If Jacquie Forbes-Roberts, the Mayor’s top woman in his Civil City initiative, can’t be civil, she is going to be slapped with a Cease & Desist order. “This is bullying!”, says Carnegie Centre Board member Grant Chauncey of the behaviour of Forbes-Roberts’, who is also General Manager of Community Services. Chauncey was speaking to a small group of Carnegie Centre Board members and the public at a Community Relations Meeting at Carnegie Centre last Thursday afternoon, July 26th .
A couple of Carnegie Board members are heading to Pivot Legal Society on the Downtown Eastside to ask about the possibility of a Cease & Desist order for Forbes-Roberts. The first step, explained Chauncey, would be to have a lawyer send Forbes-Roberts a letter telling her to cease and desist and that if she does not, we will go to the courts to ask that she stop. Chauncey and others would like Forbes-Roberts to stop blocking Carnegie Board member Bill Simpson from entering the Carnegie building until such time as mediation can be arranged between Simpson and herself. Chauncey, like numerous Carnegie members, insists that Forbes-Roberts has no evidence to support barring Simpson from the building.
The Cease & Desist would be a response to a letter Forbes-Roberts had delivered to Simpson on June 21st, just after he was elected to the Carnegie Board of Directors. She notified the homeless man in the letter that he was barred from entering the Carnegie Centre “indefinitely”. Simpson now stands outside on the sidewalk as Board meetings take place inside, with security guards instructed to prevent him from entering the building. Supporters of Simpson say they want Forbes-Roberts to adopt a more civil approach to an elected official.
Chauncey pointed out that Carnegie Centre members make rules and regulations governing behaviour in the Centre and that Forbes-Roberts is overriding them. “She obviously has no respect for any of our rules. Within the guidelines that we have regarding behaviour, Bill Simpson has not broken an iota, anything. He has not to my knowledge broken any rule or regulation and she, Jacquie Forbes-Roberts, has made no accusation of anything he did wrong. And so they’re making a decision on what? We don’t know. But as far as it being legal…she doesn’t have a leg to stand on. She’s doing it to usurp the community.
“People are in an uproar about this,” said Sophia Friegang, a Board member.
One criticism of Forbes-Roberts is that she was not precise enough in her letter about alleged wrongdoing that had resulted in Simpson being barred from the building, making it difficult for him to defend himself. Forbes-Roberts informed Simpson in her letter that he was barred because he operates a web site, Downtown Eastside Enquirer .ca, which “features links” to the Downtown Eastside Enquirer blogspot which she claims contains “inaccuracies”. Simpson asked the obvious question when Carnegie Director Ethel Whitty who is supervised by Forbes-Roberts delivered the letter to him: “What are the inaccuracies?” Whitty refused to identify any.
“Has the City come back after giving us that first letter, giving us any indication as to why this is occurring other than the vaguest of things?” Chauncey asked Whitty. Whitty responded, “No. Other than that letter.” “If you ask me there’s no proof of anything…And if there was at all, they’d take legal action.”
“Having a link to a site is not the same as publishing a site,” said Board member Rachel Davis.
Although the only reason given in Forbes-Roberts’ letter for barring Simpson was that he “links” to the blog, the City did come up with a second reason after the barring attracted media attention. The second reason, announced by Whitty, was that there had been a Work Safe [WCB] complaint against Simpson by a Carnegie staff person who claimed that the blog created an unsafe environment at work. Rachel D. wasn’t buying it. “There’s nothing in that letter saying that William Simpson can’t come in because of Work Safe …If it’s a Work Safe issue, why don’t they just say it’s a Work Safe issue.” Whitty interjected, “It was alluded to in the letter.” Maybe she means “eluded”, says Serg, one of several Downtown Eastsiders who can’t find any hint of a Work Safe issue in the letter. Indeed Simpson has yet to be informed in writing or verbally that he is barred due to a Work Safe issue -- even though Whitty has announced this reason to the public on behalf of her boss Forbes-Roberts at two public meetings at Carnegie.
