The Hoarders of Virtue – Part 2

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On July 19, 2023, Bronwyn Schuster, publicist for the Denman Island Bus Service (DIBS), wrote to Mike Van Santvoord, publisher-editor of The Islands Grapevine (TIG),

“I will be choosing alternate avenues for articles and advertising for the various community projects I am involved with until you create an editorial policy that holds the vulnerable members of our community in higher regard.” TIG’s Mike Van Santvoord replied to Schuster the same day saying,

“Your threat to take business elsewhere will have no effect on TIG’s editorial policies.” and, “The foundational principle of democracy and social justice is a free press. In my view, the response to speech you do not share, should be more speech.” And, “I have attached the TIG editorial policy for your convenience.” Following TIG’s publication of “Threats, Lies, and the Misuse of Public Funds”, on August 10, 2023, Schuster posted a response on Denman social media that same day,

“I realize now how my language was threatening, and were I to write that email today, I would have worded my concerns differently.” In reality, DIBS had stopped advertising in TIG in May 2023, as had some of the advertising from the other non-profit organizations Schuster publicized. It was only then that we realized the fullness of the coordinated boycott. That same August 10th, 2023 day, Van Santvoord received an email from Anthony Gregson, Chair of DenmanWorks Economic Enhancement Society (DW), saying, 

“I regret to say that by a resolution of the Board, you are removed as a director with immediate effect.” and, “All contractual arrangements with visitdenmanisland.ca are immediately terminated.” Notably, Gregson didn’t speak with Van Santvoord prior to these decisions, or explain any specific allegations of wrongdoing on Van Santvoord’s part. Remarkably, Gregson added, 

“Bronwyn Schuster overreached herself,” and, “Denman Works recognizes that DIBS contractor Bronwyn Schuster, while entitled to an opinion on Grapevine editorial policy, had no right to use her position to threaten a withdrawal of advertising.” There were no consequences for Schuster, and they did not resign as they should have. In publishing “Threats, Lies, and the Misuse of Public Funds” Team TIG had responded to a threat by Schuster, and had not criticized Gregson, Sam Borthwick, or DIBS. The members of Team TIG have always enthusiastically supported DIBS, and had offered sponsorship money to DIBS, an offer that has received no response for 2 years, and still a standing offer.

Why was Van Santvoord served the ignominious consequence of being fired from the DW Board, and his job managing the visitdenmanisland.ca website? And why were the bylaws of DW ignored by Gregson in doing so? Van Santvoord wasn’t offered the opportunity to speak with the DW Board prior to a vote to remove him as is required, nor has he ever been offered an explanation from Gregson and the DW Board for these dismissals. Mike Van Santvoord did nothing wrong, or in contravention of DW or its bylaws. His positions must be fully restored as a result of any fair and just review of the facts.

In last week’s TIG, we published “The Hoarders of Virtue” to highlight the lack of transparency and accountability in the publicly funded domain. DW stopped publishing their meeting minutes in 2018, and Gregson is serving as Chair past his 4 year term limit, “at the pleasure of the Board”, as described in Agenda item No.5, a Special Resolution of the unpublished agenda and general meeting minutes from just prior to DW’s Annual General Meeting (AGM), in March of 2023.

DW and Gregson have not made a sincere effort to communicate publicly with Denman residents, and actively recruit his replacement by publicizing the need for renewal of DW’s Board. This was recently foolishly described by a DW member on Denman social media as “begging and pleading” and as a “thankless job”, even while the DW “working chair” is a paid position. While only Board members Gregson and Van Santvoord attended the AGM, the other Board members were recorded as absent. As Denman residents, DW members Sharon Clarke, Bill Engleson, and Pam Willis attended the AGM meeting by Zoom call, to constitute a voting quorum. On August 10, 2023, Van Santvoord replied to Gregson’s notices of dismissal with, 

“Nothing related to my position as a Director or Board member of DenmanWorks was employed in anything to do with my private business.” and, “I am not required to discuss my private business with you. It is your conflict of interest that you have seen fit to remove me from the Board on false and fraudulent grounds.” As Team TIG has previously reported, Schuster admitted to covertly acting alone, having not shared their threatening correspondence to TIG with Gregson, Borthwick, or the DIBS Committee. Gregson replied on August 16, 2023 to Van Santvoord with,

“The board may proceed as it sees fit. You are not entitled to a hearing nor is a special meeting of members required.” and, “There is nothing about “cause” in the contract for VDW (visitdenmanisland.ca website). The contract simply says that the contract can be terminated on 14 days notice at any time”, ignoring B.C. Labour laws pertaining to wrongful dismissal. Previous offers and attempts to settle these matters privately have been rebuffed

We are demanding both a full and transparent public accountability for the wrongful dismissals, and the complete restoration of Van Santvoord’s positions on the DW Board, and managing visitdenmanisland.ca, followed by a thorough public apology by Anthony Gregson and his resignation as DW Chair. Gregson’s actions have caused TIG and its contributors damages to reputation and loss of income, and TIG will be looking to be compensated for these damages, should Van Santvoord and TIG not be served an honest and just resolution to these matters from Gregson, and the DW Board, Ember Hutchens, Robert Newton, Julie Geremia, Caitlin Fogarty, and Laura Pope.