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Housing strategy on agenda

Canada's housing minister says he and his provincial and territorial counterparts are working toward the country's first national housing strategy in four decades.

Jean-Yves Duclos said Tuesday that Canadians will have their say on a long-term strategy for the country through online consultations and other means.

Discussions involving Indigenous communities and housing experts will be convened by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. in the summer and early fall, when the ministers will meet again, the group said in a joint statement.

Duclos said the ministers settled on an agenda to build a national housing strategy.

"No one government can address those housing needs alone," he said. "Today is a demonstration that we are there to listen and address the housing needs that Canadians have frankly expressed over the last few months and last few years."

Duclos, who is also responsible for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., was drowned out by chanting protesters earlier Tuesday when he invited himself to a homeless rights rally in Victoria.

About two dozen protesters demanded to know the Liberal government's plan to build more social housing across the country.

Duclos said he wanted to hear people's views on housing and homelessness but the crowd yelled, "Trudeau lies, people die."

"I'm here exactly for the same reasons as you are here," said Duclos, who appeared to be on a lunch break when he walked up to the protesters who gathered outside of a hotel where the ministers were meeting.

Ivan Drury of the Alliance Against Displacement said homelessness is at record levels across Canada and the protesters are calling on the federal government to build 77,000 units of social housing every year.

He spoke into a microphone in front of Duclos.

"How much money are you giving to social housing?" said Drury. "The Liberals aren't building any social housing. It's a lie."

Duclos said the federal government is spending $2.3 billion on housing over the next two years, which includes social, transition, shelter, market and homeless housing.

He complimented the protesters for their passion and energy before walking away amid the chants.

The protest coincided with a B.C. Supreme Court hearing Tuesday to shut down a homeless camp at Victoria's courthouse though a judge has reserved his decision.



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Saving BC's killer whales

Strategic fishery closures and marine habitat protection are part of a proposed plan by the federal government to protect the threatened killer whales off Canada's West Coast.

The recovery plan for the Northern and Southern Resident Killer Whale population has been set out online by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans with a 60-day public comment period.

The document makes 94 recommendations to help the two distinct whale populations that eat only fish.

The Northern Residents are listed as threatened in Canada, while the United States has declared its Southern Resident population endangered.

The whales are considered at risk because of their small population, low reproductive rate and numerous human-caused threats that could prevent recovery or cause further declines, says the report.

"Even under the most optimistic scenario ... the species' low intrinsic growth rate means that the time frame for recovery will be more than one generation."

A team of experts from the federal Fisheries Department, Parks Canada, the Vancouver Aquarium and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States developed the plan between 2011 and 2014.

Its members found that key threats to recovery include reductions in the availability and quality of prey, or salmon, environmental contamination and physical and acoustic disturbances.

Every year there is tussle over the division of the West Coast salmon fishery between First Nation, commercial and recreational fishermen, and up until this report, killer whales haven't been factored into the equation.

The population of Southern Killer Whales declined three per cent a year from 1995 to 2001, and has shown little recovery since then, the plan says. Just 77 southern whales were counted in 2014.

The Northern Killer Whales population plummeted at a rate of seven per cent each year between 1997 and 2001. But it grew from 219 whales in 2004 to upward of 280 whales in 2014.

The proposed recovery plan recommends the Department of Fisheries undertake several measures that would ensure whales have a large enough food supply to promote recovery.

It says chinook and chum salmon appear to be the whales' main prey during the summer and fall, but little is known about their diet during the other seasons.

"The lack of information about winter diet and distribution ... is a major knowledge gap that impedes our understanding of the principal threats facing the population," says the proposed plan.

One specific recommendation, marked as a high priority for the next five years, urges the department to "investigate strategic fishery closures as a possible tool" to reduce the whales' prey competition in specific feeding areas.

It also recommends the department investigate implementing "protected areas and fishery closures as tools to protect important foraging and beach-rubbing locations." The Robson Bight Ecological Reserve is a well-known spot where the whales rub their bodies on the rocky shore, but such behaviour has been recorded at several other beaches on Vancouver Island.

The proposals also suggest more general measures to protect whale prey from "exploitation and degradation," including preserving the freshwater habitat where those fish live. It urges the continued support of wild salmon policy and salmon recovery plans.

Other broad objectives include ensuring that human activities and chemical and biological pollutants don't prevent the recovery of whale populations.

Some high-priority measures to meet those goals include monitoring the long-term threats of climate change and El Nino, and working with National Defence to reduce whales' exposure to "high intensity underwater sound from military operations."

The plan says its recommendations are "highly likely to benefit" the other two types of whales that live in Canadian Pacific waters, the transient or Bigg's and Offshore Killer Whales.



