Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Fight Breaks Out in Carnegie Kitchen

Photo: Opening of the Community Court in 2008. Judge Thomas Gove stands on the far right of the photo taken in the internal courtyard.

It's not easy getting volunteers to work alongside well paid union members in the Carnegie kitchen for 80 cents an hour in food stamps. Now the kitchen has started to take "volunteers" who are sentenced to community service by the new Community Court.

A fight that broke out Monday morning in the cafeteria reportedly involved at least one of these petty convicts/volunteers -- although that hasn't been confirmed, the kitchen definitely uses convicts from the Community Court. A volunteer with a long brown ponytail (he is a good volunteer, congenial with customers) and a customer buying breakfast (he also volunteers at Carnegie) started yelling at one another. The volunteer came around the counter to the side where the customer was standing. It got loud -- "Let's go outside!!" And there was a lot of aggressive gesturing.

But there was no actual violence. So spectators were surprised when police showed up later. Maybe if the Community Court is involved, police have to be involved.

Any defense lawyer, though, would be remiss if he or she didn't look closely at the records of staff and management at Carnegie who are writing reports or providing testimony about their clients from Community Court.

At Carnegie, the cons are not only in the kitchen.

There is evidence that when Director Ethel Whitty and Security Co-ordinator are producing reports on low income people, they allow politics to overshadow facts. If a CUPE member is involved in any sort of conflict with a volunteer, the CUPE member will be exonerated. As Whitty stated at a public meeting, "I have to support my staff." Management has been known to be selective about what witnesses they talk to, ignoring any who won't give them the slant they may find most politically desirable. And it is old news that management has been prone to manufacturing witnesses when convenient, not one or two but huge groups of them conjured up after the fact from an almost deserted room. There is even radio tape of Whitty manufacturing false accusations -- accusations that can be indisputably demonstrated to be false -- against a low income man who happened to have fallen out of favor with a CUPE staff person. Both Whitty and Everall should have been disqualified from any involvement with a Community Court.

Not only are convicts placed at risk by being sent to Carnegie for supervision by management staff with a record of operating in a manner, as lawyer Gregory Bruce put it, "contrary to the rule of law", the public is being put at risk by this joint venture between the Community Court and the Carnegie kitchen. A man who uses Carnegie on a regular basis has reported seeing a man injecting drugs into his arm in the alley next to Carnegie and, two or three days later, seeing the same man working in the kitchen at Carnegie. He told kitchen coordinator, Catriona, "You're putting us at risk!"

Judge Thomas Gove designed the Community Court. He got an award for innovation. What can eaters expect to get?

The food at the Carnegie cafeteria is actually good, much better than most cafeterias. They use lots of healthy stuff like kale and chard, which they reportedly get from stores when it is too old to be sold but still good enough to toss into salads.

Would you like the hepatitis dressing?

Michael Jackson Memorial Watched at Pigeon Park

I walked by Pigeon Park this morning and there was a cluster of people sitting on park benches in the drizzle watching Michael Jackson's memorial. They were watching it on a television parked on the sidewalk in front of the second hand store.

I stopped and the words, "I Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer" appeared on a red strip across the bottom of the screen. A native guy standing up close to the tv set turned to me and said, "That's Stevie Wonder singing."

A woman stopped and stood watching. Tears streamed down her face.

As I walked up Hastings St afterwards, I was thinking of Michael Jackson and the presumption of innocence. The enormous resources of the state of California were used in an attempt to convict him of child sexual abuse and he was found not guilty. I don't know what the evidence against him was. When I watched more of the Memorial later on the internet, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee was on stage saying that she was following the American way, which is to consider somebody "innocent until proven otherwise".

I didn't like the way Jackson got mixed up with the Nation of Islam though. They're anti-semitic. The bio-mom of Jackson's two oldest children reportedly disapproved of their influence; she's Jewish. Stuart Backerman in Vancouver, who moved to Neverland for three years to be Jackson's publicist, said in a local interview that he left when the Nation of Islam started taking over Jackson's affairs as he didn't agree with their views. In another interview, he said he got "pushed out" by them. But he still "loves" Jackson and prizes the black signature hat Jackson gave him as a gift.

Overall, I find the media hype around Jackson's death and the endless parade of sordid details less captivating than his dancing. (Although I was momentarily captivated by the sight of his two older children with hair obviously died darker for his Memorial, making them match up better with the Jackson family.) I've been largely ignoring the television coverage but I still watch the video of his Bad Tour Live in Japan.