Friday, September 4th18.8°C

Sister still fights for reunion

The aunt of a drowned Syrian boy whose death has sparked worldwide awareness about the plight of refugees in Europe says she still hopes to bring the rest of her family to Canada.

Tima Kurdi said through tears outside her home in Coquitlam that she plans to help her brother, Abdullah, immigrate to Canada eventually.

She has previously said that she applied for her older brother, Mohammad, but Citizenship and Immigration Canada requested further documents.

Kurdi says she sent Abdullah $5,000 to pay smugglers for the risky journey from Turkey to Greece, and she blames herself for the deaths of three-year-old Alan Kurdi and his five-year-old brother Ghalib, along with their mother.

Photos of Alan's lifeless body on a beach in Turkey have put Canada's refugee policy in the spotlight amid the federal election, though Kurdi has said the deaths of her relatives and others is a wake-up call for the world.

Kurdi says she watched video of the boys being buried on Friday and she wished that she was there with her brother to wish them goodbye.

The Canadian Press


Tough on drones, boats

Irresponsible drone operators and boaters are the latest groups to come under fire from the provincial government.

Both groups have been under attack for hampering attempts to fight wildfires throughout the province.

On two occasions this summer, aircraft fighting fires in West Kelowna and Oliver were grounded when unauthorized drones flew too close.

On Aug. 16, eight aircraft were grounded at the Testalinden Creek wildfire near Oliver. Those aircraft were grounded for four hours while the fire continued to spread.

During a media conference Friday, Mike Morris, parliamentary secretary to Forests Minister Steve Thompson, said he is looking into tougher enforcement and penalties for those who disobey the rules.

"They (firefighters) should not have to deal with the unnecessary dangers of people irresponsibly using drones near wildfires," said Morris.

"Our intention here today is to ensure all drone operators are aware of the rules that govern them and the severe consequences of not following those rules."

Transport Canada regulates the use of drones, and Morris said those regulations prohibit their use near any wildfire.

"The restricted area is within a radius of five nautical miles around a fire and to an altitude of 3,000 feet above ground level.

"The current maximum fine for an infraction is $25,000 and violators could spend up to 18 months in jail."

Morris said he hopes to see the federal regulations beefed up, but he also wants provincial regulations that would give local enforcement officers the chance to deal with offenders immediately.

He's also looking into similar sanctions for boaters who hamper firefighting efforts by getting too close to areas where helicopters and water bombers are refilling.

"In the interest of safety, I am asking every British Columbian to use their common sense and keep their boat well away from areas where air tankers or helicopters are working," said Morris.

"We will also be exploring the option of imposing heavy penalties to any boater who intentionally or unintentionally interferes with the wildfire process."

These are on top of potential fines for smokers who start fires by carelessly tossing cigarette butts out of moving vehicles.

Morris said the government has put together a four-point action plan to address the issues. These include:

  1. Review existing enforcement provisions under Transport Canada regulations, the Wildfire Act and other provincial legislation.
  2. Explore potential legislative and regulatory changes to strengthen existing provisions and penalties of provincial legislation in the spring of 2016.
  3. A public awareness campaign directed at stores where drones are sold to inform buyers about their legal obligations.
  4. Transport Canada is currently reviewing its legislative requirements relative to drones and is actively seeking feedback on how to improve the regulatory framework.

"We have made a submission to the federal government that advocates for stronger regulation and addresses a number of key themes, including the safe operation of drones, personal privacy, registration of drones, certification of all drone operators and public awareness."

Morris said he hopes to have his report complete within the next  couple of weeks.

Any new legislation could be in place for the start of next year's fire season.

Morris added the pilots involved in the two drone incidents have not yet been identified. Those investigations are continuing.

High-risk tag for killer dad

British Columbia's Criminal Justice Branch has filed a court application to have Allan Schoenborn declared high risk.

The man who killed his three children at their Merritt home in 2008 began living in a psychiatric hospital two years later.

The branch says it will seek to have Schoenborn declared a "high risk accused" in court next Thursday because he was found not criminally responsible for the deaths due to a mental disorder.

Such a high-risk finding would not mean Schoenborn is never allowed to leave the hospital and could still be allowed escorted outings.

In May, the B.C. Review Board renewed Schoenborn's detention for another year but he was granted escorted access to the community at the discretion of the hospital's director.

Despite the public uproar, the Criminal Justice Branch did not appeal the decision, saying there was no legal basis to do so.

The Canadian Press


Police swarm Stanley Park

UPDATE: 1 p.m.

Vancouver police are searching for a man around Stanley Park after he allegedly tried to grab an eight-year-old girl.

It happened at approximately 8:30 this morning.

