Saturday, August 23rd20.6°C

Fish near spill OK to eat

The BC government says fish tissue collected near the site of a tailings spill showed elevated levels of selenium, but that fish from the area is still safe to eat.

The tailings dam at the Mount Polley mine failed almost three weeks ago, prompting extensive testing of water quality and aquatic life to assess the potential impact on people and the environment.

A government news release says rainbow trout collected on Aug. 8, four days after the spill, had levels of selenium in their livers and gonads that exceeded guidelines for human consumption.

However, it says a person would need to eat about one cup of livers and gonads in one day to exceed those limits, while the same amount of other fish flesh would be safe.

Interior Health maintains that fish in the area is fit for human consumption, but the health authority also says people who want to take extra precautions can remove the livers and gonads before eating the fish.

Several different investigations are looking into the cause of the tailings spill, which mine owner Imperial Metals is responsible for cleaning up.

The Canadian Press


Plaques mark troubled time

Several plaques unveiled in the Okanagan today are among 100 across Canada.  The plaques are part of the Ukrainian Canadian Restitution Act, brought about by a private member's bill in the House of Commons. Kelowna, Vernon and Enderby are among the locations marked for commemoration.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the implementation of the War Measures Act. During World War One, 24 internment camps were set up and operated across the country which imprisoned over 8,500 men, women and children for being enemy aliens.

Prisoners at the internment camps were used as forced labour for the construction of government infrastructure such as the Trans-Canada Highway and Banff National Park.  A further 88,000 enemy aliens were required to report regularly to police authorities during this period.

Kelowna-Lake Country MP Ron Cannan attended the unveiling of the plaque in Kelowna, at the Dormition of the Mother of God, Ukrainian Catholic Church.

"The plaques unveiled today recognize a troubled period of Canadian history,” explained Cannan. “It is important to understand the impact that this action had on Canada.  Innocent new Canadians from Ukraine, as well as those of German, Hungarian, Croatian, Serbian, Armenian descent, as well as other Eastern Europeans, were needlessly imprisoned."  


BC law school back in news

The Law Society of New Brunswick will hold a special meeting next month to review its decision to accredit a controversial law school proposed in BC.

The group voted in June to recognize future graduates of Trinity Western University — a private Christian school that requires all students to sign a covenant that bars same-sex relationships.

Since then hundreds of members have petitioned the law society to reconsider that decision, prompting the meeting planned for Sept. 13.

Law societies in Ontario and Nova Scotia voted against accrediting students from Trinity Western, prompting the school to file lawsuits in both provinces.

In BC, the provincial government is being sued over its decision to accredit the law school by a group of lawyers who argue Trinity's covenant violates equality rights.

The law school, in what is known as the Fraser Valley "Bible belt," is slated to open in the fall of 2016.

The Canadian Press


Alaska wants say in BC

The state of Alaska says it wants greater involvement as a controversial BC mine moves through the approval process and it suggests the federal government should consider a more comprehensive review.

The KSM gold and copper mine proposed by Seabridge Gold Inc. (TSX:SEA) has raised concerns in Alaska about the potential impact on fish and the environment.

The northern BC project has passed the provincial environmental assessment process but is currently awaiting a decision from the federal government.

Alaska's Department of Natural Resources has written the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to formally request to be involved in future permitting and the development of enforcement and monitoring programs.

Environmentalists, aboriginals and fishermen in Alaska have called on the Canadian government to conduct a more thorough process known as a panel review, and the state's letter says Ottawa should "carefully consider" whether that's appropriate.

Seabridge has said it has worked hard to address concerns in Alaska, and the company insists the project will have no impact on American rivers or fish.

The Canadian Press

Courier service expanding in BC

The United Parcel Service, one of the largest shipment and logistics companies in the world, is expanding its reach in BC.

They’ve announced the Canadian arm of the company will be opening up three new operating centres in the province, and expanding another.

UPS pickup and delivery services for its Kamloops customers began earlier this week, and will soon include Nanaimo and Comox on Vancouver Island. The Kelowna location will also see an expansion of its current space.

"Expanding our service in BC and across Canada is fueled by market opportunity and customer demand," says UPS Canada President Michael Tierney.

