enquirer blog and “I’ve looked and I’ve looked and I’ve looked.”

A number of Carnegie members feel the same way,leading to grumbling that there should be a fraud investigation into this WCB claim. The claim, which presumably resulted in a payout, was based on a non-libelous blog that, as Board member Sophie Friegang stated before her resignation, is well within the boundaries of "free speech".

When Whitty first floated the WorkSafe reason for barring Simpson in the summer of 2006, Board member Rachel Davis called Gordon Harkness at WorkSafe to find out what was going on. What Harkness told her was surprising. Davis included it in a statement she left on CBC's Talkback line in response to Whitty's claims: "Mr.Harkness told me that there has been no assessment by WorkSafe of William Simpson whatsoever."

Davis pointed in her Talkback statement to the defamation involved in Whitty's suggestion that Simpson posed a safety risk:
"I think people are aware that WorkSafe only deals with cases of
violence or extreme verbal abuse, and nothing like that has
happened. So for [Whitty] to use the Worksafe name in an attempt to
legitimize this barring is really just a heartless blackening of
William’s reputation and that makes me really sad, because if they
will do this to him, a democratically elected board member, what
would they do to your average member who disagrees with their policy?
I find it frightening. And I know other members do too. I stand by my
statement:The Barring of William Simpson was a political act against
a whistleblower perpetrated by the City."

Whitty added in the CBC interview that she would like to meet with Simpson and come to a shared understanding of proper conduct in the Center. She is trying to save face. There is nothing improper about Simpson's conduct.