Police Arrest 6 people, 20 charges laid at Toronto Canadian National Comic Book Expo.
Click here for CityPulse / Pulse24 Toronto Video Link
This is a copy of the original letter shared to many people within the Toronto convention community addressing my concerns regarding the message I received from SFX employee James Armstrong. The letter text is as it was sent, only certain parts have been highlighted after the fact.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Neoengel" <snipped for privacy>
To: <firstname.lastname@example.org> ; <snipped for privacy> ; <email@example.com>; <firstname.lastname@example.org> ; <email@example.com> ; <firstname.lastname@example.org>; <email@example.com> ; <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Monday, December 08, 2003 7:59 PM
Subject: A letter of concern to Hobbystar Marketing/SFX regarding James Armstrong
Mr. James Armstrong,
It is my regret that I have to communicate with you in such a manner, but your failure to reply to several polite and diplomatic requests both in private (documented with a blind carbon copy to two other addresses) and in public in replies to your use of (the not-for-profit)Toronto Trek's message board to advertise your for-profit events.
Last spring, you sent a letter to me that went beyond unprofessional conduct, to say that what you wrote to me was unacceptable and disturbing is putting in mildly. If this is the only method of which I can make my concerns known and hopefully have them addressed, then I have been left with no other choice due to your inaction in this manner.
For those of you unfamiliar with what I am referring to, please indulge me in this summary. Please note that documentation is available for everything I have stated, either online or in hard copy (printed form), and I will make this information available to all interested in reviewing it. For those wishing access to the hard copy version, please be aware that you will be responsible for postage and fees for delivery.
To sum up, I was sent a letter by James Armstrong as a representative of SFX inviting me to the Canadian National Expo Yahoo Group (please be aware that the terms "SFX", "Hobbystar", and "Canadian National Expo" may/will be used to describe the same event).
As per the instructions on the email, I ignored the message as I was not interested and this was supposed to be sufficient enough for me to be left alone.
Sadly, this was not the case. I received another letter confirming my subscription.
I wrote to the person identified as being responsible for this advertising, James Armstrong, stating that I was not interested. Although I could have been nicer in my reply, it would be clearly understood that I was not interested in my very short reply using terms like "no thanks" and "Why the hell do I want to join a list that is nothing but a moderated advertising platform for a cattle-drive/cash grab that is sfx ?!?"
This is the reply I received:
" Great! I'll add you to our list, didn't catch your name though. Sorry I missed you at Ad Astra this past weekend, but be sure to drop by and say 'Hi' to me the SFX table at Toronto Trek. And remember to tell all your friends and family that SFX is the best convention in the world! Thanks.
Canadian National Expo "
This reply was blindingly ignorant of what can be termed my second attempt to make it known I was not interested in your marketing practices at SFX.
What is also interesting (see: absurd) that my original letter was still attached to your reply.
Documentation of that can be viewed online here: http://www.neoengel.com/1760-1.jpg
And yes, I regret using profanity that roughly translates into bovine scatology, but anyone with a 2-digit I.Q. rating would have realized I was not interested.
In hindsight, I'm willing to believe that you James didn't bother to read the letter and decided to continue forth with this marketing drivel at this point. However, that would be a lame and unacceptable excuse for anyone doing the promoting displayed here, and to continue to press forward with it was unacceptable.
So I replied, and although I did not use profanity, I did use an aptly placed asterisk to make sure I wasn't swearing in the subject line. Further documentation is available as well.
In the text of my message, I wrote the following two sentences:
"DID YOU OR DID YOU NOT READ THE LETTER I SENT !?!"
"I am NOT interested ... STOP SPAMMING ME YOU IDIOT !!!"
I do regret calling you an idiot, but your negligence in following through in what would now be technically my third, yes my THIRD! attempt to make it known I was not interested and to leave me alone caused me frustration. Technically though, I am correct in the spamming claim as you neglected to take heed of my request for removal, I would have been happy to never hear from you in the first place, but alas.
