City of Vancouver doesn’t think Airbnb’s influence on the City Hall is a matter of public interest

Would attempts by a multi-billion dollar corporation to influence city administration be considered a matter of public interest?

City of Vancouver does not think so.

On November 3, 2017, I sent the following freedom of information request to the Freedom of Information office of the City of Vancouver by email:

Copies of all documents, including emails, memos, briefing notes, powerpoint presentations, manuals, and Q&As containing the words “AIRBNB” or “ALEX DAGG” or “SHORT TERM RENTAL” or “PUBLIC HEARING” for the time period Sep 1, 2017 to Oct 30, 2017.

Following correspondence from the FOI office, on November 10, 2017, the FOI request was modified as follows:

Copies of all documents including emails, memos, briefing notes, power point presentations, manuals, and Q&A’s containing the words “AIRBNB” or “ALEX DAGG” or “SHORT TERM RENTAL” or “PUBLIC HEARING” from September 1, 2017 to October 30, 2017 to or from Mayor Robertson, Kaye Krishna, and Janice MacKenzie.

On November 23, 2017, the FOI office assessed a fee of $690 to fulfill the request.

On November 30, 2017, I requested a fee waiver on the grounds that the information sought was a matter of public interest and public safety, as per Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, ss. 75(1), 75(5)(b) and BC Housing (Re), 2014 BCIPC 45:

I wish request a fee waiver on the grounds of public interest .

Has the subject matter been a matter of recent public debate?
Yes. The City of Vancouver’s inaction on the Airbnb file, and the new bylaws, have been widely publicized in the media and debated in forums.

Does the subject of the records relate directly to the environment, public health or safety?
Yes. The public may be at risk of various property crimes and fraud associated with Airbnb.

Would dissemination of the information yield a public benefit by
– disclosing an environmental, public health or safety concern
– contributing meaningfully to the development or understanding of an important environmental, health, or safety issue, or
– assisting public understanding of an important policy, law, program, or service?

Yes. Short term rentals are a public safety concern. Politicians being influenced by large corporations is a public safety concern. Releasing the information requested will contribute contributing meaningfully to the development or understanding of the issue. Given the allegations of City officials’ involvement with Airbnb, it would assist public understanding of an important policy, law, program, or service.

Do the records show how the public body is allocating financial or other resources?
Yes.

Is your primary purpose to disseminate information in a way that could reasonably be expected to benefit the public, or to serve a private interest?
My objective of obtaining this information is to release it on my blog.

Are you able to disseminate the information to the public?
I will be releasing the information I receive on my blog at (https://rezel.ca). I have significant online presence and I’m able to use that to disseminate the information.

On December 1, 2017, the FOI office denied my fee waiver request without any explanation simply stating

Rohana, thank you for your feedback below. I am afraid we are unable to waive the fee based on public interest or public safety. I am going to suggest that you narrow your request in order to avoid a fee.

Today, I wrote to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia asking a for a review of the fee request denial.

[Photo Credit: Paul Krueger]

Letter to Mayor and Council: A shadow has been cast over the proposed Airbnb bylaws

Dear Mayor and Council,

Today, you will be voting on a new set of proposed bylaws, which, if passed, would make Airbnb and other short term rentals legal in Vancouver. The move to legalize short term rentals in the city have been spearheaded by Kaye Krishna, General manager of Development, Buildings, and Licensing.

Ms. Krishna served as a principal at the New York City-based lobbying company HR&A Advisors between October 2013 and her appointment to the City of Vancouver post. It has been recently revealed that during Ms. Krishna’s time with HR&A, Airbnb commissioned HR&A to produce three reports, in 2013, 2014 and 2015, highlighting Airbnb’s positive contributions to New York City.

It has also been recently revealed that sections of Ms. Krishna’s report to the Vancouver City Council bore a striking resemblance to the content found in Airbnb-commissioned reports produced by her former company.

There have also been calls for Ms. Krishna’s resignation over her perceived reluctance to enforce the existing bylaws against short term rentals.

