Monday, May 12, 2008

Executive Asst. in Lyndon Johnson's West Wing Fights for Democracy in Powell River

Patricia Aldworth went to the coastal pulp mill city of Powell River to retire. But the woman who had learned about politics while an Executive Assistant in the West Wing during Lyndon Johnson's Presidency, couldn’t retire. Not when she saw that democracy in Powell River was being fed through the wood chipper.

Aldworth ran for a Council seat in a by-election in this scenic British Columbia city, which has become a retirement destination for Americans. She won.

But not one Council member showed up for Aldworth's swearing-in ceremony; Mayor Stewart Alsgard emerged from his office only when the crowd of Aldworth's supporters overflowed into the hallway.

Councillors and the Mayor had shown up for an in camera meeting just a few hours before Aldworth (pictured above) was sworn in though, on March 4th. At that meeting, they instructed City lawyers to launch a defamation suit against Aldworth and two other pensioners, now known as the Powell River Three. Did I mention that the other two, Winslow Brown and Noel Hopkins, were in their eighties?

Brown tried to wriggle out of this jam. He went to Council on March 11 and, voice quivering, apologized. "I had no idea how far the city was prepared to go. I'm a pensioner on a fixed income. I could never afford to fight this lawsuit in court. If I tried, it would financially destroy me, [I would] lose my home and family." At the end of this groveling, Brown handed his letter to the City Clerk and asked, 'So, is it ended?"

It had not ended.

A few weeks later, Mayor Stewart Alsgard (photo above) publicly reiterated his position that the City had been defamed and had a right to take legal action against the Powell River Three and anybody else who criticized them.

"Sounding more like a Soviet apparatchik than a Canadian," Vancouver Sun columnist Daphne Bramham wrote, "Alsgard went on to say the defamation suit provided a tremendously important lesson for the community's young leaders about 'courtesy' and 'mutual respect'."

"I can't imagine a more regressive lesson in democracy," said John Dixon, Secretary of the BC Civil Liberties Association. Dixon has a home in Powell River and went into the local newspaper office to place an ad to sell his motorcycle, only to see the public humiliation of Cecil Brown's apology splashed over the front page.

There is a name for the type of lawsuit that the Powell River Three are facing: SLAPP, Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.

The City’s decision to sue the pensioners came after the Mayor and Council decided they'd like to borrow 6.5 million to redevelop the north harbor. Even though there was a by- election coming up (the one that Aldworth would win), Council decided not to let citizens vote on the borrowing but to instead require opponents to go to City Hall to fill out a form. Ten percent of eligible voters – roughly 1,000 people – would have had to make the trek down to City Hall to put a stop to this borrowing. Outraged by this process, a group of pensioners organized to write letters to the editor and hand out copies of the forms at the mall, even helping people fill them out. It was involvement in this activity by the Powell River Three that prompted the Mayor to give them a SLAPP up the side of the head.

“No government should be allowed to sue its citizens for defamation regardless of what is said,” Aldworth told the Vancouver Sun at the beginning of May. “It really goes to the underpinnings of democracy. If you don’t allow citizens to criticize their government, then the government can get away with anything.” And Aldworth, who earned a law degree at Georgetown after leaving the West Wing, noted that because the Charter of Rights and Freedoms only came into effect in 1982, there is not yet much case law upholding the right to free speech.

Aldsworth also said -- and I've been saying this for years -- that Canadians aren’t as well educated about their rights or as willing to stand up for them as Americans.

Dixon wrote a letter to the Mayor and Council asking them to drop the lawsuit. He pointed out that in Ontario, the courts ruled against municipalities in 2006 that had launched SLAPP suits against citizens. In one Justice Kenneth Pedlar wrote: “If governments were entitled to sue citizens who are critical, only those with the means to defend civil actions would be able to criticize government entities.”

If the City doesn't back down, the BCCLA intends to take the issue to the BC Supreme Court and ask them to do what the Ontario courts have done – declare that a government cannot sue it’s own citizens.