If I was to hear from you again, I would have expected something such as 'You could have handled this better, I have removed you from the list, I consider this issue closed, etc.' I would have taken my lumps and dealt with it.
Unfortunately, this next paragraph is what apparently passes for official company policy at SFX:
" I'll spam you if I want, now that I have your email and your poor attitude. The best thing you could have done is not respond at all, but now I think I will annoy you for a while since you were so rude. As I said in my previous email, I will be at Toronto Trek at the SFX table. If you have something to say to me, drop by and say it to my face, coward.
James Armstrong "
Further documentation of this can be found online here: http://www.neoengel.com/1760-2.jpg
It should also be mentioned that my previous protests in regards this marketing practice were included in this last letter I received. You may read for yourself the previous attempts to have you stop your unwanted solicitations and marketing techniques - they were diligently provided as proof in your very own replies.
This is totally unacceptable and you should be ashamed for sending such a message, as doing so reflects poorly on you and your colleagues and more importantly, Toronto-area conventions as a whole. I would never expect to read such a message from a member of a not-for-profit organization, but to receive this from you, a paid representative of SFX is beyond disturbing, specifically:
1) Your desire to escalate what could have simply been avoided if you would read your mail into a (as interpreted in in your email) physical confrontation ... especially considering how out of the way I went to let you know I was not interested in your solicitations. I hold a dim view on harassment and I believe that the folks at Toronto Trek would not appreciate you using their convention as a place to do such a thing as you suggested in your ignorant remarks.
2) Using your company's table as a place to goad me into a confrontation. That is wrong on so many levels.
3) Infer that I should have let you use my personal information any way you choose by telling me to 'not respond at all' when my previous attempts to get you to leave me alone were ignored.
4) Threaten to "annoy [me] for a while" when it is clearly documented in YOUR OWN REPLIES that it was clear I was not interested in hearing from you or your solicitations at all. Harassment of this nature is wrong both personally, and professionally...you may wish to reconsider your position in such manners.
5) A total lack of competence by not understanding simple concepts like "I am NOT interested ..." by replying with such a wonderful and professional reply like "If you have something to say to me, drop by and say it to my face, coward." I did have something to say, and you ignored such simple concepts as "no thanks" and "I am NOT interested" in short, to the point text. I dare say that if you had the ability to read, none of this would have happened in the first place.
If this is considered an acceptable business practice on your part, I am gravely concerned about not only your future success in your industry, but your company's ability to prosper in light of what you have done.
Also, if you are considering to try to explain away the last letter as one sent without reading the content of my email, that would be a lame and irresponsible excuse. If you are unable to use computers and the internet in an appropriate manner, then I question your ability as an employee of Hobbystar in using such a format to solicit for your employers events. For someone who is doing public relations, I must say you are doing a piss poor job. You may wish to read all the follow-ups to your advertisements on the Toronto Trek Message Board (you use it for free advertising), some of the replies are interesting...well if you care to read the responses they create and taking some feedback that you 'might' want to consider.
Also, despite using your personal account, this is clearly a situation where you Mr. Armstrong are acting as an official representative/employee of your company. Not only did you use that account to identify yourself as a representative of the Canadian National Expo to begin with (documentation of this is available as well), every (ignorant) communication from you was clearly promoting SFX. Your decision to write what you did as well as include all previous conversation in the thread is proof enough.
You see, although I have my personal reservations on how your company conducts its business, I will reserve the rhetoric and commentary for another day. I just find it disturbing that your behaviour reflects poorly on Toronto-area conventions as a whole, if this is what you think you can do as standard procedure, I must say that I (as some regular 'Joe' -or- as one who has been involved with many conventions at varying degrees of involvement for over a decade) am disgusted.