I firmly believe that a shadow has been cast over the proposed bylaws you will be voting on today. For that reason, I urge you to postpone the vote on these bylaws until a thorough investigation is carried out into the issues raised above.

Your decision today will shape the Vancouver of tomorrow. It could be one where individuals, families and communities thrive. It could also end up being a mere playground for the rich where those who work and contribute to the city are no longer able to afford to live in the city.

You are duty bound to get the new bylaws right. Otherwise, you risk hurting the hundreds of thousands of citizens of our city who elected you and to whom you are answerable.

Thank you,
Rohana Rezel

Letter to City of Vancouver: Accepting Property Use Complaints over Twitter

To:
Mayor Gregor Robertson
Connie Pavone, Executive Assistant to the Mayor’s Chief of Staff
Jessie Adcock, CTO
Kaye Krishna, General manager of Development, Buildings, and Licensing

Dear Sir and Mesdames,

I learnt yesterday that the City of Vancouver has abruptly decided to stop accepting property use bylaw infraction complaints sent to @CityofVancouver Twitter account.

A quick analysis of @CityofVancouver Twitter account’s posting history shows that the City has been accepting such complaints over Twitter for years, but decided to stop doing so once Twitter handle @VISTRO11 started reporting illegal Airbnb hotels.

It also appears that the City continues to accept reports of other bylaw violations over Twitter, but has decided to exclude just illegal Airbnb reports.

I find your decision to be arbitrary and capricious.

There would be no @VISTRO11 were it not for your nonfeasance. By wilfully deciding to ignore reports of bylaw violations in such an arbitrary and capricious manner, you seem to be pushing the needle from nofeasance to malfeasance.

I respectfully urge you to reconsider your decision, and resume accepting property use bylaw infraction complaints sent to @CityofVancouver Twitter account.

Thank you,
Rohana Rezel

My speech at the Public Hearing on regulating short-term rentals in Vancouver

My name is Rohana Rezel, here as an individual, and I’m speaking against this motion.

Airbnb’s Alex Dagg told you that “The vast majority of our hosts are everyday people and families sharing the extra space at their homes a few nights each month to earn modest supplemental income”

But out of curiosity, I went and checked the Inside Airbnb website to see if what Alex Dagg said was true. What I found was that 68% of all units were entire homes or apartments, 58% were rented for more than 60 days a year, and 36% were commercial operators.

I can only conclude, that either Airbnb’s statements were based on alternative facts or that Alex Dagg was bearing false witness. But why?

As I was in the lounge on Tuesday, waiting for my turn to speak, I talked to people who have been evicted by their landlords to make way for illegal Airbnb hotels. We know that this is an all too common occurrence in this city.

Entire apartment buildings are being turned into airbnb hotels displacing dozens of long term tenants at a time. We heard about the nightmare on Pender Street where Anoop Majithia’s Plan A Real Estate tried to throw scores of vulnerable renters out onto the streets to make way for an Airbnb hotel. Some victims of these Airbnb evictions are living in their cars. Many others have been forced onto the streets.

The City’s own studies, and research done by many others such as Karen Sawatzky, have conclusively proven that Airbnb continues to erode our city’s chronically inadequate rental stock.

Airbnb is currently illegal. Yet, we have 6,000-plus units listed right now in this city. And in comparison, we have under 1,000 long term rental vacancies. There are six times as many short term rentals as there are long term rental vacancies. So how can 6,000 people break the law with complete impunity?

Is the City incompetent or impotent? Or is our town being run by a bunch of venal politicians?

Think about it.

It took months for the city to shut down the illegal Airbnb hotel that the developer Onni was running. Onni’s parent company is a major Vision Vancouver donor.

Airbnb is a cancer that’s destroying communities. Destroying families. Destroying lives. It takes a special kind of a sociopath to vote to legalize a company that’s wreaking such havoc in this city and many other great cities around the world. If you have even a vestige of a conscience left, you would not vote for this by-law.

I support families who are “sharing the extra space at their homes a few nights each month”.

