The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have since 2005, adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL:

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Porkgate suspects hear the hounds on their trail


Do you hear that?

That's the baying of The Black Rod bloodhounds.

They've picked up the scent of government-funded minced pork. And you'll be interested at where the trail has led them.

On October 16th, a mystery man drove a pick up truck up to the picket line of strikers walking around the Winnipeg Free Press on Mountain Avenue. In the back of his truck he was carrying a hefty load of pork, the packages neatly labelled 'Winnipeg Harvest.' Here, he told the strikers, it's for you.

The strikers eagerly helped unload the boxes of meat and carry it to union headquarters nearby. They said so themselves on their union website the next day. The pork was doled out--- but not all of it.

One FP reporter, miffed at the criticism the strikers were getting for taking the meat, later posted on an internet message board that some of the meat had spoiled and had to be thrown out.

The FP union gloated at the pork delivery in a post by an anonymous writer on their strike website. It was, in her eyes, a sign that the public supported the strike against the newspaper.

Then the fit hit the shan.

First the union said the mystery man was a driver for Winnipeg Harvest and the food was surplus to the food bank's needs. Uh uh.

The Black Rod revealed the pork was from a highly publicized sow cull program which was funded by the federal and provincial governments with the processed meat designated for the poor and hungry who use food banks. It wasn't surplus and nobody ever imagined that the government-subsidized pork would wind up in the hands of people with jobs paying them up to $90,000 a year.

Their first story debunked, the FP union went running for cover to David Northcott, Harvest's frontman. Northcott said he was happy the strikers got the pork. He said he regularly gives donated food from Winnipeg Harvest to striking union members.

Uh oh.

That came as news to hundreds of people who had collected food for Harvest in the past. It seems the fact Northcott takes food donations and gives them to picketers was a well-kept secret which somehow never made it into Harvest's public food drives.

Now Northcott was squirming. He tried to deflect the criticism coming his way by declaring that the mystery-man-with-the-pork was not a Winnipeg Harvest driver. Oh yeah, said the FP reporter suddenly; he was a farmer, didn't we say that?

And the pork wasn't surplus, Northcott conceded. It had been delivered to Harvest as intended, and had then been farmed out to other food programs in the city and province.

And it wasn't spoiled when Harvest had it, he said. But, nobody would confess that the pork came from them. So why dwell on it, said Northcott. Let's forget it ever happened.

Because of the obvious health safety issue, David.

It's clear the pork had been stored in unsafe conditions. Some of it was tainted and had to be thrown out, said one eyewitness. And if some of the meat was bad, you have to assume all of it is bad until you know otherwise.

The strikers, employees of the Winnipeg Free Press, know who the man-with-the-pork was, but they're refusing to identify him. That cover-up alone makes the pork delivery suspicious, don't you think?

You know the saying: it ain't the crime, it's the cover-up that gets ya.

Then there's the continually changing story of the pork.

It was surplus. It wasn't surplus. The strikers were eager to take it. The strikers had the pork forced on them. If they didn't take it, it was going to go to the dump. It was bad and some had to be tossed.

Add the question of how much pork the Free Press employees walked away with.

It was half a tonne. It was 1500 pounds. It was one pound packages. It was 350 one-kilogram packages.

We've heard every one of these numbers and every one was the official story.

But we also heard something else. It's why we released the hounds.

It turns out that Winnipeg Harvest pork was indeed a surplus commodity to someone in Winnipeg as late as one week before a truck load was delivered to Free Press union members.

Somebody was phoning around asking people if they wanted free packages of minced pork from Winnipeg Harvest. The calls weren't directed only to poor or unemployed.

The caller was someone with a direct relationship with the North Point Douglas Residents Association.

That's interesting because the North Point Douglas Residents Association DOES NOT RUN A FOOD BANK.

So why was someone connected to the association giving away food bank food? Where did she get the food from? And why was that agency so anxious to get rid of it?

Is the fact that the caller also has a relationship with the aboriginal community, a clue?

David Northcott claimed he canvassed at least 40 satellite food banks, anyone with freezer space to handle 1500 pounds of frozen pork.

Winnipeg Inner City Missions at the Anishinabe Fellowship Centre, 287 Laura Street, runs a food bank. How big is their freezer?

Indian Metis Friendship Centre at 45 Robinson Ave. runs a food bank, as do Ndinawe, 472 Selkirk and Flora House, 739 Flora Ave.

They're all close to the Free Press. Do they have big freezers? Have they had any problems with their freezers lately, say in late September?

If David Northcott is seriously trying to determine which food bank sprang a leak, he can re-start his investigation with the North Point Douglas Residents Association.

Maybe his old pal Sel Burrows can offer a suggestion.

Burrows is sure interested in a food bank now. The North Point residents association has a website, and on that website is a request for volunteers. And one of the volunteer "opportunities" is :

Campaigning for Point Douglas food bank, youth want to do it
Need adult volunteer to coordinate food bank

Who is coordinating the food bank volunteers? The Graffiti Gallery, 109 Higgins Avenue, Roslyn Dally, general manager.

This story gets curiouser and curiouser.

But what we know for sure is how the picket pork scandal has damaged some of the institutions Winnipegers once trusted without question.

* Winnipeg Harvest has a big problem. David Northcott confessed that Harvest has no way of tracking large quantities of food donated to it. 1500 pounds of pork goes missing and he can't determine from where.

How much donated food disappears from Harvest freezers and warehouses? How much winds up in the homes of volunteer drivers and their friends? And how much food donated by citizens to help the poor and hungry winds up on the tables of union members who have jobs but who are on strike at the moment? Where's the accounting?

Why doesn't the board of Harvest recognize the huge credibility gap they've got to work with?

* The City of Winnipeg Health Department has a bigger problem. An unidentified man gives out more than half a ton of meat out of the back of his truck, and the City isn't trying to find out who he is and where he got the meat.

The unsourced meat has obviously been stored improperly and city health officials show no urgency to find what wasn't thrown out and have it tested to determine if it safe. The city health department is willing to wait until someone gets sick before acting on a complaint.

If this is any indication of how the City of Winnipeg Health Department addresses health hazards, we're all in trouble.

* The Winnipeg Free Press has the biggest problem. It has lost all credibility with Winnipegers.

Its employees are engaged in a huge cover-up. They took government subsidized meat away from the city's poor and hungry who depend on Winnipeg Harvest for meals. Then they run a grotesque appeal for pennies to feed the hungry.

The person who gave them the meat might have stolen it, but they're hiding his identity. They gloated and swaggered and demonstrated their sense of entitlement to food intended for society's less fortunate; food bank users have to answer demeaning questionaires to get food, but strikers get their food delivered to them door to door, no questions asked, with David Northcott's full approval.

The FP employees are refusing to help health authorities investigate a possible food safety risk. They are literally gambling with the lives of their fellow union members and anyone who gets a Christmas hamper with the tainted pork, something suggested by one newspaper employee as a proper solution to the controversy.

The newspaper runs all sorts of humanitarian campaigns but refuses to address how its employees took food our of the mouths of the poor--- just because they could.

The North Point Douglas Residents Association may hold the key to unravelling the scandal that's come to be called Porkgate.

A lot of red-faced people are praying the cover-up holds.

To them, all we have to say is -- Sic 'Em.

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