Has this issue exploded bigger than it was, yes, unfortunately, but all I have to offer here are facts, and after giving you Mr. Armstrong, multiple opportunities to explain yourself online (and then hopefully meet for a positive and productive in-person meeting) they are damning facts that speak for themselves. From this example alone you have shown that you do not seem to have the qualifications to represent your company professionally, or otherwise. I do hope I am wrong. I do hope you reply to me with an explanation, or at least an offer to have a positive and productive exchange of ideas in the venue most comfortable to you. In my dealings with various members of the Toronto Sci-Fi communities, they speak of you as a reasonable person...and I would like to think that what you wrote to me was a simple case of someone doing a very, very stupid thing. I just can't accept the notion that I should just shut up and put up with what I (and many others I have discussed this with) consider abusive and bully-like behaviour...totally unacceptable.
Yes, I agree that I could have been nicer, I offered my apologies to that in my previous letter to you, and I offer it again.
However, nothing, absolutely nothing justifies the last letter you sent me.
Although at this point I still hold true to my early request to have you reply to me in a more professional (ok, I'll settle for civil) in the letter you apparently ignored, and as such I do feel the need to bring this matter to the attention to your colleagues since you neglected several documented attempts to reach you about this.
It is really odd that I can find better professionalism from unpaid volunteers at other conventions, but I have to deal with this from someone who personally profits from your events.
I do hope you find the integrity and the courage to take stock of your actions and follow through on what you believe is the right thing to do.
I was hoping we could have an online dialogue (and I hoped you would have the intelligence and aptitude to follow up on your marketing drivel on the Toronto Trek Message Board and thus see my replies) instead of taking up on your aggressive, confrontational approach. I have no qualms at all of meeting you face to face, I just hoped you would have had the wisdom to take up on my offers to 'cool things down' (if you will) and try again with a more civil dialogue in an online format first. I certainly hope you don't hold the attitude that you can insult and taunt at will, and not have the worry about the results of such. Tsk-Tsk if you do, Mr. Armstrong.
I've given you an ample amount of time to consider your actions and explain yourself as well as give you the convenience and comfort of the internet to do so first. All I can say is that I'll be around a for a few more conventions this year, fandom is a small world, and a face-to-face meeting between us is inevitable, Mr. Armstrong. Whether or not it will be a positive encounter is the decision I leave to you. The ball is in your court, in fact it's been as such since last spring...your serve.
I'm very disappointed that you haven't taken the many opportunities provided to you in dealing with this issue. All I've wanted to do is be left alone (and as such have my personal information not be used in an unwarranted manner), and although I could have been nicer (and I still do offer my appologies to that) your escalation of this is unacceptable on so many levels.
Before, I was quite willing to have a conversation in person only AFTER you replied to my civil attempts at a positive dialogue, but now it seems I may have 'call you out' on your aggressive and insulting taunt. It looks like I'll be interacting with you at the conventions after all.
PS. I am willing to re-send the open letter I sent you James Armstrong, not only was it sent to a few friends of mine, but I have made it openly available to the public, as well as the other documentation mentioned. These links will be of interest to you as well...
a) first attempt to reach you via your advertisement on the Toronto Trek Message Board for the 1 Day Nov. 30th Event.
my concerns regarding your actions briefly mentioned in reply to your advertisement on Toronto Trek's Message Board. Follow the links for further detailed information and commentary on Silent Bob's Forum.
c) second attempt to reach you via your Montreal "Post Report" (see: marketing drivel) on the Toronto Trek Message Board.
d) third attempt to reach you on your update for the One Day Event Nov. 30th
As someone pointed out to me, it seems ironic that you would call me a "coward" when you have neglected to reply to me in any form that I have offered, email, message board or otherwise ... hmmm. As I stated in my open letter to you, taking up on your offer was nothing short of confrontational and would have not been good for anyone at last year's Toronto Trek. I hope by the time you finish reading this letter, you would be more co-operative and conducive to a positive meeting.
For an event promoted as "...the best convention in the world!" ... your actions (and indeed, inactions) certainly do not reflect this.
Ok, many people at Toronto area conventions know me well enough that I both talk the talk and walk the walk, and have enjoyed volunteering at conventions for well over a decade. I'd hope those who've met me can at least admit I'm quite passionate about safety, integrity, doing my best to contribute to conventions and helping people have a great time in the process.