A release from the Vancouver Police Department says the child was approached and grabbed at the north foot of Denman Street, in the city's West End.

Police say the suspect ran toward the area of Lost Lagoon after being confronted, although there's no indication who challenged him.

Officers on foot, backed by dog units, the VPD mounted squad, park rangers and other staff are searching the area.

The man is described as white, with a slim build, scruffy and wearing green clothing.

UPDATE 11:30 a.m.

Police continue to hunt for the man allegedly responsible for trying to abduct a young girl, this morning in Stanley Park.

The girl is reported to be OK, after being grabbed by the man about 8:30 a.m.


Police in Vancouver are searching Stanley Park after a report a man grabbed an eight-year-old girl and tried to drag her off.

Const. Brian Montague says about 8:30 a.m. the girl was approached at the north-end of Denman Street near the seawall. The man was confronted and ran off in the area of Lost Lagoon.

"Police have flooded into the park as officers, K9, the VPD Mounted Unit along with Park Rangers and park staff search for the suspect,” he says.

The man has been described as white with a slim build and dirty looking wearing green clothing.

More to follow.

Cyclist dragged under semi

A cyclist who has been nicknamed "Indiana Jones" for surviving being dragged beneath a semi-trailer for half a kilometre has cheated death before.

Ladislav Cumpelik was riding to work in Saanich, just outside Victoria, on Wednesday morning when a big rig unexpectedly turned right directly in front of him.

Cumpelik, 37, said he tried to stop but skidded under the truck as it began to pick up speed.

He described grabbing the truck's undercarriage and hanging on, while screaming for help as several motorists pulled alongside to alert the truck driver.

Saanich police Const. Paul Cain estimates the semi reached speeds of about 50 km/h as Cumpelik clung on for dear life.

He survived with a broken shoulder, fractured ribs and extensive road rash, said Cain, who added that the cyclist's back was skinned, but mostly saved by a backpack.

"He was yelling for help and nobody could hear him."

A driver behind the truck raced beside the trucker, honking and yelling for him to stop, Cain said.

"I've been doing this job for 27 years, and I've never encountered anything like that," he said.

"His shorts were completely shredded. Like, completely. There was hardly anything left of them."

Cain said the truck, which was carrying steel beams to a construction site, drove over the bike.

"The truck driver had no idea, no idea. This is a miracle. Just something you don't hear about."

Markyta Cumpelik said her son was expected to have surgery Friday night or Saturday.

"He said what was going through his mind was that it was his last day on Earth," she said of Cumpelik, who married a year ago and is thrilled to be alive.

She said her son was terrorized as he screamed for the driver to stop.

"He didn't now if he could hold on anymore and if he would be crushed by the wheels of the trailer.

"My baby has nine lives because he's gone through trauma several times in his life."

She said that age two, Cumpelik almost drowned in a lake after wandering away from a children's birthday party. When he was six, he ran into a plate-glass window at a friend's house and still bears the scars.

"All the guardian angels up in heaven, they're really busy with him," she said.

"He's in such good humour, he's making jokes."

The Canadian Press

Cyclist killed in collision

A cyclist has died following a collision with an SUV in Surrey Thursday night.

Just after 10 p.m., RCMP were called to the scene of the collision, near 108th Avenue and 142nd Street.  

A dark-coloured Ford Escape westbound on 108th Avenue collided with the male cyclist, who was thrown from his bicycle and seriously injured.  

B.C. Ambulance Service performed CPR at the scene and the victim was taken to hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries, reports Surrey RCMP watch commander Staff Sgt. M.A. Hedderson.

The driver of the vehicle, a resident of Surrey, remained at the scene and is cooperating with investigators.  Alcohol or drugs do not appear to be a contributing factor in the collision.  

The identity of the cyclist is still being determined.

Police are seeking the public's assistance and ask anyone who may have witnessed the collision to call them at 604-599-0502 or CrimeStoppers.

Gaglardi ducks fine increase

Prosecutors in British Columbia have failed to persuade a judge to increase a fine against the owner of the NHL's Dallas Stars for damaging fish habitat in the province's Interior.

Tom Gaglardi and his company, Northland Properties, were convicted in provincial court in August 2014 on two counts each of harmful alteration of a fish habitat.

Gaglardi was ordered to pay $140,000, but the Crown appealed, asking the B.C. Supreme Court to more than double the fine to $300,000 for the man who also owns the WHL's Kamloops Blazers.

Justice Susan Griffin said in her ruling that the provincial court judge did not make an error in his penalty.

"The Crown is correct in its position that when a crime is committed by a sophisticated person for purely selfish reasons, the moral blameworthiness of the crime is great," she wrote.

