OPEN LETTER TO VERONICA TUGWOOD
London Town Co-op, London, on
We moved to London Town Co-op in October, 2012. We were persuaded to move to this community by a friend, who used to live here. He said it was the ideal place to raise a family. However, based on my family’s experience and that of other residents, it would be gross exaggeration to agree with this statement. Everything was more than ideal when the Property Co-ordinator was a woman by the name of Catherine Cosby. It is nothing personal, but Catherine was compassionate and a people person. She understood that as a family community, London Town Co-op was not a military base. You have managed to turn London Town Co-op into a very difficult place to enjoy for us to enjoy. There is no peaceful co-existence.
When Catherine Cosby was our Property Co-ordinator, we didn’t have to iron her backside with our nose to earn her respect. After all, as tenants, we paid her salary – just as we pay yours. Although you have not demanded it yet, we feel that we have to bow to you, to be respected. As many of us refuse to do that, it would seem as if you want us out of here. Many of us and our helpless children treat this community like a hotel: we sleep here, but hardly look forward to the next morning or even the following day, unless we have something to do away from where we live. Our children don’t play outside anymore. They are paralyzed with the fear that someone is going to unjustifiably make up something just to harass them or get them illegally evicted. Simply because they do not like them or like children in general.
As Property Co-ordinator, Catherine wasn’t shy about telling members of the Board Directors what was right and what was wrong. “Some [board members] want me to Schedule F everybody over any simple little thing,” she said. “If you want me to, I can, but keep in mind the potential consequences – especially when we have no proof.” She had no personal vendettas against no one. The most successful property managers place people as their highest priority, which in my views that's what she did. They absolutely must be able to deal and work with people. Furthermore, they don’t seek to punish those they dislike.
When she left, the board needed to hire a new Property Manager. Of all the applicants, I remember this lady, who was asked, “If we hired you, how would you stay plugged in?” It was a pointless question, a stupid one really, but somebody asked and she responded. “Well...I go to Jamaica, every year,” she joked. Unfortunately, her good sense of humor overshadowed her qualifications and experience. Some board members used it against her and as a result, she didn’t get the job. You did and I supported the decision to hire you. When I was a member of the board and noticed that some members decided to join to bring their personal agenda to the table, including harassing the children residing in this community, I resigned shortly after Catherine left. As a parent, I could not sit in a room and hear members, without children or whose children have grown up, bashing and putting the kids down. Our children have as much right to enjoy the community and its common grounds.
Catherine was the one who convinced me, first to join the board and then to stay on the board until we hired the new manager. On the first general members’ meeting we had, many members started asking serious questions, which they did openly. They had already approached you directly and asked why you were so unapproachable. In fact, a former board member, who doesn’t live here any longer, expressed concerns about the way some members were going about things. He said that you were being harassed. Upon hearing this, I felt bad for you and reached out to you to offer my support, even though I was no longer part of the board. “Dear Veronica, I am really sorry about what I heard today. Some people seem to ignore that harassment in the workplace is illegal and potentially criminal,” I wrote. You replied back, “Thanks for your support.” I was sincere and honest, which showed that I have nothing personal against you. Here is the reason why you hate my family and are trying the best you can to have us evicted.
At the end of 2014, you sent us a “Schedule F – Notice to Appear,” dated November 5, 2014. In the letter you indicated the Board of Directors was considering terminating our membership. “Summary of facts: [my son] disrespect to members, loud and unnecessary noise throughout the community and inappropriate conduct while with other youth in the cooperative.” What led to the Schedule F? In or around October of 2014, a young boy, who was approximately 11 years old, came and knocked on our door. He invited our son to go and play near an empty unit that he said he had entered to put a small frog he’d found outside. “You should’ve not done that, that’s like break and enter,” my son said. “I know, I know; I could’ve been caught,” said his friend. His mother, Angela, was a member of the Board of Directors at the time. Today she is the president of the board.