Now, I don't mind if a company wants to profit from a large pool of eager attendees willing to put their money into the wallets of others, but there are lines that should not be crossed.
Hobbystar (the company behind Fan Expo Canada / CN ANIME / SFX etc.) has and continues to display contempt, ignorance, blatently vulgar comments, disrespect and deception towards attendees, rival convention guests/volunteers other conventions, and other companies, as shown below.
Toronto fandom is a community, not just exclusively a paycheque to those who exploit it...I'd like to think that we're all in this together and that people know when to back off, especially when the word 'No' is used.
Unfortunately this is not the case - James Armstrong from Hobbystar/FanExpoCanada/whatever sent me the following when I made it desperately clear I did not want my personal information to be used to put money in his wallet.
I'd also like to know when I gave permission for my personal info to be used for commercial use. (I never did, in fact)
It was certainly not for such use as the example below - Where this was the response when I repeatedly told him (and was ignored) that I was not interested ...
Although I may not have spoken like a diplomat - I made it clear that his unwanted commercial email (spam) was not wanted ... and this is the kind of reply they send?
Tell me, are ALL Hobbystar employees trained to use intimidation / threats? The police detective I showed this letter to agreed it was a threat, maybe I should have filed a proper complaint since I was foolish enough to think Hobbystar would give a decent response.
the sad part is that I offered to meet face to face with that person to have a discussion, no reply as of yet.
The full details of my letter to them are available below, but so much else has happened, such as the following:
example: Intimidation tactics, threats & bullying by hobbystar employees
example: Lack of concern for public safety
The sad part about the police action is that it did not need to happen.
Any one of the many Hobbystar employees could have spared 10 seconds to have a conscience and looked at the table selling illegal weapons to be made available on the Streets of Toronto, and beyond. There's no place for nunchacku, butterfly knives or other such crap anywhere.
All the other volunteer/non-profit conventions in the area actually take a moment to look at the tables to see if there is nothing illegal for sale there - yet that crap was sold at the expo for many years without the expo employees listening to the concerns of those attendees that were concerned about it.
example: Rude & Poorly trained employees
I stopped by the SFX table at a convention in 2005 and stated my concern regarding the above.
Later that evening the most the little man at the table could say to me was call me an asshole and scoot away from me to high-five a friend as if he accomplished something worthwhile. The people in charge of the convention he did this at have been made aware of his unacceptable behaviour...corrective action has been taken and not much more about that will be said here (I've recently learned that this is a regular mode of communication from him to others).
Charming, maybe that's their official policy for dealing with people who have legitimate concerns. After reading Aman Gupta's ignorant comments elsewhere, I shouldn't be surprised at their lackluster performance.
I could go on, but a simple google search on hobbystar yields interesting results of more people disturbed at how their business (lack of) ethic is ruining the fandom within Toronto..
this page was originally an archive of just one act of stupidity from Hobbystar, who would imagine (shock, gasp) that they continue to commit others?
People can make mistakes (I've made plenty myself), I accept that and can live with it and move on.
But it's disgusting when the same crap repeats when they've had the choice and opportunity to do better.
Here's what you've had to say: What some of the people in the Toronto area had to say about this and the letter below...
It's also interesting to note that despite the support I've received, I only got one negative email, and that was a supporter of SFX that also threatened me in his email. Yup, it seems tha those who support Hobystar and their tactics like to use threats ... surprised? ...the folks that supplied his email address in which he used to send me a threat within his support for sfx had his service terminated.
I respect differing opinions if they attack the argument, not the person - doing otherwise is a tactic best left for, well..
This is what YOU had to say:
CM - " mmmmm...that email from him...saying he'll spam you if he wants...isn't that grounds to email the abuse department at Sympatico? I'm sure Sympatico would love to know that he's spamming people.
I still remember the autograph line for Jeri Ryan, oh so many years ago. I think I still have the cattle prod scars."
