Monday, June 22, 2009

VPL Asked to Suspend Library Assistant Wanda Power over alleged use of Carnegie "Security" for Political Ends

Shelagh Flaherty, Director of the Vancouver Public Library, has been asked to stop allowing Carnegie library staff to call "security" to repress freedom of expression. "I'm calling security" is a shortcut regularly taken by Carnegie staff unwilling to communicate effectively with the low income people they are well paid to work with, preferring instead to turn assertive people over to security forces for bullying.

Flaherty has also been asked to ensure that a recent alleged offender, Carnegie library assistant Wanda Power, is suspended without pay for a minimum of two weeks. Power is accused of acting with malice in lodging an unfounded security complaint against a non-violent female for purposes of intimidation and defamation.

Photo: Shelagh Flaherty, Library Director

The pattern on the part of Carnegie library staff of calling security on non-violent people makes a mockery of the VPL vision statement: "The library inspires and enriches the human spirit."

Carnegie "security" forces which are plain-clothed guards with a plain-clothed boss, are routinely called by CUPE members at Carnegie Library and throughout Carnegie Center in response to assertiveness in low income people. The Vancouver Public Library branch at Carnegie Center has been participating in this type of abuse for years. For at least a decade, denial of access to VPL public-access computers has been used at Carnegie to punish assertive individuals, individuals who have dared speak up about issues such as sexual harassment. Even daring to get oneself elected to the Board of Carnegie can, if you're politics don't match those of Carnegie staff, get you barred from all Carnegie services, including all VPL services.

For years a library assistant (now retired) -- a short female with dyed blonde hair -- would call security multiple times a day as a substitute for communicating with Downtown Eastsiders. When Larry, a fork-lift operator at a fish plant, had to interact with her at the book check-out counter and told her politely that he was finding her rude, her only response was to walk out to the lobby of Carnegie Center and get a security guard. The security guard whispered to Larry, "What did you say to that bitch?" Security guards seem weary of well-paid staff steadily delegating the work of communicating with Downtown Eastsiders to them. There was a sense of relief when this library assistant retired. But a new library assistant, Wanda Power, is exhibiting the same tendency to call security as a substitute for doing the work of communicating with Carnegie members, work she is paid to do.

A recent incident with Power began in the upstairs cafeteria at Carnegie on the afternoon of Sunday, June 7 and ended in the library with her announcing that she was calling security. Power allegedly used her status as a staff person to incite a man who was yelling and berating a woman with a skateboard in the food line-up, repeatedly poking his cane at her.

The man, in his late 70's with a German accent, began yelling at the woman after she set her skateboard on the counter in the cafeteria momentarily as she searched for money in her bag. The wheels were not touching the counter, she says. "I knew I shouldn't do that. I picked it up right away," she insists. (I have seen people set all kinds of things on the cafeteria counter, from large bags they drag back and forth from homeless shelters to pack sacks with shoes and cups dangling off them, even bags of cans they have collected on the streets or from garbage cans. People don't set food directly on that counter; they set their trays on that counter.)

After the woman picked up her skateboard from the counter and was again holding it in her arms, the elderly man began yelling at her that she shouldn't have set it there. She said it was a mistake and that she was now holding it, that there was nothing that could be done about it now. But he continued yelling. He continued making the same point over and over and over, jabbing his cane toward her face each time he made it. He made one additional point too, that she should carry a bag at all times and put her skateboard in it, according to one of the numerous witnesses in the line. The skateboarder told him to stop yelling at her, that he had made his point. He continued. She raised her voice and told him, "I don't need your opinion." They went back and forth like this.

Wanda Power, a notoriously officious library assistant trained to check-out and re-shelve books, was up ahead in the line when this incident began. Almost immediatedly after the man started yelling, witnesses say, Power called out to him that she supported him, that she had seen the skateboard on the counter. "It was like a game of 'I spy my little eye' that kids play", the skateboarder recalls. By this time, as the skateboarder was reportedly holding her skateboard, the rantings of the cane-rager and the support he was getting from Power were gratuitious, not to mention disruptive to others standing in the line.

The skateboarder alleges that Power's conduct served to reinforce the cane-rager. "The more she told him she agreed with him, the worse he got. He was enjoying the attention." The skateboarder stepped out of her place in the line to avoid his cane.

There is no doubt that this cane-rager knew that his behaviour was being legitimated by a staff person. Power's I.D. card was dangled from her neck as she encourged him. Even without her I.D. card, many of the people in the line would have recognized her as staff. I rarely go into that library but I knew immediately who she was when people described her as being short, fortyish, with shoulder length wavy dark hair and a spare tire. Wanda allegedly continued to abuse her position of authority to incite this man, even when the skateboard had been off the counter for several minutes.

After Power paid the cashier, witnesses say, she picked up her tray and turned to leave, then stopped. "It was like her grand finale," says the skateboarder. Power held her chin in the air like she is prone to do -- I've seen her do this Obamaesque chin-to-sky pose too, even when she's walking along the sidewalk -- and announced once again that this man had her support. She then looked back the cafeteria cashier and encouraged him to support the man too as, "He has a point". The fact that he was using the end of his cane to make his point over and over again apparently didn't phase her. Neither did his verbal abuse. Once again he was reinforced and continued his tirade as Powers exited stage left. "What a fcukin' drama queen," one man said of Power, having previously witnessed her interventions over the slightest infractions in the library.