About 10 other youngsters or so, who played together on the playgrounds and common areas of this community, were there. While Angela’s son was inside the unit looking for the frog, Alma who lives in front of it and at the time was a member of the board, came and told the kids that she was going to call the police. Actually, she started yelling, "I AM GOING TO CALL THE POLICE, I AM GOING TO CALL THE POLICE." The scene was a very scary one for all the children. “I will forgive everyone but Mateo [my son] and the black twins [Tyrone & Tyrece],” she said, referring to his black friends. “This is the sort of things that can get you evicted.” Not surprisingly, shortly after, we received a Schedule F – Notice to Appear. My son’s black friends and their parents also received a Schedule F. None of the other 10 children or so received a Schedule F. You would think that Angela would’ve received a Schedule F, since her child was the one who had entered the empty unit several times, and invited his friends to come with him.
However, he was just being a kid. The only difference is that certain parents, especially those who are members of the board, think the only children allowed to be children are their children, including throwing objects into other residents’ units. God forbid if you complain. This sends other families the wrong message, especially those with limited English who cannot communicate well or are unable to express themselves. In fact, it would seem as if the only reason you (Veronica Tugwood) give them a pass is because you want to have them on your side, as board members. What about the others, don’t they enjoy the same rights? All one can do is speak up and voice your opinion, a right that you would never be able to take away from us. However, you have the power to issue Schedule Fs, no matter how unfair they are. Many members love to be on the board so they can have preferential treatment and promptly service should their units need some repairs, for example. But oh well…that’s life in the Co-op living world, right?
Despite having no proof against them, at all, my son’s friends and their parents were put on probation for six months. This meant that any complaint about the kids and they would be evicted for good. When we received a Schedule F in November of 2014, we repeatedly requested a copy of at least what was alleged against our child. We requested no names or unit numbers of the person or persons who complained, but what was specifically said and when; under what circumstances. As per the by-laws, this is what you are required to do when you send a Schedule F – Notice to Appear. We never understood your reluctance to comply with the by-laws or why you refused to give us a copy of the complaint or at least provide us with background information of what was alleged. “We cannot Schedule F a family without having any proof about what supposedly his kid,” a member of the board said at the time, when you suggested the board send it to us, November 5, 2014. But despite her observations, you sent it anyway. “If we go to court with this, we are going to look like fools; the judge would laugh at us,” told me another board member, as we discuss the same Schedule F. She apologized for not paying more attention to what you presented to the board.
“It is quite concerning [...] that you have refused to provide information regarding what supposedly my child did, while playing with his friends on the common areas of this Co-op. Nothing in the by-laws says that when somebody is going to get evicted, the office must keep relevant information a secret. To the contrary, Article 12 says that you must provide copies of complaints and/or the background information that you presented to the board before you send a Schedule – F Notice to Appear. Can you imagine if you were the prosecutor and you refused to provide us at least background information regarding what you allege we did wrong, so we can defend ourselves?” This was probably the 5th time we requested the information and you refused to give it to us. To this day, almost a year later, you have not complied, which is a clear violation of this community by-laws. You might as well get rid of the by-laws and run this community like your personal grocery store and choose who you serve and who not to serve.
Prior to the meeting, we requested that board members Alma and Alicja recuse themselves from the meeting for having a conflict of interest. The first told my son and his black friends that going into an empty unit to play could get them evicted. The second keeps swearing and cursing at the kids. She also planted six trees in the middle of the playground, to prevent the children from playing there. This was something she had done without any permission. “I don’t want you fucking kids to play here.” You refused to advise them accordingly and took the stance of a hardliner. “They were elected by the membership; therefore, there is no conflict of interest, so they will be in the meeting,” you replied.
We contacted the Municipal Housing Division for the City of London. “In the interest of peaceful co-existence, I will strongly suggest that the Co-ordinator, the Board and the Co-op membership as a whole, would benefit from training on the Human Rights Code and Co-op by-laws and procedures,” said Louise Stevens, Director of Municipal Housing, though she deferred to Denise McGahan, Member Services Representative for Southwestern Ontario of the Cooperative Housing Federation (CHF) Canada, who said the contrary. “Even if you are a witness to an alleged incident, there is conflict of interest, so they cannot sit in the meeting. There sat the two board members mentioned above deciding whether my family and the black family were going stay or get evicted. After getting the Canada Housing Federation involved, our Schedule F – Notice to Appear was put on hold. The black family was put on probation. Since you are holding grudges, we have not being able to enjoy peace. My family is always trying to endure the hell we are going through.