Keith A. - "As I said in my previous email, I will be at Toronto Trek at the SFX table. If you have something to say to me, drop by and say it to my face, coward." - this shows me that he doesn't have a clue who you are. COWARD??"
"He's just trying to hard-sell his product. HOWEVER - if he's not one of the bosses of SFX - and they found out that he sent this to you, he'd most probably get in serious shit. They wouldn't care what you said - they'd be more concerned about what he said as a rep of SFX. So keep that in mind."
Anonymoose/ Dave Blaser - "I do agree with those who have said that someone needs to discuss the dealers and the appropriateness what they're selling at SFX with the Hobbystar folks, but I think that it's just gotta be done in a certain way to help them understand that it's not a personal thing, but a legal thing, and they're saving their own ass by listening to folks about that."
identity protected/former Toronto convention chairperson - "SFX has a wonderful customer service policy, ... they have your money, they're happy."
Kevin @ StillVisions - (regarding the repeated allowed sale of illegal weapons) "Now, I'm sure they'll call all their illegal weapons "replicas", given that their weapons were generally pretty crappy. But a crappy illegal weapon is still illegal, not a replica.
Bill C68; look it up...
Very bad form on the part of CNA for not making sure the vendors are following the rules, which you would think include these crazy little things called "laws", since all it takes is one person who assumes that something you can buy publically is *gasp* legal to carry."
"As for the CNA link, the start is at http://www.stillvisions.com/events/CNA2002/CNA1.htm but I'm sure they've seen it by now.
They actually linked to me on the official site (http://www.hobbystar.com/TO-ComicCon/history.html) for some bizarre reason.
I've only gotten one somewhat pissed-off email so far, and they send me a few people every day, so i'm happy to make a difference."
Silent Bob - "I just encourage folks to not patronize CNA. I found their lack of ethics disturbing, their lack of concern for safety appalling, and their lack of concern for anything other than their own profit disgusting.
CNA - Just Say No! "
CNA should just fire the loser and clean up their own house.....their actions are part of what gives cons a bad rep."
"Simply put, this kind of behavior by -anyone- in a public relations or customer service position shouldn't be tollerated. Mr. Armstrong's tactics at the very least violate not just simple decorum, but also most likely his ISP's terms of service.
My past experiences at the CNA didn't exactly excite me, and having read this, I have no intention of supporting an event that allows its staff to behave in this manner. Justice in this case would be the firing and industry wide blacklisting of Mr. Armstrong. Let him try his antics in an industry that fits his type of temperment..say the UFC, or the RIAA."
"CNA on the otherhand, I'd rather be sodomized with a broken coke bottle than -ever- set foot in their 'event' again. That means I dont wanna go again, for those reading a little slow here."
Kaijugal - "I'm not going to attend the [Hobbystar Transformers Event] simply on the basis that the people promoting it were the rudest and most ignorant people I have had the displeasure of meeting of late."
Stainless Steel Rat - "Yikes! I have never attended any con in TO. except for TT....always heard bad things about SFX ...this seems to cement it...wont be seeing me there..quite the letter SID! I would be pissed too...I have had a few moments like this at work and written a few letters like yours...I empathize with you"
Gord - "I don't normally say anything unless I feel the need. But I just want to say that as having attended both SFX and Toronto Trek I don't think that SFX has the right to even say they are the best convention in Toronto let alone the world.
Also I think something should be done to get this guy kicked out of having anything to do with SFX cause I don't think they would like this kinda of stuff going on using the SFX logo as a shield. Just my 2, Gordie"
Corrupt Canuck - " ... The proof is right there and it's not surprising, but it definitely is damning...
... the letter is to the point and deals with the facts. ... If SFX was smart, theyd deal wiht this issue when they had the chance. A boycott of them would definately be appropriate."
Colin - "There's a phrase which is useful for describing him: marketing turd. ... Has absolutely no notion of ethics or boundaries. His soul feeds off the thrill of pushing his product to anyone who can be turned into an audience for his sales pitch."