The skateboarding woman had the confidence -- confidence is barely tolerated by Carnegie staff -- to go to the library afterwards and tell Wanda Power that she had been wrong to intervene in that situation and encourage the cane-rager. Power said it was within her rights as, "I'm Center staff." The skateboarding woman responded, according to a man standing around the corner listening, "You're Vancouver Public Library staff; the library is separate from the Center." Power had no reply to that.

The woman asked Wanda for the name of her supervisor. It was there that Wanda got slippery. That fish called Wanda reportedly said, "Come with me to security, now". The skateboarder refused. Only at the City of Vancouver's Carnegie Center is female assertiveness considered a "security" issue. And only at the City of Vancouver's Carnegie Center does expressing concern about the conduct of a staff person make you a candidate for a meeting with "security".

A meeting with security generally results in a report being written on you -- never on an offending staff person -- and typed into the City of Vancouver "security" database. It is impossible to have such a report expunged. Should you even start asking questions about this report, you may find that anonymous witnesses will suddenly be entered into the report. You will never, of course, be given the names of these anonymous witnesses, never be told what they said, and never be able to adequately defend yourself. In fact, demonstrating persistence in clearing your name is deemed an additional offence, justification in the eyes of "security" of barring you from the entire Carnegie building including the library. This is the Guantanamo Bay in which the fish called Wanda swims.

Power responded to the skateboarding woman's request for the name of her supervisor by giving her the name of the Carnegie librarian, Beth Davies. When it comes to civil liberties abuses at Carnegie, Davies has shown about as much spine as an oyster buried in the sand of Guantanamo Bay.

Powers, of course, knows that Davies will hold her accountable for nothing as the two are pals. At the library they spend extended periods of time, along with other library staff, laughing loudly and socializing behind the partition that serves as their office.

Like most women who go to Carnegie though, the skateboarding woman is capable of looking after herself, setting boundaries, that sort of thing. She told Power not to interfere in her life in future, that she had no reason to interact with her and that if she had a grievance against her in future, she could communicate it through one of the other library staff. (She alleges that Powers has interfered with her previously over petty issues. Power twice told a man talking to her in the library one evening to be quiet, while allowing other people to whisper or even talk loudly in the library. As mentioned earlier, Power herself regularly laughs and talks loudly with other staff for extended periods of time. Power also told the skateboarder on a previous occasion not to bring food into the library; the skateboarder complied only to witness Power bringing the full meal deal on a tray into the library. Mice in the library don't distinguish between crumbs left by staff or patrons.) Power responded that she had a right to interact with her if she was in the Library. Rather than discuss this issue further, Power announced, "I'm going to talk to security." Power strutted out of the library and up to the front desk in the lobby and spoke to a security guard sitting with the websurfer-boy receptionist.

The skateboard did not take the bait. She left.

The skateboarder knows what many Carnegie members know, that "I'm calling security" is code for, "I'm arranging to have you bullied." Carnegie security staff have no more ability to work out Power's dispute than she does. A grade ten education is required to work as Carnegie security, as confirmed by job postings that appear on the Centre bulletin board. Some of the security people have been fired for drug problems. One is an alcoholic routinely seen cavorting with prostitutes in the neighborhood, at times with his Carnegie security I.D. dangling from his neck. Being ill-equipped to deal with disputes, Carnegie security men routinely resort to bullying tactics, giving orders like, "Another word out of you and you're barred!". If you ask Security boss Skip Everall his name, he may tell you, "You're barred from the building now!" And security personnel are in no position to give a fair hearing to any complainant; they're CUPE members and the union would be displeased if they started writing-up fellow CUPE members.

To be fair to security guards, they are being used and abused by the higher ups at Carnegie. It is not part of the job description of security guards to have contentious issues between staff and Center patrons delegated to them for resolution. They haven't taken the social work courses or advanced communiction skills -- "I hear you" -- that Ethel Whitty and other staff have taken. But staff from Director Ethel Whitty to Library Assistant Wanda Power have images as "progressives" that they won't tarnish by telling low income people to put up and shut up, so they delegate this dirty work to the rough-around-the-edges security personnel. Then if Whitty gets a complaint about abuse by security personnel, she concludes that she can't take sides because, 'I wasn't there, I didn't see what happened'. But she knows exactly what is happening.

It is time the Vancouver Public Library pull out of Guantanamo Bay. And it is time fundraisers such as the Libary Foundation and Friends of the Vancouver Public Libary start fully disclosing to donors the rampant human rights abuses being perpetrated by libary staff. (We previously reported that Library assistant, Johann, called security on a man who farted in the library. He didn't have time to communicate effectively with the man because he (Johann) was in the middle of a chess game.)

If you don't have the communication skills to deal with people at Carnegie Center -- in other words, if you lied in your job interview about how much you 'enjoy working with people' -- request a transfer to the basement of the Central Branch and finish out your career reinforcing book spines. It's time those at the VPL crushing the spirits of low income people with their addiction to calling security and those telling library donors about the VPL's committment to enriching the human spirit made an effort to get onto the same page.