Below is a portion of an article previously published in my Workshop series where I'm showing you the inner workings of the business side of Vancouver Is Awesome as well as taking a look around the media landscape in Vancouver. This portion was buried deep in another feature about why we shut down our website in Toronto and I wanted to isolate it in case you didn't read that whole thing, which was way too long (#tldr).
During the last municipal election in Vancouver there was a new political party called The Cedar Party which got a lot of press when they filed a lawsuit saying that tech giant Hootsuite got a sweetheart deal on the lease of their city-owned building because of a conflict of interest with the mayor. You probably never heard of the next lawsuit that same party filed because it was purely for political gain, and only a couple of outlets gave it any press. Boiled down it was 171 pages of why Vancouver Is Awesome is a "front company" set up as a conduit to funnel money from real estate developers to Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vision Vancouver city councillors. Oh wow. I think this goes without saying but nothing could be further from the truth; if you've been reading V.I.A. for even as short as a few weeks (or 8 years, since we launched) then you understand what we do and what we are.
The Cedar party has actually filed three lawsuits against Mayor Gregor and Vision Vancouver, one of them being dismissed by the B.C. Supreme Court as an abuse of process, and which they were ordered to pay Robertson’s legal costs for. The other one was that Hootsuite one, which was dismissed last year with the judge saying "I am satisfied that the petition in this case is an abuse of the Court’s process on the basis that it is without foundation and can serve no useful purpose. I therefore order that the petition herein is dismissed". The third one involves V.I.A. (and a collection of photos of me!) and contains a hodge-podge of information that connects the dots between us, a former investor of ours, and the rezoning of Oakridge Mall. In this scheme they've cooked up I operate a cloak and dagger operation wherein I am one of the most powerful people in Vancouver and I have the ability to sway the mayor and city council into approving a multi-billion dollar development project. It's quite fantastical.
The reality is that we have openly supported Gregor Robertson in the past on this blog. We were friendly with him, and when I say "we" I mean "I". I would sometimes write articles about things he was doing, and initiatives of his that I thought were "Awesome". Seeing as we're not an outlet that's known for critiquing policy but simply cheerleading things we like, even if you're wearing a tinfoil hat I don't see how you could arrive at the half-baked conclusion that I had set up a shell company 8 years ago with the intention of funnelling money from land developers to a political party (this is what the lawsuit explicitly states). Perhaps V.I.A. sponsored a Vision Vancouver networking event for young professionals (called Vision: Next) not because I liked the mayor and was promised I'd be able to promote a V.I.A. book there (below is an actual exhibit from the lawsuit of me doing just that), but because I had some sinister plan that involved greasing the wheels for a multi-billion dollar shopping complex. Oh man.
Another reality is that we brought on Gary Pooni as an investor around the same time. He runs a city planning and public consultancy agency, and he helps facilitate dialogue around rezonings, and he did a lot of the work on the Oakridge mall rezoning with his business, Brook Pooni Associates. He also happens to be a pretty decent businessman. We got to know each other as friends in 2011 and I brought him on as an investor, to help provide structure for the business and to move into a new office space. He helped properly set up the back end of this thing and took a lot of administrative weight off of me by implementing new systems, freeing me up to do the stuff I'm good at. He was hands off with the operation after that, yet the lawsuit suggests he controlled everything and was the "mastermind" pulling the strings. Not to be an egomaniac but the only person who has ever pulled the strings around here is me. I'm proud of where I've brought this company, and I am confident in my role as a media professional with 19 years of experience in online publishing. For better or for worse, I have always controlled this thing.
The last reality is that we have accepted advertising from Oakridge (like we've done for Park Royal and other malls, because that's what we do). So all of the dots were there to connect, but at best it was a poorly constructed conspiracy theory cooked up by someone with too much time on their hands. At worst it was (and is; the case hasn't been heard in court, now almost 2 years later) a blatant abuse of the judicial system as a way to try and garner votes during an election, in the process falsely incriminating a community-building blogger who has been working on showcasing the city (small "c") and its better sides for almost a decade. I've spent thousands of dollars on advice from my lawyers in this case even though I'm not specifically named as a defendant in the suit but am mentioned throughout. And the stress-induced eye disease that I recovered from? It came back. Being falsely accused is perhaps the worst kind of stress imaginable. Way worse than bootstrapping a small media company.
At my request I bought Pooni out of his investment in the summer of 2014 as - to be blunt - it wasn't serving the business to have him involved anymore. He had done a great job of helping when he first came on board but beyond that he wasn't crucial to the future of this operation.
We'll see how the judge rules when the third and final Cedar Party lawsuit is finally heard in court. So far they're batting 2 for 2 getting cases thrown out.
This is part of an ongoing series where I'm taking you behind the scenes of our organization as well as looking at other publications in Vancouver. As the founder of V.I.A. with 19 years experience in online publishing, I'm lifting the veil to give you a better understanding of the business of it. Read more: