By Michelle Stirling-Anosh
I’ve spent the past 2 years of my life pouring over Freedom of Information and Privacy (FOIP) files from the City of Calgary, Alberta Health Services (AHS) and SCAN which reveal that my husband has been the victim of needless bylaw harassment for 7 years; for the past 3 years directed by Ward 8 alderman. I have written dozens of letters, hundreds of pages, to all possible authorities and no one wants to be accountable – least of all Calgary city hall.
Registered mail to the Mayor a year ago goes unanswered. The city auditor has left – why? What’s rotten at city hall?
Last Friday John Mar came to my door, campaigning for votes. I asked if he recognized that this was the house he had tried to have condemned; the house he had directed gentrifying neighbours to use Alberta Health Services and SCAN as the ‘thin-edge-of-the-wedge’ – to find some alleged problem and drive out my husband’s legal rental operation. I asked why in all that time he had never once met with my husband, why had my husband’s right of due process been denied? Why had thousands of taxpayers’ dollars been wasted on harassing a legal, taxpaying, property owner who provides modest, affordable housing in a very convenient Bankview location? You guessed it. He didn’t have answers.
I’m quite steamed about this issue, having spent 7 years watching my husband being harassed by bylaw over seemingly ridiculous infractions. A handrail too short. For this they send an army of people? 2 inches of missing grout in the bathroom. Really? Install wired-in fire alarms (which don’t work if the power goes off – so I guess the previous battery alarmed system, that is O.K. for every other house, is maybe a good idea!).
Every ‘repair’ came with an incrementally higher bar to jump at the next inspection. These persistent inspections scared off many tenants – some of whom were marginalized to begin with.
Finally we moved into the apartment in 2012 to see what was really happening. I met with an uppity fire inspector whose first ‘safety’ mission was to inspect the new wired in fire alarms.
To do this, the ‘safety’ inspector stood on a rickety stool I warned him against, leaning over a stairwell with about a 20 foot death drop below. I was looking at a potential death or injury suit about to happen before my eyes.
This is a ‘safety’ inspection? Falls are the number one cause of death and disability and outnumber fires by ten fold.
That’s when I suggested my husband ask for his FOIP files. I thought perhaps there were one or two nasty comments in his file there that we could discuss with authorities and resolve these problems.
NO! We found mountains of problems – number one being that since 1995 the city KNEW this was a legal rental operation. So why had they played along with gentrifying neighbors for 7 years pretending it was not legal? That’s what most of the FOIP complaints are based on – ‘illegal suites.’
There’s more – we asked for FOIP files from Alberta Health Services (AHS)and found…there are almost none! Public health records are required to be kept, by law. But perhaps it was because, as the FOIP records revealed, the person in question at AHS was apparently assigned the task of gathering the FOIP files to send to us. Can you believe that?
Public health inspectors can shut down any operation on the spot. The city cannot do that. The city needs to go through a judicial process. But the Public Health Act requires that records be kept, precisely because of these sweeping powers. In my husband’s case, there are virtually no records – none that even match corresponding materials we got from the City of Calgary FOIP files!
We found that SCAN – Safer Communities and Neighborhoods – had been sent after my husband’s house twice by the gentrifiers – John Mar had directed authorities and the gentrifiers to engage SCAN.
We met with SCAN – they were the only responsive group. Once we showed them the FOIP docs we had demonstrating that it was just some crazy neighbor and the Ward 8 Alderman behind this – they immediately issued a written statement clarifying there was never any evidence against this house or owner and all files were closed.
They were angry that their limited budget, intended to fight real criminals engaged in trafficking and prostitution, had been wasted on harassment.
The City of Calgary has a policy of non-discrimination and inclusion. But we found that whenever my husband had rented to the rainbow of people out there – attempts to drive him out intensified. The black man, the Arab student, the single mom, the unmarried couple, the lesbian chef, the aboriginal construction worker…
My husband welcomed any reasonable tenant – it was the city and the gentrifying neighbors who discriminated against them!
They had other methods, these neighbors. A deaf tenant offered my husband half the rent in cash once – telling him that he ‘knew’ the suites were illegal. Guess the ‘friendly neighbors’ told him.
Then there’s the couple that punched a hole in the stainless steel sink (which is pretty hard to do!), told my husband they’d replace it but did not and continued to use the sink…then complained of black mold and in a recorded conversation we have, said that the female tenant was ‘working with the alderman…you can’t believe how many people are working against you…I signed all the documents…your house is going to be condemned…bulldozed.’
The subsequent inspection revealed no black mould – but the FOIP documents show emails from an outraged neighbor demanding to know what went wrong – showing my husband’s new Kijiji rental listing. Oh yeah, in that one the gentrifier claims my husband has criminal links. This stems from some insider police information about a criminal caught in the vicinity that this gentrifier had smeared on my husband! No one ever requested proof – but this is smeared on my husband’s file and now becomes part of the ‘evidence’ (even though it is rumour – my husband knew nothing of this until the FOIP files of 2010). It’s like being in Kafka’s “The Trial” – accused and guilty…but by whom, for what….where’s the trial, the opportunity to defend oneself? There isn’t one.
No one at city hall wants to touch this. City Manager sent our letter to Dr. Hargesheimer. She resigned a year later. We never heard from her at all, despite hand-delivering letters to her at city hall.
Accountable? No one is accountable at Calgary City Hall. So think before you vote. It’s all very nice that Mr. Nenshi claims that accountability is very important to him. That is not our experience.
John Mar also claims to be accountable – really? How will he account for these thousands of dollars of city employee time wasted on harassing one of his constituents – a legal, taxpaying property owner – just to satisfy the whims of gentrifiers who would prefer to not live near a grandfathered-into-the-zoning rental operation. (LOL – Bankview is full of converted houses)
You can see many of the actual documents in my compilation book “When you can’t fight city hall…Go FOIP Yourself.” It is available on Amazon Kindle. http://www.amazon.ca/fight-hall-Go-F-O-I-P-Yourself-ebook/dp/B00FP3PRMI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1381793415&sr=8-1&keywords=when+you+can%27t+fight+city+hall+…go+foip+yourself