"UPS continues to invest in new capabilities and network capacity to secure customers' confidence and enable their long-term growth."

The multi-million dollar expansion will see 80 new jobs brought into the four comminutes.

Ammonia leak in Mission

Hazardous materials crews in BC's Fraser Valley faced a tense situation early Friday morning when a cloud of ammonia gas spewed from a food processing plant.

The incident began at around 3 a.m. at the B.C. Frozen Foods plant between Mission and Hatzic, about 70 kilometres east of Vancouver.

Crews arrived to find a large plume of ammonia gas shooting from a refrigeration unit on the roof of the building, located between the Lougheed Highway and the north bank of the Fraser River.

No one was hurt and no homes were affected, but police shut down a two-kilometre section of the highway until around 7:30 a.m., briefly closed a nearby rail line, and kept boats off a stretch of the Fraser River until the leak was plugged.

The cause is still under investigation, but one fire official says a pressure relief valve in the refrigeration unit may be to blame.

Ammonia gas is a vital component in refrigeration or ice-making. The Canadian Centre for Health and Safety says inhalation severely irritates the nose and throat, and can cause lasting damage or death after even short-term exposure.

The Canadian Press

Small arsenal found in home

A stun gun, 10 swords, a crossbow, and an explosive device are just a few of the weapons seized by police after community complaints led them to a Burnaby home last week.

Mounties, New Westminster police officers and Emergency Response Team members raided what they described as a “problem residence” in the 7700-block of 6 Street on Aug. 14.

CTV Vancouver says they arrested 18 people living inside, some of whom are believed to be involved in ongoing property and drug offences in both Burnaby and New Westminster. One man was wanted on an outstanding warrant.

Officers also seized a mini-arsenal of weapons, including nine knives, machetes, a switchblade, ammunition, pellet guns resembling real firearms, a collapsible baton, bayonets, body armour and a .38 calibre handgun that had apparently been decommissioned.

“We are always pleased when we can get weapons off our streets that could potentially harm the public," New Westminster Police Chief Dave Jones said in a statement.

Police are recommending a slew of charges against one man arrested in the home, including 23 counts of breach of undertaking, five counts of failing to comply with a weapon prohibition order, two counts of possession of a prohibited weapon and one count of unauthorized possession of an explosive device.

Sixteen of the residents have been released from custody and it’s unclear whether they will face charges.

A number of valuables were also found inside the home, including war medals from Vietnam and World War II, coin collections, a bike, a point-of-sale terminal for credit and debit cards, and various pieces of identification.

The City of Burnaby has also conducted a property inspection at the home that identified bylaw violations, according to RCMP.

City staff will be working with the owner to ensure necessary repairs are completed, and continuing to monitor the property along with police.

Ex lotto boss repays $55K

The former boss of the B.C. Lottery Corporation has paid back $55,000 collected while he was found to be in a conflict of interest.

Michael Graydon left the Crown agency last February to become president of the newly formed PV Hospitality ULC, an affiliate of the Paragon Gaming Inc. developing a casino project adjacent to BC Place.

A government review found he'd been in negotiations for two months while still at the helm of the lottery corporation.

He did not disclose that fact to the lottery board.

And after he left he had access to the agency's information system for another 10 days, though there was no evidence Graydon used insider information to benefit his new employer.

Graydon received a $125,000 severance package when he quit but he was not asked to repay $30,000 in vacation pay to which the agency said he was legally entitled.

The Canadian Press

Another thunderstorm warning

Once again, Environment Canada has issued a severe thunderstorm watch for the Okanagan.

They anticipate the development of storms that could produce heavy rain this afternoon.

In a worst-case scenario, the weather agency says there could be as much as 15 millimetres of rainfall within an hour.

However this warning should be taken with a grain of salt, previous warnings for the past week have not brought about any dangerous weather.

The weather report for Friday also calls for showers and risk of a thunderstorm in the afternoon.

The sunshine is expected to return on Saturday and continue through the early portions of next week.

View Castanet's weather page here.

Teen killer allowed to leave jail

A British Columbia man who was 15 when he murdered four people, including his parents, will be allowed an unescorted temporary absence from prison.