Tuesday, March 31, my son and two black friends were on their way home from school. They stopped at the front to play with whatever little snow there was on the ground, and by the mailbox. While they were playing, minding their own business, a man who resides at one of the front units came to harass them. We learned his name was Phil; but we are not sure. “I see that you guys are throwing shit out here,” Phil said. Kennedy, who’d just moved to London Town Co-op, said, “I am not throwing shit.” Phil repeated, “I saw you guys throwing shit.” Kennedy kind of stood up for himself, repeating, “I wasn’t throwing shit.” This is when Phil, who is white, decided to take it to another level by saying, “Are you trying to be fucking mouthy with me, boy? That’s not going to get you anywhere.” Everyone knows that when a person of a different race, especially if they are Caucasian, refers to a black person as “boy,” it is racism. Kennedy said, “I’m not trying to be mouthy; I was just trying to say that I wasn’t throwing anything.” Phil said, “I know that you guys were throwing shit because I have pictures, which I took with my camera of you doing it.”
My son told his friends they needed to go home. Kennedy said, “No, because if he took pictures of us without consent that’s illegal. We are kids. I don’t believe him.” When he heard the kid react that way, Phil said, “I am allowed to, my brother is a cop. If you want to see the pictures I’ll show them to you right now.” He motioned with his hand and called them into his unit, while holding the door open. Our son, who has been told not to trust any stranger said, “No, we are not comfortable going in there; we’ll stay right here.” At that point, Phil said that he was going to the office. “I am going to the office to talk to Veronica because I am on the Board.” Apparently, his batteries died. “My camera died, but come back another day and I’ll show you the pictures. The police will be here in 10 minutes because I called them.”
Our son ran home and told his mother what happened. Men sexually abusing and exploiting children, and the worse pedophiles often being your next door neighbor, is a concern to us, as parents. Am I saying this man is such a thing? No. But we are entitled to protect our children, if we don't know who the person is. My wife ran to the front. She saw Phil sitting in his car. In retrospect, she should’ve called the police. She approached him and said, “I heard that you had a problem with the boys.” He reacted by saying, “I don’t have a problem, but they will have a problem; I called the police and the cops are coming.” My wife said, “You cannot be taking pictures of children.” He replied, “Yes, I can because my brother is a cop and I can take pictures of anyone anywhere, as long as it is in public.” My wife said, “They were just playing.” The man said, “They were throwing snow. If it went over and hit a car, they could cause a car accident.” At no point, he mentioned the boys were deliberately trying to cause accidents or putting people in danger, as you, Veronica, conveniently alleged after. He knew they were just playing. The children residing in this community have been chased away from the playgrounds. They have nowhere to play. Phil said, “I have the pictures to show you but I can’t right now because my camera is dead.” He drove away.
Upon hearing the kids were targeted, harassed, intimidated, discriminated against, and called into a unit by a complete stranger, we wrote the office a note. “The office should have a system in place to make sure the rights of our children are protected. Phil says that he can take pictures of the children and that he is a member of the Board, which he is not. Even if he was a member of the board it would be highly inappropriate for an adult stranger to call any child into his unit. The office and the Board can warn them about possible violations of the by-laws and potentially criminal behavior, especially if children are involved.
Furthermore, our children are entitled to reasonable enjoyment of their units and the playgrounds of this community. Nonetheless, unless he is accompanied by his mom or dad, my son rarely goes outside since you tried to evict us illegally after a member of the board threatened my son with eviction. We are constantly reminding our son that some, not all, residents in this community are extremely racist; he will always be a target because of his black friends. But my son will never be bullied into choosing his friends.” Our observations were ignored.