Chauncey, a former union member and outspoken supporter of the current CUPE strikers, has the Work Safe manual at home. “It’s not a Work Safe issue,” he said. “It’s just not.” He pointed out that there were no threats on that blog. “And I’ve looked and I’ve looked and I’ve looked and I’ve looked.”
Chauncey, like many Carnegie members, sees the Work Safe angle as a ruse. He explained that if inaccurate statements had been made on the blog, if there was “defamation” -- a word Forbes-Roberts used in the letter but for five weeks has evaded supporting with examples -- legal recourse is available. “You do it legally; you don’t hide behind some veil.” He is convinced that the City did not pursue the defamation issue legally because, “They’ve got nothing.”
Despite his vigorous support for legal action against Forbes-Roberts whose behaviour he believes will get worse if a check is not put on it, Chauncey is actually not a supporter of the DTES Enquirer blog. He believes the blog, in which contributors don’t identify themselves with real names is “gutless and cowardly and that [Simpson] should come in and apologize.”
Wilf R., a new Carnegie member, told Whitty that he was concerned that barring Simpson from Carnegie -- particularly a previous barring from the Learning Centre when he claims he was told that it was because he was blogging on the DTES Enquirer -- has resulted in him being "tarred as the blogger". Wilf R. claimed he heard people at Carnegie talking about Simpson as though he was the blogger. Indeed Whitty herself had just spoken of Simpson minutes earlier as though she assumed he was the blogger, saying "He can write about me all he wants. . . ." And indeed the blogger does write about her, criticizing her failure to consistently provide services Carnegie is funded to provide.
Friegang asked Whitty, "Don't you have a concern . . . that Bill Simpson might be wrongly accused?" She added, "If I were Director, I would be doing something about this. I would be doing something."
“There’s no proof that [Simpson] writes that blog,” said Debbie Gosselin, a Carnegie member who attended the meeting, and indeed Forbes-Roberts did not accuse him in the letter of actually writing it, only linking to it. Gosselin asked Whitty, “Are you saying that anybody who links to the Downtown Eastside Enquirer blog will be barred from Carnegie?”
Whitty responded by explaining that in barring Simpson, City lawyers working with Jacquie Forbes-Roberts made their decision “based on probability”. Simpson operates a website with the same name as the blog, and links to the blog appear at the top of his website “so he probably intends for people to read that blog.”
Although the Community Relations Committee discussed the Cease & Desist order, they require approval of a majority of Board members before getting any legal ball rolling. They unanimously passed a motion at Thursday’s meeting to ask Pivot Legal Society on the Downtown Eastside to for help in wording what Friegang called “a legal motion” to be brought to the next Board meeting.
Simpson is not entirely optimistic about Pivot Legal Society helping him though. He went to Pivot on his own shortly after he was banned from Carnegie but was rebuffed. Pivot claims in their literature that their goal is to fight civil liberties abuses of marginalized people on the Downtown Eastside, creating a “trickle up” effect which strengthens the civil liberties of everyone in society. When Simpson asked a Pivot lawyer for help with the Carnegie case, she responded, “But they’re our friends.”
At this point, Simpson, who calls himself “home-free” and “welfare-free” seems to be lawyer-free. When interviewed on Co-op Radio on Monday, along with Rachel D. and other Carnegie members, Simpson was asked if he had a lawyer. He responded that any lawyer interested in helping him could contact him at his website.
Whether Jacquie Forbes-Roberts will be ordered to Cease & Desist is not yet certain. It remains, to use the language of City lawyers, a “probability”.
[It has become necessary for supporters of Bill Simpson to tape meetings due to the fact that Whitty and the City regularly revise their stories -- this meeting was no exception -- about the various barrings of Simpson. Copies of tapes often find their way to the DTES Enquirer. Quotes in this post are taken from a tape of the meeting.]