It may be true that you can’t fight City Hall. But if you hire a lawyer you might at least break through stonewalling by Vancouver City Hall Community Services General Manager, Jacquie Forbes-Roberts, and her in-house lawyer David Hill, both of whom have been thumbing their noses at the rule of law.

Carnegie Board member Rachel Davis forked over her own money to retain Vancouver lawyer Gregory Bruce to review the City’s treatment of a homeless man, William “Bill” Simpson (photo above). Bruce didn’t say anything in his letter to City Hall that Carnegie members haven’t been saying for months, but sometimes saying it on law firm stationery makes all the difference.

Bruce sent a letter to Hill dated March 11, 2008 about the Simpson matter. “As you likely know, Mr. Simpson was advised he was barred from the [Carnegie Community] Centre in a letter dated 21 June 2007 from Ms. Jacquie Forbes-Roberts. . . . .”

Forbes-Roberts notified Simpson in her letter that he was barred “indefinitely” from the Carnegie Community Centre for operating a website which “features links” to the Downtown Eastside Enquirer blog which criticizes Carnegie. Yet City staff failed to come up with even one example of libelous content on the blog when asked by Simpson to do so. The Downtown Eastside Enquirer is confident that none exists.

Bruce wrote: “The barring of Mr. Simpson from the Centre raises issues of due process, free speech, and compliance with the policy of the Centre. . . .” Free speech is a phrase with a history of falling on deaf ears of City staff. Carnegie Board member Sophie Friegang resigned last summer after the Carnegie Board and management refused to remedy the barring of Simpson; she stated at a public meeting that she had “poured over” the Downtown Eastside Enquirer blog and was convinced that its content was well within the boundaries of “free speech”.

In his letter, Bruce went on to express in legalese what Downtown Eastsiders had known instinctively, that the City is acting as though they are above the law. “The letter from Ms. Forbes-Roberts found Mr. Simpson guilty of association with a blog entitled downtowneastsideenquirer.blogspot.com via links with blogspot.com. . . . Guilt by association is no basis for barring someone from a public facility and is an offensive concept with a long history of disrepute. Guilt by association is also contrary to the rule of law.”

Bruce pointed out later in his letter what Downtown Eastsiders have been pointing out for months, that Forbes-Roberts and the City-appointed Director of Carnegie Center, Ethel Whitty, can’t get their stories straight about why Simpson was barred.  Bruce pointed out that the “factual basis” for the barring of Simpson is not only “in dispute” but “differs from that put forward recently by Ms. Whitty.” He was apparently referring to an interview Whitty gave on CBC Radio during which she contradicted her boss Forbes-Roberts on the barring of Bill Simpson. Only one reason has been given to Simpson in writing though for the barring, that he operates a website which “features links” to the Downtown Eastside Enquirer blog.

In hammering away at the fact that a barring from a City building should be accompanied by an ability to appeal, Bruce went where many Carnegie members and at least one lawyer have gone before, over the past decade. “[T]he letter provides no avenue for appeal, no timeline for further investigations and determinations, and makes no effort to remedy, mediate or clarify the situation. . . . Barring a person from the Centre is an extreme action and should not be taken lightly or without providing the barred person with an opportunity to be heard and to appeal.”

Bruce essentially called Forbes-Roberts a dictator. “The letter from Ms. Forbes-Roberts seems dictatorial and was issued without any warning….” Bruce’s view of Forbes-Roberts is not unlike that of Friegang who stated at a Board meeting last summer that Forbes-Roberts seemed to be giving orders from “on high”.

Bruce never got around to using the phrase “police state” that Downtown Eastsiders have taken to using to describe the conduct of City management and staff at Carnegie Centre, but he refers to the brazen lack of tolerance for dissent that has prompted the use of this phrase. “The Centre serves and is part of the complex, diverse and politicized community in the Downtown Eastside. There will be dissenting voices and critical comments within this community. This should be expected and tolerated. . . .Barring should not be used as a vehicle for shunning those whom have rights and equal entitlement to the services offered at the Centre.”

At the close of his letter, Bruce attempted to end months of stonewalling by the City on the issue of the barring of Bill Simpson: “Ms. Davis requests that you assist in clarifying this issue. To date, Mr. Simpson awaits a follow up letter from Ms. Forbes-Roberts and has not received a reply to his letter sent to her in February 2008.”

Will the several hundred dollars Davis spent on Bruce result in straight answers from City staff who have spent thousands of public dollars on ass-covering and stonewalling? I wouldn’t put money on it.

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