Lo & behold, a couple of weeks after writing the note and e-mailing it to you, we received a Schedule F – Notice to Appear. We were taking aback by the allegations, which you know or ought to have known were unfounded. In the Schedule F – Notice to Appear, which was signed by Angela and Glennys---president of the board and member of the board, respectively---you were threatening my family with eviction, again. Apparently, you took it upon yourself to go on the internet and search whether a person can legally take photographs of a citizen in Co-op common grounds. You sent us a printout from the internet. “Veronica went on the internet and searched about when and where you can photograph people,” said Angela, when she invited us to her patio to talk about the Schedule F. “She [Veronica] found that as soon as you step out of your unit, while on common ground, anybody can be photographed.”
Looking for evidence that would support the man or justify his actions of photographing vulnerable children, not only showed bias but it is a concern to us parents. You accepted a rebuttal in the form a grievance against us from that man, alleging outrageous things. “First, I was not going to complain but now I wish to file a grievance against that woman [my wife] and her children,” he wrote. “He said he didn’t want that in his record,” you [Veronica Tugwood] told us, when we came to your office to pay rent, subsequently.
There were three kids playing at the front, inside the Co-op, that day: My son, Tyrone, and Kennedy, his black friends. Only Tyrone’s parents and us received eviction notices and/or Schedule Fs. Do you know why? When you heard that my son and his two black friends were playing outside, you assumed right away that it was Tyrone and his twin brother, Tyrece. How did we arrive to such conclusion? We asked Kennedy if his parents received an eviction notice, like Tyrone’s parents did or a Schedule F, like my family did. Kennedy said no. However, it is possible that (just as Angela said she did, when she apparently received a letter, after her son was the one who went into an empty unit) after hearing Kennedy was not Tyrone’s twin brother, you sent his parents a note to cover your behind. Not sending the three families a Schedule F and/or eviction notices at the same time, not only showed bias but it proves that you hate us for standing up for our rights.
Accepting a grievance to be filed against us from a member that we complained about prior following his objectionable behaviour, when he called the children into his unit, is questionable. “Deliberately throwing snow at passing cars and trying to cause accidents, put many people in extreme danger including those waiting to take the bus at the bus stop,” you said in the Summary of Facts. In the absence of any complaints from any drivers or the testimony of a person waiting for the bus, why would you choose to believe what another member is saying, especially after he didn’t like it that we filed a complaint immediately after he was asking our son and his black friends to come into his unit to show them photographs he had taken? The day of the meeting, you gave us several photographs that showed the kids playing and throwing snow at each other. It is prudent to mention that according to the by-laws, evidence about allegations to be considered when a member is being evicted, ought to be sent along with the Schedule F at least 10 days prior to the meeting, so the potential evictee can prepare himself.
When I came to the meeting, I was denied the opportunity to deliver a written statement, which was my right as a member---according to the by-laws. I refused to accept that my son was deliberately trying to cause car accidents and pointed out they were just playing. “It is just not possible that when you are raising a child well behaved all of the sudden, he is going to do such a thing. Furthermore, the person alleging such a thing is just pissed off that we complained,” I said. Yes, children will always be children. The problem is the children were only conveniently accused of trying to cause accidents after we reported the man calling them into his unit, for reasons unknown.
Angela decided to conveniently offer her unqualified expert-like opinion: “And coming from a neuroscience background, I can tell you the mind of a human being doesn’t fully develop until the age of 18.” She is not an expert in human behaviour. Glennys, who is apparently a paralegal, knows that you cannot make accusations without proof. “We don’t want kids throwing snow at passing cars and trying to cause accidents,” she said. If in fact, the kids were throwing snow at passing vehicles, I pointed out; you have to call the police and not try to police the road, conveniently. The police are not biased and would investigate, if they believe such allegations, objectively. Your personal vendetta against my child and my family is unwarranted.
