Covenant Zone bloggers meet every Thursday in the atrium of the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library, 7-9 pm, in front of Blenz Coffee. Look for the blue scarves. This week, I'm sure we will be discussing the following (I've got a cold and might not make it, but I'll try to and I'm sure by fellow bloggers will be there) and other issues relevant to the eroding freedom of Canadians:
Here's an audio file to this morning's CBC interview of Ethel Whitty, Executive Director of the Carnegie Community Centre: Ethel Whitty Says Simpson Out Because Of Worksafe Complaint.
For those readers not familiar with Vancouver, the Carnegie Centre is a city-run Community Centre at the heart of Vancouver's most drug-ridden and impoverished neighbourhood. A political storm has been brewing in that district for several months now, stirred up by a daring blog that reports, among other things, on various failures of the staff at the Carnegie Centre, who are variously alleged to fall down on their jobs and to have a penchant for banning, from the Centre and its programs, anyone who speaks against them.
Yet, without providing evidence, Whitty tells the CBC:
"We're accepting of negative feedback".
She also says that the banning from the Carnegie Centre of homeless Bill Simpson, elected a Carnegie Board member by his fellow users of the community centre (a board whose meetings he cannot attend due to his banning) "arose because of a BC Worksafe Complaint... not able to say more [because of the legal process underway], would really like to hear from Mr. Simpson".
I have (thanks to Bill Simpson) a copy of the letter that the City of Vancouver, under the signature of Jacquie Forbes-Roberts, General Manager, Community Services Group, sent to Mr. Simpson on June 21, 2007, telling him he was banned from the Carnegie Centre. It makes no mention of a Work Safe claim. The letter notes that a website registered by Mr. Simpson has committed the sin of merely linking to the infamous Downtown Eastside Enquirer Blog, which the City alleges "make very serious allegations of misconduct against Carnegie Centre patrons and staff, and unreasonably invade people's privacy rights."
The letter continues:
Several Points are clear:Now, whether what has been alleged by the Downtown Eastside Enquirer blog is half-truth or not, the present blogger does not know, beyond the fact that certain accusations have the ring of truth since they entail revelations that must have happened somehow to someone. In any case, the bloggers at Downtown Eastside Enquirer are standing by (for many months now) the claims they have made about Carnegie staff, one of which, concerning the personal amorous affairs of one staff member with several Centre users that allegedly led to various successful and failed suicide attempts by upset lovers, was apparently the source of a Worker's Compensation Board Work Safe complaint, instigated by the alleged (though never named by the bloggers, as I understand it) Carnegie staff member/lover who felt that her personal safety had been compromised by the blogging that, while nameless, was apparently sufficiently detailed to identify its target to those familiar with the scene.
- you are the author of material on the DowntownEastsideEnquirer.ca site [note: Simpson's site has almost the same name as the blog in question, but is not in fact the same site]
-you are responsible for, and have control over, the content of the website as the site administrator,
-you have used the Centre's address and a Centre phone number as your own for Internet purposes and as the Contact Us address for the site, and
-your site links to a blog with numerous inaccuracies and allegations of misconduct, and unwarranted invasions of privacy of other patrons and staff at the Centre.
These actions are deeply disturbing to Centre administration and staff, because they are so clearly at odds with the Centre's goals and objectives. For example, as you are aware, the Centre's written, published guidelines require patrons and staff to treat one another with respect, settle differences and misunderstandings through patience and goodwill, and respect personal and private space of one another. Your website and blog respect none of these qualities.
While you have a right to free speech, that right is not boundless. Your right to free speech does not entitle you to damage people's reputations and invade their privacy by publishing or linking to inflammatory stories based on half-truths, rumor, innuendo, and hearsay, nor does it entitle you to use the Centre's facilities to pursue these objectives
We are continuing to investigate this matter.
Now while this Work Safe complaint is not mentioned in the City's letter to Simpson, banning him from the Carnegie Centre, it may be the case that Ethel Whitty's later claims that the banning arose out of a Work Safe complaint are factual, and not a "make it up as we go along" attempt to strengthen a weak case.
In any case, what should concern the larger blogging community, not to mention every Canadian citizen, is the Carnegie and City's ridiculous, to my mind, claim to have the right to ban someone for merely linking to a blog that the City simply alleges, with no attempt to prove the case, is home to "half truths and rumour", a blog that sticks to its guns amidst the heat.