James Ruscitti is serving a life sentence for the 1996 slayings of Rocco and Marilyn Ruscitti, his brother's 17-year-old girlfriend and a boarder who lived in their home near 100 Mile House, 500 kilometres northeast of Vancouver.

In a written decision released Wednesday, the National Parole Board granted Ruscitti's request for a 60-day absence to attend a residential substance abuse treatment facility on Vancouver Island.

Now 33, the parole board members noted that Ruscitti is considered a moderate to high risk for violent reoffending but found he has made progress in his rehabilitation.

"You have now voiced remorse for your crimes," the decision said.

"You apologized to the victims and said you regret your crimes. This appears to be genuine."

The unescorted absence is the first step in what parole board members called a "very gradual" reintegration into society.

As a youth at the time of the crime, Ruscitti has been eligible for parole since 2004.

Ruscitti's explanation for the murders has changed over time, the decision noted.

In the "honest" version given to board members at the parole hearing this month, Ruscitti said he was entrenched in a drug culture by age 15.

"There were concerns of your abusing and torturing animals, encountering disciplinary problems in school, and using drugs from an early age," the decision said.

Though he sold drugs and used marijuana, cocaine and LSD at the time of his crime, Ruscitti was "sober and enraged" when he and a 14-year-old accomplice shot the victims at point-blank range on June 22, 1996.

Living on his own, dealing drugs, Ruscitti returned home one day to find his residence had been searched. He found out his father and the boarder, Dennis O'Hara, were responsible.

"Trying to impress your criminal associates," he planned revenge, the board members said.

After the murders, Ruscitti left his two-month-old niece in a room with her dead mother, Christine Clarke, his brother's girlfriend.

"You did not give any thought to killing the infant but you did very little to make efforts to ensure the child would be rescued," the decision said.

The baby was found two days later so dehydrated doctors felt she was within hours of death.

Ruscitti shot all four victims. Chad Bucknell also shot O'Hara.

"You took full responsibility for the violence and explained you were a thrill seeker trying to be a 'gangster' and had major anger issues against three of your four victims," the board members said.

Ruscitti, who was adopted, had two sisters and an older brother. A previous board decision said he has undergone offender-victim mediation with one sibling, who supports his release.

But the latest decision said the victims' family members want no contact with him and one of the conditions of his unescorted absence is that he make no attempt to get in touch.

Bucknell was granted full parole three years ago.

The Canadian Press

Woman pens right-to-die manifesto

“Today, now, I go cheerfully and so thankfully into that good night. Jonathan, the courageous, the faithful, the true and the gentle, surrounds me with company. I need no more.”

So ends a heart-wrenching open letter penned by 83-year-old Bowen Island resident Gillian Bennett, published online Monday shortly after her death.

According to CTV Vancouver, the dementia sufferer had spent the weekend saying her goodbyes with her son and daughter. When the time came, she pulled a foam mattress from her home to a favourite spot outdoors, took a drink of whiskey, and swallowed two barbiturates.

“There comes a time, in the progress of dementia, when one is no longer competent to guide one’s own affairs. I want out before the day when I can no longer assess my situation, or take action to bring my life to an end,” Bennett wrote.

“Understand that I am giving up nothing that I want by committing suicide. All I lose is an indefinite number of years of being a vegetable in a hospital setting, eating up the country’s money but having not the faintest idea of who I am.”

Her husband Jonathan said it took only about three minutes for her to lose consciousness.

Being that it’s against Canadian law to help anyone die by suicide, he took no part in the process. He ate breakfast with her, accompanied her on a short walk around their property, and waited by her side.

“I just sat there and held her hand, and within about half an hour she was dead,” he said. “That’s it. That’s the whole story.”

Jonathan described his wife, a retired therapist, as feisty, smart, and always eager to help others, especially her two children, six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

She also felt passionately about the right to die, which fueled her desire to share her story.

“She was trying to strike a blow for righteousness,” he said of her letter, which she spent months writing and perfecting. “This was a strong, strong conviction she had.”

In Bennett’s poignant manifesto, she described the toll dementia had already taken on her life – the slow loss of her memory and identity – and her desire to avoid becoming a burden to her family and others.