There is something else that it is even more concerning: charging or trying to charge other members late fees, unfairly, is improper. I know of members who were charged late fees for not paying their rent on time, when in reality they went to the office the first of the month to pay their rent and you were not there. This usually happens when the first of the month falls on a long weekend, like July 1, for example. When you come back about a week later or so, you attempt to charge $20 extra. A member dropped a cheque in the drop-box at the end of June because you were not in the office. When you came back, you charged him $20 for apparently paying his rent late. When he pointed out that he dropped the payment in the drop-box at the end of June, you said, “You have to go in front of the board and request the $20 back.” Rather than going through the hassle, he just paid it.
Your decision to charge members $20 for paying their rent late, after the come to the office and you are not there because of a long weekend or whatever reason, should be properly investigated. For many, it is already difficult to make ends meet and to be charged such a fee makes it even harder. While he was on your so-called probation, (the same member you charged $20 after he dropped his rent in your office’s drop-box), you attempted to get another $20 from him in a subsequent month---after you had already cashed a cheque at the beginning of the month. I saw his bank record and it clearly showed that you had already cashed the cheque. I also saw the letter you sent him. I understand that defaming someone is a serious thing. But how can you defame someone when everything you are saying is accurate and can be proven?
Last but not least, it has been almost a month since I requested a copy of our file. You told my wife that you would have it ready in a couple of days. Days passed and nothing! I wrote you an e-mail reminding you. “August 10, 2015, we requested a copy of our file and you said that you would have it ready in a couple of days. However, when my wife asked you in a couple of days, you said that you were catching up on other things, which is fine. But as you know, according to the By-laws, as members, we are entitled to receive a copy of our file upon request. It is our rights, as members. I don’t know how you decide what a priority is but considering that you might say that you are busy, you should at least give us a date and/or time to have a copy of our file ready. Today (Tuesday, August 18), you said that what we requested is not ready. Can you please tell us when, how many days or weeks it is going to take for us to get a copy of our file? We need this and it is our rights, as per the By-laws.”
August 18, you replied: “In response to your request. Please be advised that the by-laws do not state that a copy is to be provided. The bylaws state in By-law 1 Article 10.1 ‘Members have a right to see their own personal files and financial accounts during office hours. Members must make an appointment, and require the presence of a board member. If any member believes that there is an error in their personal file or accounts upon proof or documentation the correction must be made.’ My willingness to make a copy, which is not necessary because all things in your file have been sent to you, was an exception, and not a requirement. I request that you follow the by-law and make an appointment to view your file in the office with the presence of board members.”
It is prudent to mention that when it comes to the Schedule Fs – Notice to Appear that we received, you have never quoted the by-laws. To the contrary, you didn’t follow the by-laws when we requested proof of what was alleged against my child at the end of 2014. My reply to your observations when I requested a copy of my file was: “Respectfully, I do not want any exception, I do not wish any favor from the office, and I do not wish any help from you regarding our file. It is what you should’ve told my wife or told us when we requested it. If this is not in the by-laws, then give us an appointment so that we can come and see our file. Please, schedule an appointment at your convenience, as soon as possible.”
Unfortunately, you have not complied, which is a clear violation of our rights and the by-laws. We don't want this to be just like when we received a Schedule F at the end of 2014, as you refused to give us evidence as to what my son did. We treat our membership at London Town Cooperative as a hotel. We come here to sleep and don’t look forward to the next day or morning. At the break of dawn, we want to leave and not be around. Section 34 of the Ontario Human Rights Commission prohibits discrimination against children. However, our children are afraid to step out of the house; they fear being targeted by those members, who have narcissistic ill opinions of them.
By default, as Property Co-ordinator, you are partly at fault. Our children don’t even feel safe because if someone can just start snapping photos of them without justification, how can they feel otherwise? My child is not even allowed to play outside with his friends; he believes he’s being watched. The problem is that you have tried evicting my family twice, without having proof and based on the complaints of two individuals with an ax to grind: One hates my son’s black friends, so my son is guilty by association and the other got upset that he got caught. We don’t party, make noise, and don’t bother anyone. Please, tell us, when I can see our file? It is our rights as per the bylaws. I am begging - please, let me take a look at my file.