Fun fact: they can a run a perfectly legal bed and breakfast today under the existing bylaws with a simple B&B business licence. So, we don’t need this dog and pony show to legalize what’s unethical and immoral. Instead, I urge you to send this bylaw back and strengthen the existing bylaw so it does the following:

  1. Increase the fines for illegal short term rental operators to $20,000 per infractions as they do in some cities
  2. Make even advertising units on short term rental platforms without a B&B licence an infraction
  3. Create a full-time enforcement team funded by the increased fines
  4. Take Airbnb and other short term rental operators to court to extract identities of the violators
  5. Use what’s left over from the fines collected to support affordable housing programs

Airbnb and the political class are trying to frame this as a war between homeowners and renters. But it’s not.

One thing we learnt from the speakers who spoke in support of Airbnb is that many homeowners are forced to run hotels in their own homes because of the unafforbability crisis plaguing our region. Once again, the Vision Vancouver administration in the City, and the former BC Liberal government that ran the province, to the ground some might say, are responsible for this sorry state of affairs. The reason we are in this mess is because we have allowed international money launderers and tax evaders to speculate on our housing market, with near complete impunity.

If you really want to end this problem once and for all, stop treating housing as a commodity, and start recognizing housing as a human right.

Thank you

Absentee vote projections for BC election 2017

Update: Elections BC has revised the results for Coquitlam-Burke Mountain citing a “transposition error”. The projects have been updated to reflect this change.

Here’s my attempt to project absentee vote projections for the cliffhanger ridings from last night.

Data

BC Election final results 2013

BC Election preliminary results 2017

Method

First, I calculated the absentee vote as a percentage of preliminary (non-absentee) votes.

Coquitlam-Burke Mountain – 2013
Douglas Horne Chris Wilson
LIB NDP
Prelim subtotal 8,868 6,420
s. 98 Special 24 36
s. 99 Absentee – in ED 482 439
s. 100 Absentee – out of ED 176 209
s. 101 Absentee – advance 41 53
s. 104 Voting in DEO office 149 143
s. 106 Voting by mail 26 15
Absentee subtotal 898 895
absentee as % of prelim 10.13% 13.94%

I then used that as a proxy to calculate the absentee ballots for 2017, and thus obtain the projected grand total.

Prelim 2017 Absentee as %

of prelim 2013

Projected Total 2017
Electoral District LIB NDP LIB NDP LIB NDP
Coquitlam-Burke Mountain 9,514 9,344 10.13% 13.94% 10,551 10,611
Courtenay-Comox* 10,049 10,058 11.16% 13.21% 11,171 11,386
Maple Ridge-Mission 9,723 9,843 9.77% 9.95% 10,673 10,822


According to my projections,  Coquitlam-Burke Mountain will flip from Liberal to NDP, and NDP will hold onto Courtenay-Comox and Maple Ridge-Mission with increased margins.

This will make it a 42-42 tie, with Andrew Weaver’s Green’s emerging as the ultimate kingmaker.

Courtenay-Comox is a new riding, but it is not too different to Comox Valley, so I used number for Comox Valley to project the outcome for Courtenay-Comox. Another factor to note here is that the BC Liberal Jim Benninger used to be the base commander of CFB Comox. As a result, this is the riding I’m least confident about in projecting.

I didn’t try to forecast the outcome for Richmond-Queensborough absentee count because it is a brand new riding.

[Photo Credit: Dane Low]

Screening myself for Canadian values

The Hon. Dr. K. Kellie Leitch, P.C., O.Ont., M.D., M.B.A., F.R.C.S.(C)
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6
Canada

 

March 07, 2016

 

Screening immigrants for Canadian values

 

The greatest regret of my life is that, as an immigrant already here in Canada, I will not be able to prove myself worthy of being a Canadian by being subjected to the screening process proposed by you to ensure that I uphold and adhere to Canadian values. Thus, I have decided to screen myself on my own initiative, and, using as a benchmark values you, a paragon of Canadianness, have demonstrated throughout your long and illustrious political career.