“I can live or vegetate for perhaps ten years in hospital at Canada’s expense, costing anywhere from $50,000 to $75,000 per year,” she said. “Nurses, who thought they were embarked on a career that had great meaning, find themselves perpetually changing my diapers and reporting on the physical changes of an empty husk. It is ludicrous, wasteful and unfair.”

She also urged readers to write a living will, detailing under what circumstances they would not want to be resuscitated, and expressed a hope that physician-assisted suicide would one day be available in her country.

The legal ban was challenged in 2012 by ALS sufferer Gloria Taylor, the BC Civil Liberties Association, and others. The B.C. Supreme Court ruled in their favour, but the decision was overturned last year in the province's top court. 

The case is scheduled to move to the Supreme Court of Canada in October.

In the meantime, Wanda Morris, CEO of Dying with Dignity Canada, said there are many people in similar situations to Bennett’s who take their lives early knowing they must see the process through by themselves.

Morris applauded Bennett for speaking out, and believes stories like hers help the public see the issue as more than just academic.

“I think it’s those stories that we’ll look back at and say, ‘That’s what changed the law,’” she said.

Hwy. 99 partially open

12:10 p.m. update:

7:20 p.m. update:

Highway 99 is now reduced to single lane alternating traffic with a pilot car, due to the mudslide from Lillooet to 35 km north of the municipality. Delays up to 20 minutes expected.

3:15 p.m. update:

Highway 99 is still closed, DriveBC says the next update will be at 6 p.m.

Several people were stranded overnight on Highway 99 north of Lillooet, after four vehicles got caught between two mudslides that closed a section of the road.

A storm hit the region at about 10 p.m. on Tuesday night.

Transportation Ministry spokesman Dan Palesch said 10 to 12 smaller slides came down in various locations through a segment of 10 to 12 kilometres.

The ministry's Drive BC site said Wednesday that the highway remains shut down in both directions from Lillooet to 35 kilometres north of the community.

There's no word on when it will reopen, and motorists were being advised to use Highway 12 and Highway 1 instead.

Lillooet Mayor Dennis Bontron said no injuries have been reported from the slides.

"The slide came behind them and a slide was in front of them so they weren't able to continue on or go back," he said.

The storm also dumped hail that damaged one home, Bontron said. 

The next update will be at 3 p.m.

Were you caught between the slides? Tell us your story, send photos and video to [email protected]

A mudslide has closed Highway 99.

The route is blocked in both directions from Lillooet, to 35 km north of Lillooet, between Cache Creek and Lillooet. 

No local detour is available.

Alternate route via Highway 12 and Highway 1.

DriveBC has no estimated time of opening.

The Next update is scheduled for noon.

Orphaned bruin released

An orphaned, yearling grizzly dubbed Littlefoot is once again wandering free in the wilds of southeastern British Columbia, saved by a unique pilot project between the province and two animal welfare groups.

The little bear weighed just under 13 kilograms when he was found in the spring after hibernating alone, following the death of his mother last fall.

Although older than most bears accepted by the Northern Lights Wildlife Society in Smithers, officials in the ministries of environment and forests agreed the bruin could receive care for a short period, and he had grown to a healthy 44 kilograms before being released Tuesday.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) captured Littlefoot, transported him to the society and arranged his release in a berry-rich site close to where he was found, but far from humans.

Thirteen grizzlies have been released since 2008, when the pilot project began, but Littlefoot is the first yearling given a new chance at life, and he will wear a satellite collar for 18 months so his progress can be tracked.

The project is meant to determine whether orphaned grizzlies can survive after being released back into the wild, and similar rehabilitation projects are supported by the IFAW in Russia and India.

The Canadian Press

Man killed during rodeo

A horse race down a steep mountain slope in the B.C. Interior has claimed the life of a 44-year-old man.

The accident occurred Sunday afternoon at the Redstone Rodeo near the community of Alexis Creek, about 660 kilometres north of Vancouver.

Coroner Barb McLintock says some of the horses in the "high-risk sport" got too close to each other and three riders tumbled off their horses at a high rate of speed.

Jason Coutlee, of Merritt, B.C., was rushed to a medical clinic in Alexis Creek but died en route to Kelowna General Hospital.

Rodeo president Gerald William says eight riders were competing for a top prize of about $1,100, and the death was the first in the event's 16-year history.

The coroners service is investigating.

The Canadian Press

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