She said Gaglardi's moral culpability was at the high end of the scale, noting the damage to the environment was significant.

But Griffin said the penalty was appropriate under case law.

"I may have imposed a higher fine in the circumstances, but that is not the test," she wrote.

"It is clear that the sentencing judge considered all relevant factors and I am not able to find that the total penalties imposed, when remediation costs are taken into account, were disproportionately low as to be unfit."

During the trial last year, court heard the Gaglardi family home on Kamloops Lake in Savona — known as Tom's Shack — was undergoing extensive renovations in 2010.

The charges stem from work done along the shoreline of his property.

The trial heard it will take more than 40 years to restore the salmon habitat.

A former Northland employee testified during the trial he was ordered to destroy documents and throw his computer hard drive in the lake when federal investigators began looking into alleged environmental improprieties.

Gaglardi apologized for the damage during a sentence hearing.

The Canadian Press

Distracted driving - don't

Police in Vancouver are stepping up their enforcement of distracted drivers throughout the month of September.

To kick off their campaign, the Vancouver Police Department rolled out a smashed SUV covered in cellphones representing distracted driving fatalities.

About 80 people are killed in British Columbia every year due to distracted driving, according to the VPD.

“Leave your phones alone. Use a hands-free device or pull over to the side of the road if you need to talk or text," Acting Inspector Ken Eng of the VPD's Traffic Section said in a statement.

"Don’t put your life, and the lives of others, at risk."

Those caught using an electronic device while driving face a $167 fine and three penalty points.

Province flexing its mussels

British Columbia’s waters have remained mussel-free this summer, due, in part, to a gang of anti-mussel superheroes patrolling the province’s roads and waterways.

B.C.’s enhanced invasive mussel defense program was launched in May 2015. The program puts six mobile decontamination units on key highways throughout B.C. that target boats coming from the United States and eastern Canada.

The $1.3 million in provincial and BC Hydro funding along with $360,000 from the Columbia Basin Trust that funds this program also put 12 auxiliary conservation officers on the roads to inspect boats and remove any invasive species found.

This summer, 26 boats were found that required decontamination and four of them required a full 30-day quarantine period.

These were the first decontamination and quarantine orders issued through the province’s Controlled Alien Species Regulation.

The provincial government’s anti-mussel sentiments may seem unfair to the seemingly innocent invasive quagga and zebra mussels, but the actions come with justification.

“They are more than just a threat to our ecosystems,” Steve Thompson, B.C.’s minister of forests, lands and natural resource operations, said. “They can be a threat to drinking water facilities, hydro stations, agricultural irrigation and more.”

These invasive mussel species first arrived in North America in the mid to late 1980s as a result of discharged ballast water from boats travelling from Europe.

“It’s been a progressive spread across North America,” said Matthias Herborg, aquatic invasive species specialist with the Ministry of Environment. “Lake Winnipeg unfortunately got infested in 2013 which again, put it a whole bunch closer to us.”

The Pacific Northwest is North America’s last bastion of hope in its stand against this European invasion.

“Our part of the Pacific Northwest, B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, and (Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Idaho), we are the last mussel free ones,” Herborg said.

And so far, the fight here at home has been successful.

“Last year we did 45 sample sites that are all clean,” said Herborg. “This year we’ve ramped up to 80 and so far everything has always come back negative.”

Anti-ICBC sentiment strong

According to a recent Castanet poll, a lot of people are fed up with British Columbia’s car insurance provider.

The poll asked, “Should ICBC be privatized?” Of the 4,344 people who responded, 3,182 said it should be privatized while only 1,162 felt it shouldn’t.

Comments on the poll varied. Many people posted how different their rates were in B.C. compared with elsewhere in Canada, where insurance is provided through private companies.

“Yes I paid double in B.C. for my Jeep insurance compared to Alberta,” wrote Stephen Burns.

“Yes please. Moved from Ontario. 2015 Jeep. Perfect record. Insurance doubled. Driving to work? Extra. Outside the province? Extra. Outside the country? Extra,” wrote Ryan Benson. “B.C. gets F'ed when it comes to insurance.”

Others felt that simple comparisons of rates between the provinces do not paint the full picture.

“If you are elderly, young, especially a male under 21, you would pay SUBSTANTIALLY more under private insurance as these groups are high risk,” wrote Bob Dunbar, who said he has 18 years experience in the insurance industry. “ICBC has "fair" rating that can't discriminate for those things.”

Others remembered how B.C.’s insurance was before ICBC was implemented.