"Yeah, fandom isn't really a good place to exercise the "take the money and run" mentality. People with incurable fuggheaded streaks have two choices -- gafiate, or hope to find other fuggheaded friends, as most of the decent fan folks won't give them much of an audience."
"Ayup, fans are just another lucrative market segment -- who cares about treating them with respect? They'll just be coming back next year for their annual dollop of pre-chewed entertainment extravaganza."
Stillvisions - "Lemme guess; bashing certain other TO cons? The participants? The staff? I've heard some interesting reports about the SFX people playing hardball with the AN people so I wouldn't be too shocked. "
Anime Dave - "And yes, I've usually been less then impressed with with them even before I was banned (ed. banned only because of affiliation to Anime North, ie. discrimination). I recall that the second year of CNAX was when AN did a table-swap with them. (This was the year they moved to the North building from the South building.) We were told to show up at around one in the afternoon, but wern't able to get our table until past four or five."
Quas - "Short of organizing a protest outside their event or starting the Screw sfx Con, I think you have your bases covered."
Lance - "[ you were an] individual fan who was (rightfully) ticked off at the way James was conducting his business."
"I can say that it surprised me to hear that he was behaving so unprofessionally - that's not to say that I disbelieved you in any way, as you have never given me reason to disbelieve you. (Frankly, I would have been much less surprised to hear of this conduct coming from other SFX people... I am naming no names, however. )"
example: Deceptive business practices
For two years in a row, Hobbystar has intentionally chosen to hold a "Free Fan Appreciation Event" (which really isn't free, unless you find a Toronto area dealer and spend $10 for a coupon to gain entry) and call it Toronto Comicon.
Unfortunately that name was already in use by another company, and Hobbystar's tactics can easily be interpreted as name confusion and purposefully deceptive to take business away from the real Toronto Comicon.
An article discussing this can be found here, including comments from people within the community as well as artists that are disgusted with Hobbystar's tactics
example: predatory actions against the comicbook community
Daryl Collison from 3rd Quadrant Comics was told that if he does a show held by a company respected in the community, his previously paid for table at Fan Expo Canada would be refunded and given to someone else.
This would effectively be a breach of contract by Hobbystar and Aman Gupta thinks he can get away with it.
Read more here: http://stophobbystar.blogspot.com/2006/07/3rd-quadrant-comics-needs-your-help.html
example: disregard for the community at large
DJ Sean Ward who can be seen with Ed The Sock and Lianna K. at some events, posted a call for a boycott from his experiences with Hobbystar.
» This is the original link of his Open Letter to Hobbystar Marketing.
» Some of the folks on the Collector's Society Boards had a few things to say about this as well.
example: extreme lack of communication and accountability for actions
Considering so many valid concerns, not to mention those with mobility issues that have contacted me about being ignored, it's disappointing, yet all too familiar for them to ignore people. I regularly receive information from more and more individuals who don't hear back from them in regards to everything from simple questions or when if ever they'll get the refund they were assured.
(Is it true you have to buy a weekend membership there to even get a chance to line up for the masquerade, yet there are limited seats so those people who paid for the full weekend are left in the cold?)
Complaints are ignored, people with feedback and suggestions are ignored and nothing gets fixed (example, the police stopping the sales of illegal weapons when hobbystar did NOTHING since at least 2002 - see StillVisions.com for more) and people get rightfully disappointed.
Other Muliti-Genre Toronto area conventions (AdAstra, Toronto Trek, Anime North) have open forums to air gripes and concerns, and gasp, they get acted upon.
Why is Hobbystar so reluctant to open up a similar forum?
Gee, I can think of a few reasons, namely the possible deluge of people telling them to smarten up, and not being able to ignore them in a collected assembly.
Especially when James tried to shovel his hype-pablum on me and told me "to tell all your friends and family that SFX is the best convention in the world!" and never cares to contribute much more than spam on other message boards and not really participate except to advertise, you'd think they would have finally utilized their vast resources to respond to people that may actually help them improve. Heh, I know...keep dreaming...