Red tent occupant James Oickle must have a laserjet printer inside his portable office
We get a lot of messages from folks who say that when they send emails, letters or leave phone messages for Vancouver's Mayor the line on the other end, in a matter of speaking, goes dead. Whenever there's an inquiry outside of Gregor Robertson's comfort zone there's a perception that he simply ignores it. But one email from a concerned citizen on Tuesday afternoon received a swift response from hizzonner.
The story of James Oickle, a man from New Brunswick who received a ticket for pitching a "red tent" provided by Pivot Legal Society on a sidewalk next to Vancouver’s provincial court several weeks ago, took a strange twist on Tuesday. The VPD had to say "oops" and blame it on a rookie cop's inexperience, and are withdrawing the ticket. You can read the Vancouver Sun and Province's stories, replete with outraged comments from dozens of readers.
In response to the news story which circulated on Monday that Pivot Legal were disputing the ticket on Oickle's behalf, this email from a citizen named Denise Clarke was sent to Mayor Robertson Tuesday at noon:
From: Denise Clarke
Sent: Tuesday, May 04, 2010 12:00 PMâ€¨
To: Robertson, Gregorâ€¨
Subject: Temporary Shelters
I would like to express my support of respecting the Charter of Rights of homeless people to protect themselves from the elements by erecting temporary shelters on public property.
While I enjoy the priveledge (sic) of a comfortable home many do not have this basic need and it seems cruel to displace them by disallowing them the right to set up a safe place to sleep.
Given that Robertson campaigned on a platform to end "street" homelessness (not actual homelessness), it shouldn't surprise us that he feels politically vulnerable on this subject. What Ms. Clarke got was a very quick response from the Mayor:
From: Robertson, Gregor <Gregor.Robertson@vancouver.ca>
Date: May 4, 2010
Subject: RE: Temporary Shelters
To: Denise Clarke
Thank you for your email.
Upon learning of the incident of Mr. Oikle being issued a ticket, I spoke to Chief Jim Chu and as you may have already heard, we were able to determine this morning that it was a VPD officer, not City of Vancouver Engineering staff, that issued the by-law ticket for obstructing the sidewalk. The VPD have followed up with the officer and it appears that it is a case of a brand new officer not completely understanding the VPD policy of deferring the matter of people camping in parks or on sidewalks to the City. The VPD will be cancelling the ticket and will be taking steps to ensure that all new members get refreshers on all current policies.
Again, thanks for taking the time to write.
Mayor of Vancouver
Now, excuse me for wondering aloud here for a moment. James Oickle says he must sleep on the street because he was kicked out of his SRO for allowing his daughter from Quebec to crash there with him – perhaps Pivot could have pleaded his case with his landlord instead? Then Oickle shows up sleeping in a red tent provided to him by Pivot Legal Society. Then a rookie cop hands him a fine. Then Pivot Legal represents Oickle as he takes on City Hall – what an amazing coincidence. Pivot's letter describes "harassment" from City officials.
Oickle describes the chain of events to the Sun:
“But when Pivot [Legal Society] gave me a tent to live in, and Wendy from Carnegie [Community Action Committee] offered me her services, I thought I might as well be an activist with these guys, too.”
Gee, isn't that great that he spontaneously decided to become a fellow activist.
Well, at least Wendy Pederson thinks so. Here is Wendy's response to the email from Mayor Gregor Robertson:
From: Wendy Pedersen
Subject: RE: [dnc-members] Fwd: RE: Temporary Shelters
Received: Tuesday, May 4, 2010, 6:53 PM
Right ON!!! This means tents are allowed on sidewalks! Bring them on. The sidewalk near the Courthouse is really big. Lots of room. Gotta get that bathroom built across the street again – it was knocked down by a truck a month or so ago.
So the sequence of events is that Clarke sends an email to the Mayor at noon, and by dinner time we have city policy in writing, as interpreted by one of the city's most notable poverty activists. Nobody can say now that Gregor Robertson isn't quick on his feet when he wants to be!
What may interest our readers is the strange bedfellows that Mayor Robertson and the Pivot Legal Society are. Pivot Legal has been sustained by grants for years from several organizations including the Tides Canada Foundation, whose board has Robertson's key political adviser and fundraiser Joel Solomon as Vice-Chair. Pivot were given guidance by Solomon's Renewal Partners, the company that spends Carol "RE" Newell's millions.
Pivot Legal occupies space in the Pivot Legal Society Building, which was purchased with Renewal's help, and money provided by VanCity Credit Union, which now has Vancouver Courier columnist Allen Garr as a director. Pivot Legal also has Joel Solomon's wife, Dana Bass Solomon – CEO of Hollyhock on Cortes Island – on their board of directors.
The Red Tent campaign is an organized political action that was timed to coincide with the 2010 Olympics. What it became was a bit of a media dud, as Olympic partiers (and the world's media) became bored of the folks occupying Concord's property down on Hastings Street. The comments on one account of the action kind of sum up the public cynicism, including one commenter who went out of the way to cite the Tides Foundation's part in the red tent campaign:
Beware of Pivot legal society the sponsors of the red tent campaign. The persons/foundations funding this organization have hidden investment objectives. Follow the online trail and you'll discover the truth behind the tides foundation grants that put people out of work and on the streets.
I'll grant you it's a bit of an obscure statement talking about "hidden investment objectives" and an "online trail", but it certainly has the research staff on the 23rd floor at CityCaucus Tower curious.
So the question we might want to email to email@example.com is this. Since your top political supporter and his wife are advising and/or giving providing financial support to a group who are agitating for the right for people to pitch tents in public spaces, should we conclude that this is something you are in favour of?
Maybe this is what social change looks like.
- post by Mike