In Canada, Powell River is everywhere

The problem in Canada is not strictly in Powell River; the problem is that in Canada Powell River is everywhere. What Bramham called "Soviet apparatchiks" are not only operating openly in the government of Powell River, they are operating openly under Mayor Sullivan in the City of Vancouver, they are operating full tilt at the Vancouver School Board, and they are operating openly in Human Rights Commissions across Canada.

The case of Vancouver homeless man William "Bill" Simpson left no doubt that Soviet apparatchiks are well ensconced in the City of Vancouver government. When Simpson was elected to the Board of the Directors of the City of Vancouver's Carnegie Community Centre, one of Mayor Sullivan's henchwomen banished him to the sidewalk outside. Jacquie Forbes-Roberts, General Manager of Community Services, wrote a letter to Simpson a couple of weeks after he was elected, banning him "indefinitely" from the Carnegie Centre. When City management staff Ethel Whitty and Dan Tetrault hand-delivered Simpson the letter on behalf of Forbes-Roberts, Whitty told him that he would not even be allowed into the building to attend Board meetings.

Forbes-Roberts' revealed in her letter that Simpson's crime was one of free speech. He operated a website, she noted, which "features links" to the Downtown Eastside Enquirer blog which has criticized Carnegie staff. The blog had revealed such taxpayer rip-offs on the part of staff as the semi-regular locking of doors to computer and education services which they were funded to provide to the poor. Lawyer Gregory Bruce wrote to the City, reminding Forbes-Roberts that the concept of guilt by association was "contrary to the rule of law". She did not reinstate Simpson.

It became clear in the Simpson case that City of Vancouver staff were functioning as thought police. When questions were raised at a Carnegie Community Relations Meeting last summer about the lack of grounds for barring Simpson, Whitty defended the barring by stating, "He said he was proud of the blogger." This thought policing by Whitty was actually caught on tape.

Rachel Davis was one of the few Carnegie Board members who opposed the banning of a duly elected Board member from the building and Board meetings. And what did it get her? The Board held a special meeting following a regular Board meeting, when she was on her way home to pay her babysitter, and decided to send her a letter asking her to resign. Davis didn't back down. Did I mention she was born in the U.S.A.?

Photo: Ken Denike, Vancouver School Board Trustee

If you want a textbook case of Soviet apparatchiks shutting down free speech, though, look at the Vancouver School Board. Look at what the VSB did to a woman who wrote a letter to the VSB criticizing their handling of bullying complaints that she and others had independently lodged against a physically and verbally abusive teacher. In the letter, the critic stated that she intended to campaign in the upcoming tightly-contested School Board election about VSB "duplicity" in the handling of bullying complaints. Upon receiving the critic's letter, the VSB quickly resorted to a tactic that was used against political dissidents in the former Soviet Union and continues to be used against dissidents in China: political psychiatry. The VSB abused political influence to arrange, under pretenses the police officer involved admits they knew to be fraudulent, to have their critic subjected to a psychiatric assessment.

The VSB arranged to have Car 87 -- a police car containing an armed police officer and a male psychiatric nurse -- arrive unannounced at their critic's home to perform the psych assessment. Car 87 is an ideal tool for smearing political adversaries as it works like this: even if you're cleared, you're never really cleared. A "Car 87" notation remains adjacent to your name on the police computer system for "99 years".

A few hours after the Car 87 visit, Police School Liaison Sergeant Lester told the critic in a taped telephone call that the VSB had given him a copy of her letter which he read and emphasized to the VSB that there was "nothing untoward" about the letter. (Her letter to the VSB was the sole evidence submitted to him by the VSB in support of the visit, a fact he confirmed during the taped call.) Despite Lester's protests about lack of evidence, the VSB pressured him, providing no additional evidence, until he approved the visit. "It was clear-cut case of fraud," says the targeted critic.

Car 87 visits are restricted by legislation to instances in which there is evidence that an individual is at "imminent" risk of killing themselves or others. The only thing the critic was at risk of killing was the slim chance that the NPA School Board had of retaining power. The critic could prove that an NPA trustee had been assuring the public via television that bullying complaints were being taken seriously, when in fact correspondence being received by complainants indicated otherwise.