 

Question Kellie Leitch Rohana Rezel
Do you belong to an organization that has criminally rigged every election it has taken part in? YES1 NO
Have you defended the temporary foreign worker program even as Canadians were being thrown out of work? YES2 NO
Have you ever encouraged neighbours to spy on and denounce each other to the government? YES3 NO

 

Given my abject failure on the first three Canadian values that you hold dear, I shall test myself no further. I sincerely apologize for deciding to come to Canada without understanding what it means to be a Canadian.

 

I will go and get myself deported now.

 

Yours faithfully,

 

Rohana Rezel

 

References

 

  1. 2006 “In-and-out” scandal
    http://www.macleans.ca/general/conservatives-agree-to-plea-deal-in-in-and-out-scandal/


2008 Del Mastro scandal
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/tory-mp-dean-del-mastro-charged-by-elections-canada-with-concealing-21000/article14547903/



2011 Robofraud Scandal
http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/key-facts-in-canada-s-robocalls-controversy-1.2736659

2015 Bal Gosal vandalism scandal
https://thinkpol.ca/2015/10/17/conservatives-facing-criminal-investigation-over-election-law-violation-for-the-4th-election-in-a-row/

 

  1. As RBC was replacing Canadian workers with Temporary Foreign Workers, Kellie Leitch defended the TFW program


https://www.facebook.com/pg/drigcanada/videos/?ref=page_internal



  1. Conservatives pledge funds, tip line to combat ‘barbaric cultural practices’

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-election-2015-barbaric-cultural-practices-law-1.3254118

 

RCMP must charge former PM Harper and Harper’s PMO over Duffy scandal

April 21st, 2016

Commissioner Bob Paulson

RCMP National Headquarters
Headquarters Building
73 Leikin Drive
Ottawa ON K1A 0R2

Charge Former PM Harper and Harper’s PMO over Duffy Scandal

Dear Sir,

Justice Charles H. Vaillancourt verdict today on the Duffy trial is loud and clear:  Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Nigel Wright and Mr. Harper’s PMO are the real guilty ones. I refer to the following sections from the official verdict[1]:

[1090] The only ones having an elevated corrupt purpose here were the conspiring members of the — 265 — PMO and their Senate leadership collaborators who acted out, and coerced onto Senator Duffy, a political damage control “scenario” to protect the Prime Minister and his government from political scandal.

[1110] The PMO were also very active working behind the scenes to get all their ducks in a row. They attempted to get the Conservative Party of Canada to provide the funds for the repayment. When that failed, Nigel Wright stepped up and provided the funding out of his own pocket. He explained that the $90,000.00 payment did not impact his bottom line. It seemed that this sum was a mere bagatelle. Mr. Wright certainly did not view his financial contribution and payment as untoward behaviour. He took the position that he had made an agreement with Senator Duffy and he was determined to see that his political solution to the “Duffy Problem” came to pass. I think it is fair to say that the only expectation on the part of Mr. Wright was that a nasty political thorn would be removed from the body politic.

[1237] I do not find that Senator Duffy was trying to thwart or avoid cooperating with the third party auditors. I do find that Senator Duffy was more than willing to meet with Deloitte and explain his position. I find that the PMO did not want this to happen and they endeavoured to prevent such contact.

[1239] Mr. Neubauer stated that Senator Duffy’s actions were driven by deceit, manipulations and carried out in a clandestine manner representing a serious and marked standard expected of a person in Senator Duffy’s position of trust. I find that if one were to substitute the PMO, Nigel Wright and others for Senator Duffy in the aforementioned sentence that you would have a more accurate statement.

The motto of your force is “Defending the Law”. I implore you to defend the law by charging the Mr. Harper, Mr. Wright and the rest of Mr. Harper’s PMO for bribing Mr. Duffy and thwarting and independent audit as means of covering up the PMO’s deceit, manipulation and clandestine operations.

