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Odyssey owner denies conflict of interest after email leak

Ahmadian emailed LGBT advisory committee chairs after releasing VAL investigation

Bijan Ahmadian, seen here outside the Odyssey on the eve of its reopening in July 2015, says he just wants to see equal enforcement of safety regulations to protect patrons everywhere. Credit: Nathaniel Christopher

Odyssey owner Bijan Ahmadian emailed the chairs of Vancouver’s LGBT advisory committee urging them to respond, the morning after The Province ran a front-page story on a private investigation into a queer party.

“In my experience, the law enforcement is feeling the pressure of appearing to target the gay community and safer spaces unjustly, so a statement from an advisory committee in this area could alleviate that pressure so they can do their job,” Ahmadian writes in an email dated Nov 24, 2015.

Ahmadian urges the chairs to “send a solid message to city and police and liquor branch saying we think there’s a need for arts spaces and alternate events to bars,” as long as all venues “abide by the same time-tested safety measures” to keep patrons safe.

Hours after he sent the email, Ahmadian admitted that he funded and released the private investigation into the queer, sex-positive party hosted by Vancouver’s Art and Leisure Society. The investigation contains allegations of over-crowding and over-serving alcohol, as well as video footage of people allegedly having sex.

In a Dec 11 Daily Xtra story, some community members called for Ahmadian’s resignation from the city’s LGBT advisory committee. “I think a lot of community members don’t trust him — we don’t want him representing us,” DJ Maxwell Maxwell told Daily Xtra. “We don’t want the mayor thinking this is what the LGBT community wants.”

Maxwell said he was concerned that Ahmadian might pursue his own interests, rather than advocate for the community’s needs, while sitting on the advisory committee. He believes Ahmadian betrayed the community’s trust when he hired private investigators to photograph LGBT people at a private event without their consent or knowledge.

Ahmadian says his email to the chairs presents no conflict. Encouraging police to equally enforce safety regulations won’t benefit him, he says, especially since it would affect the Odyssey as well.

Ahmadian says his primary concern has always been safety and ensuring that all venues are safe for patrons.

“Are you saying it is a conflict for me to say that everybody should be playing by the same rules?” he asks. “I don’t see a conflict there for saying that.”

“How could I be possibly benefiting from that?” he asks.

Asked about the timing of his email — prior to his revelation that he funded the investigation in question — Ahmadian asks how that’s relevant. “Conflict has very little to do with timing,” he says. “Conflict either exists or doesn’t exist. Conflict relates to whether or not you benefit.”

Ahmadian also notes that he sent the email only to the chairs — not the full committee.

“You’re looking at an email that never made it to the committee, was only sent confidentially to the chairs of the committee,” he says. “And then I asked them to not send it to the committee because it wasn’t — I changed my mind about it.”

Asked why he changed his mind about sending the email to the full committee, Ahmadian says, “That’s not relevant. That’s a committee issue.”

LGBT advisory committee chair Drew Dennis confirms receiving Ahmadian’s request.

“The committee member reached out to me and sought clarity on conflict of interest guidelines,” Dennis says, “and after we walked through the conflict of interest guidelines, he withdrew his request.”

Dennis says the full committee was made aware of Ahmadian’s request during a closed meeting on Nov 26.

Asked how the committee responded to Ahmadian’s request, Dennis says “the discussion is not part of the public record.”

Asked if committees can ask members to resign in cases of perceived or alleged conflict, city council’s liaison to the LGBT committee says any member is free to make a motion asking for Ahmadian’s removal.

“Any committee member has the absolute right to do that,” Councillor Tim Stevenson says. “And if that committee member puts forward the motion, then it will be a motion put forward at the next committee and discussed publicly.”

If the committee as a whole agrees, the motion would then be sent to the mayor, who can decide whether or not to forward it to council.

City council will have the final say on the matter.

If the committee recommends a member’s resignation, Stevenson predicts “the mayor will undoubtedly make that recommendation to council.”

(With files from Robin Perelle)