“No, I remember what it was like before ICBC came into being, THANK YOU NDP. No one had to insure you. If you were a young person wanting to get motorcycle insurance, good luck, and get another job to pay if you did get it,” wrote Richard Thuillier. “Quit your whining, it's a better system than we had.”

Regardless, the anti-ICBC sentiment was strong among the commenters.

“You know you have nothing to fear in life after dealing with ICBC because even Hell would be a vacation/piece of cake,” wrote Tracy Rennes.

Car rigged to avoid toll fees

A Vancouver-area man who allegedly evaded toll-bridge cameras by manipulating his licence plate with a cable system has been charged with fraud.

RCMP Cpl. Scotty Schumann says 49-year-old Gregory Murray of Port Coquitlam is facing two counts of fraud under $5,000.

He says that in December 2014 an off-duty officer watched a car's licence plate go back into place after the vehicle passed toll cameras on the Golden Ears Bridge.

Schumann says police identified the driver and later followed the car, watching as the plate was lifted away to avoid cameras that photograph licence plates so drivers can be billed a crossing fee.

Schumann says police stopped the car, arrested the driver and during a search found a cable system inside the vehicle that could manipulate the licence plate.

He says police have seized Murray's 1993 Geo Metro and will apply to have it forfeited to the Crown.

The Canadian Press

Fire costs near $300M

The provincial government blew through its summer firefighting budget early in the fiscal year - now, it's inching toward $300 million.

To date, the province has spent approximately $260 million to fight 1,800 wildfires since the fiscal year began April 1, four times the $63-million annual budget allotted for fighting fires in B.C.

Those costs will continue to rise daily as provincial ground and air crews battle new and current fires.

At the present time there are 13 fires of note in the province including eight in the Southeast district and one, Testalinden Creek, in the Kamloops district.

A total of 485 firefighters are still working those fires including more than 150 at Testalinden.

And, there's still a month, or more, left in the fire season.

If costs continue to rise as they have, 2015 could go down as the third most expensive fire season in terms of firefighting budgets since the disastrous season of 2003.

That year, the province spent $372 million on firefighting, second only to 2009 when $382.1 million as spent.

Last year, the provincial government paid just shy of $300 million on the firefighting effort.

While this year's fire season started earlier than usual, the total number of fires will likely come in at around the 10-year average.

To date, about 1,800 fires have been reported. The 10-year average is 1,847. The worst year was 2009 when more than 3,000 fires broke out.

The number of hectares burned will end up well over the 300,000 ha barrier.

To date, 296,000 hectares of timber have burned. That compares to 369,000 last year, the worst since 2003. About 337,000 hectares burned in 2010.

While touring the Shelter Cove fire in July, Premier Christy Clark said the province would spend whatever it took to control the fires.

"You can never predict it," said Clark when asked if the budget will be re-evaluated next year.

"What we do with the budget is look at, I think, a rolling five or six-year average. We take that average and we plug it into the budget. But we always know if it goes over the set budget amount, we spend what we need to."

Hwy 1 closed at Bridal Falls

The eastbound lanes of the Trans Canada Highway are partially closed near Bridal Falls.

The highway was closed about 10 a.m. this morning following a single-vehicle motor vehicle crash.

One lane was reopened shortly before noon.

According to a witness at the scene, the vehicle hit a concrete barrier, shearing off the front end of the car.

The car ended up in the grass median between the eastbound and westbound lanes.

Detours are available via Highways 7 and 9.

Fire danger remains

The B.C. Wildfire Service is warning people to be careful in the woods this coming long weekend.

On top of the normal uptick in activity in the backwoods that comes with any long weekend is the likelihood of pre-grad bush parties.

"We are definitely in tune to that, and the same thing going into the Canada Day long weekend and August long weekend as well," said chief fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek.

"Unfortunately, given the volume of people who are going to be out there, whether it's for grad parties or the midst of summer, we do see an increase in new fire starts."

Skrepnek said local fire zones are aware of areas that could be more active than usual.

"We work with the RCMP, fire wardens and fire crews."

Many bush party fires fall outside provincial jurisdiction.

"Quite often, with these parties, they are not that far out of the city," said Skrepnek. "They often fall within fire department jurisdiction. I'm sure the local fire departments are also gearing up to keep an eye on areas they know have been of concern in the past."

Despite the change in weather over the past week or so, Skrepnek said people still need to be careful in the woods.

He said, while the campfire ban has been lifted through much of the province, there are strict sizes associated with any fire.

"Anything over a half metre by a half metre is still prohibited."

And while the threat of major wildfires has diminished, fire season is far from over.

"We have seen a shift in the weather and that has definitely diminished the conditions we were seeing as far as the fire danger rating and what the threat is out there," said Skrepnek.

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