Now, I showed this letter to a lawyer experienced in civil litigation, including defamation suits, and he was slightly amused at the devious legal tactics of his civic colleagues, as demonstrated by the letter. My lawyer suggested it was the kind of thing they might get away with; it was not a legally obvious point; it would require (highly paid) lawyers thrashing out the claims in court, to come to some resolution of the question of whether the City can do this to Simpson. And, as I understand it, homeless Bill Simpson could probably afford no more than a minute or two of your average lawyer's time. And it's not obvious that this is a case that will attract the pro bono charity of local lawyers.
The only other way this case might be resolved is if there is sufficient public outcry at the City's stupidity, and cavalier attitude towards free speech and linking on the internet, and its apparent unwillingness to address seriously the now widespread complaints being made about the Carnegie Centre.
I was not greatly impressed by the CBC's interview of Bill Simpson. The interviewer seemed unable to focus on or grasp the key points at issue, and Simpson comes across as a man somewhat stymied by the world who does not have an easy time conveying his thoughts, at least not under the pressure of a radio interview. That such a person would be deemed a verbal threat to those charged with serving that part of our city that is home to our most impoverished people, many of whom must demonstrate far more challenging mental traits than does Mr. Simpson, suggests that the Carnegie Centre may well not be up to the task of dealing with the tough realities of its neighbourhood. I rather suspect the alleged "half truths" of the Downtown Eastside Enquirer blog are rather more full.
In her CBC interview, Ethel Whitty suggests that she will let Simpson back into the Carnegie Centre if he arranges to meet with her, and come to some shared understanding of proper conduct. Whitty wants to save face, because she knows that banning someone for linking to a blog that led to an unresolved, perhaps not compelling, Work Safe complaint, is hardly face-making conduct.
I just hope the bloggers of Vancouver don't forget this attack on our free speech. Bureaucrats who don't want to be held accountable by bloggers need to learn that they have to become more transparent and capable of facing a wide range of complaints with more than a narrow legalistic argument that one can't comment on matters pertaining to an ongoing legal (Work Safe) matter.
Ethel Whitty takes on the tone of the victim, in her interview, the victim of irrational accusations that she need not seriously address. She is posing for a popularity contest, assuming her fellow bureaucrats in the CBC and the nicely-groomed professional classes will take her side. She is not facing up to the thrust of the Downtown Eastside Enquirer's many complaints about a long history of Carnegie banning those who speak out against it.
When a culture becomes addicted to victimary thinking, when the victim position is what is desired by all sides, we inevitably begin to erode free speech. The victim baiters at the BC Human Rights Commission will soon be forcing Maclean's magazine and Mark Steyn to appear before them on charges of "Islamophobia".
This kind of thing is not just a threat to one person or another. Free speech is indivisible. If they can take it away from one person, they can take it away from anyone, including presumably Muslims whose holy book is replete, on almost every page, with curses towards the unbeliever. They can at least make it too expensive for any publication to employ a crusader like Mark Steyn.
Covenant Zone exists to remind our fellow citizens that we each of us has a responsibility to defend and guarantee each other's freedom - our freedom as individuals, and not as members of officially valorized victim categories/groups - even if we don't like what the other guy does with it. Otherwise we can forget about living in a free society. The law certainly provides remedies where defamatory speech or publication is untrue. But if we start to allow bureaucrats in kangaroo courts, with little or no respect for due legal process, where accusers have legal costs covered, while the accused have to go to expense to defend themselves, to pronounce on defamation and to impose penalties on those who supposedly overstep the bounds of free speech, as defined by the kangaroo courts like our Human Rights Commissions, then we have taken a step towards a totalitarian state. And one thing that can be said about that is that if you think you're being victimized by the give and take of free speech in a free society, just wait for the real victimary horrors that must come with any reversal of our history back to a more sacrificially-bound culture and state.
I am Bill Simpson! So are you! Join us in the covenant zone, defend my freedom, before they come for you.
UPDATE, Jan 4:
I think the Downtown Eastside Enquirer makes a good point about how Whitty's use of the "WorkSafe" excuse may be a way to libel William Simpson with just the kind of innuendo the City of Vancouver claims, with yet no proof or justification, the DEE blog uses:
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."