Miss BC open to all

You do not have to fit societal body expectations to run for Miss BC.

This year, 10 women from the Okanagan, Kootenay’s and Northern B.C. will be competing at the inclusive Miss BC Pageant this weekend in Fort Langley.

Organizers say this pageant is unique because its focus is on development of women, not weight restrictions, age, marital status or gender. 

"The Miss BC Pageant celebrates all women, and yes, we would welcome transgender contestants," said organizer Darren Storsley, Mr. World Canada 2007.

During the summer of 2016 contestants from all across B.C. will compete for the Miss, Mrs., and Miss Teen BC titles.

“These women represent all that is beautiful in our province; there is no height or weight requirement,” writes the event organizers. “Throughout the weekend the women will be trained in various genres to face the panel of judges, receiving crucial life-skills training pertinent to young women.”

The competitors attend rehearsals for the grand-finale showcase, and participate in a large-scale group fundraiser for the pageant's chosen charity 'Cops for Cancer'. The pageant wraps up with a competition and the crowning of the winners on the final night.

Clarissa Palek, Danielle Beattie and Marie Stormy Hasenohrl will be competing against 25 other contestants for the Miss title.

In 2014, Palek, from Christina Lake, participated in the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Head Start for Young Woman Pilot Program and is very involved within her community.

Hasenohrl, from Prince George, was born in a cabin and raised in a small community. She says she hopes to help stop negative stereotypes of aboriginals.

Bella Konschuh-Penney, Daria Le Bleu, Rainah Burgess and Frances Oliver are competing against 13 other contestants for the Teen title.

Konschuh-Penney was born and raised in Westbank.

“I’ve entered the Miss Teen BC pageant to show all young women that beauty isn’t the outward appearance, but more so the inner person. No matter your looks or background, all women are beautiful and once we have found our inner beauty our outward beauty will shine,” said Konschuh-Penney.  

Oliver’s mother is chronically ill and she hopes to create easily-accessible assistance for families during times of crisis.

Linda Cucek, Sabrina Ross and Sarah Opdendries will be competing against five other contestants for the Mrs. title.

Organizers say Cucek, from Mission, is an advocate for autistic children and was largely responsible for making sure the B.C. government diagnoses children at an earlier age.

She has appeared in many newspaper articles and on TV, insisting that government should pay for behavioural therapy that most families cannot afford.

Leading up to the final pageant, all contestants receive professional training in areas such as public speaking, interview skills, media relations, modelling, manners, etiquette, leadership, self-esteem, health, fitness, nutrition, assertiveness, motivational speaking and self-defence.

The public is invited to log on and vote for their favourite contestant for the People’s Choice award at www.missbc.ca.

The charity recipient for the Miss BC Pageant is the Cops for Cancer Tour of the Canadian Cancer Society.

Since 2007, the contest has raised more than $259,000 for the cause.



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Homeless ruling to come

UPDATED: 6:17 p.m.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has reserved his decision on the fate of a homeless camp on the grounds of the Victoria courthouse.

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson said Tuesday that he needs time to review submissions after hearing the provincial government's second application to shut down the camp, where an estimate 100 people have been living in tents since the fall.

Hinkson rejected the government's original injunction last spring, ruling that there was no proof the government would suffer irreparable harm if an injunction to remove the campers wasn't granted.

Crown lawyer Warren Milman said an injunction is required because the camp has been declared a fire hazard and safety, sanitary and living conditions have deteriorated since the previous court hearings in March.

The lawyer representing the campers, Catherine Boies Parker, said any court order should not involve a blanket eviction notice because the area has served as a secure place for the city's many homeless people.

Hinkson said it's clear that conditions are degenerating because of the growing rat problem at the site.

"You are going to have to persuade me if I can make this kind of order," said Hinkson, when Boies Parker asked the court to consider a staggered closure of the camp once fire issues were improved.

"It has to be clear," he said. "This is far from clear."

Boies Parker told the court it needs to consider that the tent city residents have created a safe, secure and adequate shelter for many of the city's most vulnerable people.

"We say there's been no significant deterioration," she said.

It is not clear when Hinkson will make his ruling on the injunction.


ORIGINAL: 4:08 p.m.

Canada's housing minister was drowned out by protesters when he attended a homeless rights rally today in Victoria.

Jean-Yves Duclos was met with jeers from protesters demanding to know the Liberal government's plan to build more social housing across the country.

Duclos said he wanted to hear peoples views on housing and homelessness, but he was drowned out by people chanting, "Trudeau lies, people die."

Duclos and his provincial counterparts are meeting in Victoria.