When the critic obtained a copy of the psych report, she discovered that the psych nurse, Don Getz, after being briefed by the VSB, had entered "freedom of information requests" as the sole reason for the Car 87 visit. She had made two or three routine freedom of information requests over a period of a year for documents from her file. Georgina Kosich, the VSB clerk who processed Freedom of Information requests was presented to Constable Michelle Sevigny and nurse Getz as the primary witness in the case, and met with them to release the critic's freedom of information requests. Kosich apparently fraudulently concealed from the psych nurse and cop, the letters she had sent the critic encouraging her to submit freedom of information requests to the VSB.

Not only did the critic discover from reading the psych report that her ability to access documents under the Freedom of Information Act was presented as socially deviant, so too were signs of an intellectual life visible in the home-office space where psych nurse Don Getz and Constable Michelle Sevigny interviewed her. A computer surrounded by papers and books, and two bookshelves stuffed with books, were rubricized in the psych report as 'clutter'. The VSB were now burners.

Even the fact that the critic had been competent and responsible enough to substantiate all claims in her letter to the VSB was viewed by the psych nurse -- after he was briefed by the VSB -- as an indicator of mental illness as it made the letter "a little long". He admitted he had not personally read the letter.

As Getz and Sevigny left the critic's apartment, she commented to Getz that it was the election a couple of weeks away that had prompted this psych assessment. He agreed with her! She included this fact in a written complaint lodged with the VSB immediately after the visit. Getz has never disagreed with this statement.

The VSB's pre-election exercise in political psychiatry was successful. The critic was sufficiently terrorized that she abandoned her plans to campaign against the NPA in the election.

Canadians Opposing Political Psychiatry have responded to the failure of the VSB to address their history of political psychiatry by organizing, as an "absolute last resort", an international boycott of diplomas issued by the Vancouver School Board.

Shortly before this Car 87 terror was inflicted by VSB on a potential election campaigner, the outgoing President of the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils, Reggi Balabanov, had sounded an alarm about the use of police to intimidate bullying complainants. Complainants were too often finding police showing up on their doorsteps, Balabanov said, resulting in a definite "chill" on the willingness of citizens to pursue school bullying complaints.

But no discussion of the duck-taping of the mouths of Canadians would be complete without a mention of publicly funded Human Rights Commissions across Canada. Originally set up as inexpensive forums for handling discrimination complaints such as those against landlords and employers, Human Rights Commissions have morphed into thought police operating kangaroo courts. Both the Ontario Human Rights Commission and the B.C. Human Rights Commission have targeted writer Mark Steyn, a Canadian living in New Hampshire, after Macleans magazine published a well supported piece by Steyn on Islamists. The Alberta Human Rights Commission has targeted Ezra Levant, the former publisher of the Western Standard, for publishing cartoons of the prophet Mohammed. Levant had published the cartoons as a pro free speech statement, supporting publications around the world which had done the same.

Human Rights Commissions are always your best bet if you don't have a leg to stand on in a real court. They will use taxpayer's dollars to pay your legal fees, while they bankrupt your critic. On the Vancouver blog, Covenant Zone, where truepeers, a Canadian, and dag, an American from Idaho, monitor this racket, there is a link to a column by the Ottawa Citizen's David Warren:

"The notion that 'freedom of speech is an American concept' -- I am quoting Dean Steacy, principal "mediator" (i.e. thought-crime investigator) for the Canadian Human Rights Commission -- is proving sadly true in the limited sense that most of the money donated to the various legal defense funds has come, via Internet, from outraged citizens of the U.S."

Warren asked Canadians to divert donations intended for the Conservative Party of Canada to the defense funds of some of those targeted for these Kafkaesque prosecutions. He believes that action could jolt Prime Minister Stephen Harper out of the "sleepiness" from which he and so many other Canadians are suffering as the right to free speech is blungeoned to death.

The above tactics of Soviet apparatchiks on government payrolls in Canada are a mere sampling of those currently being used to harass citizens exercising their right to free speech.

What is to be done? Maybe Canada needs more Americans.