Yours faithfully,

Rohana Rezel

CC: Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister

Hon. Rona Ambrose, Leader of the Official Opposition


[1] http://www.ontariocourts.ca/en/apr21duffy.pdf

TPP: Submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade

Introduction

When the Canadian doctor Sir Frederick Banting discovered insulin in 1920, which continues to help millions afflicted with diabetes to thrive, he turned down offers from big corporations that would have made him a billionaire. Calling insulin a gift to humankind, he gave the patent away to researchers to make sure that it would affordable to everyone.


Instead of being inspired by the likes of Dr. Banting, Trans-Pacific Partnership(TPP) agreement tears a leaf out of Martin Shkreli’s playbook making generic medicines used to treat a wide variety of diseases, including tuberculosis, malaria and HIV/AIDS, unaffordable to millions of people around the world, according to Doctors Without Borders (MSF)
[1] and numerous intellectual property rights experts.

Not only is the TPP bad for our health and well-being, it is bad our jobs, it is bad for our freedoms and it is bad for our environment. What do we gain in return? TPP will boost our economy at most by 0.28%, according to one study by the Tufts University[2].

As I shall explain in this submission, the only “free” aspect of this so-called free trade agreement is the freedom it gives corporations to jack up the price of essential medicines, poison our food supply, pollute our rivers and oceans, ship our jobs overseas to places where workers toil away in sweatshop conditions making less than two dollars a day while importing cheap indentured labour, and severely restricting our intellectual freedoms.

TPP is bad for our health

Dr. Heather Culbert, President of MSF Canada, warns us that:

Under the TPP, not only will pharmaceutical patents be expanded and extended, but international trade disputes will be addressed by third-party tribunals that lack either transparency or an appeals mechanism.  Many governments will feel they have no choice but to comply, even though most of their citizens will have no hope of accessing potentially life-saving medications[3].

Canadians will not be immune to the increase in drug prices caused by the TPP, Dr. Culbert states:

Canadians will also face extended patent provisions and increased costs for medications.  Pharmaceutical companies will not hesitate to protect their commercial  interests, as has already been demonstrated by a $500 million lawsuit by Eli-Lilly against the Canadian government (and taxpayers) for the rejection of two drug patents and for allowing competitors to enter the market. The TPP will put even more of this kind of leverage in the hands of pharmaceutical companies against the rights of governments.

Analysis by the not-for-profit group Fight for the Future pin points to exactly which sections of the agreement will lead to this state of affairs[4]:

Article 18.26: Term of Protection for Trademarks
Increases the minimum protection for trademarks to 10 years, forcing countries to follow the U.S. model on this rather than make their own trademark policy based on the public interest. This will limit technological innovation and could curtail affordable access to medicines or other basic necessities.

Article 18.37: Patentable Subject Matter
Allows for the patenting of “new methods of using a known product,” which essentially allows for unlimited patents from Pharmaceutical companies and will block affordable access to medicines and medical procedures and prevent innovation of better and more affordable healthcare procedures.

Higher drug prices will not be the only negative impact that the TPP will have on our health and well being. Award-winning Canadian microbiologist Dr. Shiv Chopra warns us that the TPP will see hormone-laced milk, which he fought so hard to keep out of our store shelves, being imported into Canada.

Dr. Chopra, who became the first recipients of the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression Integrity Award, in recognition of their role as “individuals who acted courageously in the public interest without thought of personal gain, and in doing so risked reprisals in the form of threats to their careers, livelihood, or personal freedom,” states[5]:

We worked upon it so much and got [bovine growth hormone] rejected in Canada… Now, under the trade agreement, it’s going to let the floodgates open.

TPP is bad for our jobs

The Trans-Pacific Partnership will cost Canada 58,000 jobs and increase income inequality, the Tufts study warns[6].  If that was not enough, the TPP will also allow corporations to bring unlimited number of temporary foreign workers, according to the Alberta Federation of Labour, who state[7]:

The section of the deal on Canada Temporary Entry for Business Persons confirms fears that the deal allows foreign companies to bring in an unlimited number of temporary foreign workers in certain broad occupational categories without work permits, bypassing all certification requirements and rules to protect Canadian jobs. This will continue to distort the local labour market and to displace Canadians and to drive down wages.

