The Carnegie Learning Center is in a tough spot during the current strike of Canadian Union of Public Employees in Vancouver. It is on the third floor of the Carnegie Center, a building operated by CUPE members who have been on strike for the past two months. But the two teachers in the Learning Center aren’t CUPE members. Lucy Alderson and Betsy Alkenbrack get their pay cheques from Capilano College in North Vancouver, which has jointly run the Learning Center since Carnegie gave the Vancouver School Board the boot due to ideological differences a decade ago.

Like most teachers, Alderson was supposed to return to work after Labour Day. Instead, she is planning a trip to Labour Relations to ask them to declare the Learning Center an essential service.

Alderson has done her homework. She invited a bunch of the Center’s learners and volunteers to a meeting Thursday at Carnegie to discuss strategy for the request to Labor Relations. With Betsy Alkenbrack doing the writing, they created a “draft” press release. Calling themselves, “Common Sense People of the Downtown Eastside”, they included in their press release a list of things that are essential about the Learning Center. But anyone on the Downtown Eastside with an ounce of common sense can see that the list is far from accurate.  For the list and where these Carnegie services are duplicated on the Downtown Eastside, read the full text of this article on the Downtown Eastside Enquirer.

The list is summed up on the press release with a blatant lie: “For most residents, this is the only place they have access to computers. This is a serious human rights violation, since most government information and access to services is only available on line.”

There is no doubt that early in the CUPE strike, Carnegie patrons missed the computers they had been accustomed to having easy access to at Carnegie. But as the strike dragged on many people discovered other places to go, such as the Industry Canada drop-in job search place, Pathways, kitty corner to Carnegie at Main &Hastings.  Or the University of B.C. Learnng Exchange just 2 1/2 blocks down Main St.

In the press release it was stated that the closing of the Carnegie Learning Center is causing “pain and destruction”. If that’s the case, why did Alderson at times lock the doors of the Learning Center or evacuate everyone, always with the same excuse, “A volunteer didn’t show up.” Alderson would sit in the Learning Center by herself while low income people who wanted access to computers peered through the windows at her, resulting in her being described on the Downtown Eastside Enquirer as a “sea otter at the aquarium”.
When bloggers began reporting these too frequent closures — which were
also occurring on Saturdays when it was the responsibility of CUPE
members to keep the Center open — Alderson and Alkenbrack participated
in a witch hunt for the blogger, interrogating a volunteer about who
could be blogging. Then Alderson personally barred a homeless man, Bill Simpson, for suspected blogging.

The barring of Simpson, which was later expanded to include the entire building by City managers under pressure from CUPE members, was criticized by Carnegie Board member Sophia Friegang as a “human rights” issue. Friegang got nowhere and resigned over the issue.

But Freigang’s criticism didn’t prevent the promotion of the Learning Center in the press release as a place where human rights are respected. The press release began with the heading, “LABOUR DISPUTE PUTS LEARNING AND HUMAN RIGHTS ON HOLD” and ended with an appeal to both sides to resolve the strike so that the Learning Center can operate: “Lives and human rights are at stake.”

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