The AFL also expresses concern at the provisions of the TPP that will lead to  the harmonization of Canadian labour laws with those of countries with inferior labour standards. In the words of AFL’s president Gil McGowan:

The ‘harmonization’ that this deal promises won’t improve labour laws anywhere. Whenever labour laws are ‘harmonized,’ it’s always part of a race to the bottom. Canadian labour laws should not be based on those of TPP signatories like Vietnam.

TPP is bad for our environment

The backers of the TPP claim that the agreement’s environment chapter proves that the deal was negotiated with environmental stewardship as a core value. Any safeguards offered in the environment chapter, however, are overridden by the Investor-state dispute settlement provisions of the TPP. The 2015 Bilcon v. Canada decision, where a US corporation successfully used the ISDS to overturn a Canadian government decision not to allow mining on environmental protection grounds, is still fresh in the minds of many Canadians. The ISDS provisions of the TPP are equally disturbing, and the Sierra Club explains how they constitute a bill of rights for polluters:

For example, corporations including ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Occidental have used rules in the investment chapters of trade pacts and bilateral investment treaties to bring more than 600 investor-state cases against nearly 100 governments. More and more, these cases are directly challenging policies designed to protect our air, water, and climate including a moratorium on fracking in Quebec,a nuclear energy phase-out and new coal-fired power plant standards in Germany, and requirement for a pollution clean-up in Peru. And corporations are winning. In March 2015,  a NAFTA tribunal found that Canada violated NAFTA’s investment rules because of an environmental impact assessment that led Canada to reject a U.S. company’s controversial mining project from moving forward in an important cultural and ecological area in Nova Scotia. 

TPP is bad for our intellectual freedoms

The American Library Association defines intellectual freedom as:

The right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored[8].

Intellectual freedom is what powers social progress, scientific discovery, technological advancement, and as a result of all of the above, improvements in our quality of life. It is the cornerstone of a free and democratic society.

The TPP poses a great threat to intellectual freedom. In the words of the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

The IP chapter would have extensive negative ramifications for users’ freedom of expression, right to privacy and due process, as well as hindering peoples’ abilities to innovate. Other chapters of the agreement encourage your personal data to be sent borders with limited protection for your privacy, and allow foreign corporations to sue countries for laws or regulations that promote the public interest[9].

A very simple example of the insidious nature of this agreement is that under the TPP, even unlocking of a cell phone becomes a criminal offence, as highlighted Fight for the Future:

Article 18.68: Technological Protection Measures
This section attempts to make it a crime to circumvent any “Digital Rights Management” (DRM) locks on a device, even if you own it. It could criminalize people who unlock their phones in order to use accessibility software, for example, or make it illegal to circumvent DRM on a computer in order to use Linux.

Conclusion & Recommendations

The TPP is not a trade agreement. It is yet another blatant attempt by large multinational corporation to exert complete corporate control by undermining the will of the citizens. It will only benefit Martin Shkreli’s of the world while condemning millions to misery.

I urge you to listen to the voices of concerned Canadians and reject the Trans-Pacific Partnership which puts corporate greed before citizens’ needs.


[1] http://www.msfaccess.org/sites/default/files/IP_Brief_TPP_ENG_2015.pdf

[2] http://www.ase.tufts.edu/gdae/policy_research/TPP_simulations.html

[3] http://www.msf.ca/en/article/how-the-trans-pacific-partnership-trade-deal-will-put-essential-medicines-out-of-reach-for

[4] http://tumblr.fightforthefuture.org/post/132605875893/final-tpp-text-confirms-worst-fears-shadowy

[5] http://canadians.org/blog/dr-shiv-chopra-speaks-against-tpp-bgh-milk

[6] http://www.ase.tufts.edu/gdae/policy_research/TPP_simulations.html

[7] http://www.afl.org/tpp_erodes_labour_rights

[8]  http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/censorshipfirstamendmentissues/ifcensorshipqanda

[9] https://www.eff.org/issues/tpp