Ivan Drury of the Alliance Against Displacement says homelessness is at record levels across Canada and the protesters are calling on the federal government to build 77,000 units of social housing every year.

The protest coincides with a B.C. Supreme Court hearing to shut down a homeless camp at Victoria's courthouse.



Woman chains self to tree

A stand off has begun on Vancouver Island between a regional district and a tree-loving woman.

The Cowichan Valley Regional District is planning to remove a maple tree, which some say is 1,000 years old, from a parking lot in Duncan.

CVRD chair Jon Lefebure says the tree is “reaching a moderate to high risk of failing and possibly harming someone.”

Seairra Courtemanche has taken up residence in the giant tree, chaining herself to a branch, and says she will remain in the tree until plans for its removal are changed.

“I have deep love in my heart for this tree,” Courtemanche said. “When you take away this tree, you’re taking away a memory of a way of being, of something that the Earth creates.”

Other members of the community have rallied around Courtemanche’s cause.

“This does not belong to them. It does not belong to an elected official. It belongs to all the people,” said John Henry.

One man said he had met his wife at the tree, years prior.

“I don’t care if I have to sit in this tree for the rest of my damn life,” Joseph Duffey said. “My son’s going to find his wife here same as I found mine."

Regional district officials say a bulge on one side of the tree is a sign the entire tree could come down, posing a risk to the public, and the protesters.

The CVRD has not said if they will be seeking an injunction to have the tree-dwelling protesters removed. 

- With files from CTV Vancouver Island



Deadly W-18 in Vancouver

The deadly drug W-18 has been discovered in Vancouver.

On April 8, two men were arrested by police following an break-and-enter in Vancouver’s West End. Upon searching the men, one of them was found in possession of a quantity of drugs, including what was thought to be a counterfeit OxyContin pill.

Vancouver police submitted the drugs to Health Canada for analysis.

On Friday, June 24, police received the test results and learned one of the pills contained the deadly drug W-18, a synthetic pain killer 100 times more toxic than heroin.

“We continue to see an alarming increase in overdose deaths throughout the province,” said VPD spokesperson Sergeant Randy Fincham. “Many of those deaths have been the result of people knowingly, or unknowingly, taking synthetic painkillers such as fentanyl. With the recent appearance of W-18 in the Lower Mainland, the lives of more habitual or recreation drug users are at even greater risk.”



Links between gunfire?

Surrey RCMP's serious crime unit is investigating after a man showed up to a local area hospital last night suffering from a gunshot wound.

The victim is a 21-year-old Surrey man who is known to police. His injury is not considered life threatening, police said. No other details were released.
 
"The investigation is still in its early stages. However, this incident is believed to be targeted," said Cpl. Scotty Schumann, RCMP spokesperson.

"Officers are investigating whether there are any linkages between this incident and the shots fired incident that occurred last night at the intersection of 128 Street and 60th Avenue at approximately 8 p.m."
 
Anyone with information who has not already spoken to police is asked to contact Surrey RCMP at 604-599-0502 or, if they wish to remain anonymous, Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or go online.



Crash course in speed limits

It would appear higher speeds do not lead to more crashes.

New data released today shows crash rates have dropped, or are unchanged, on 19 of 33 sections of highway where speed limits were increased in 2014, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone announced.

The Coquihalla from Hope to Kamloops, for example, where the speed limit was increased from 110 kilometres per hour to 120 km/h, continues to see the lowest crash rate in the last 10 years.

"Ministry engineers have taken a close look at the speed and crash data for each section of highway where we increased speed limits," Stone said. "They found that on 19 of 33 segments of highways, the crash rate either fell or remained unchanged."

Over the last six months, engineers in the ministry have carefully examined crash and speed data from the 33 sections of highway where speed limits were increased in 2014. The ministry's analysis, released today, compares crash data from Nov. 1, 2014, to Oct. 31, 2015, with crash data from the previous three years.

The data shows:

  • On seven sections, the rate of speed decreased and crashes decreased.
  • On 12 sections, the rate of speed increased and crashes decreased.
  • On seven sections, the rate of speed increased and crashes increased.
  • On the remaining seven sections, the data shows that the crash rate increased, despite motorists travelling slower than they did before the speed limits were increased.

"Of particular interest, the data shows that we saw the crash rate increase on seven sections of highway where people were actually travelling slower," Stone said. "This suggests again that there are many different factors that can lead to crashes and speed is only one of them."

Changing weather conditions, distracted driving, driving too fast for conditions, heavy traffic, falling asleep, alcohol, driver error and wild animals can all contribute to crashes. Distracted driving, road conditions and driving too fast for conditions contributed to 54 per cent of serious crashes where speed limits changed.

Distracted driving remains the leading cause of crashes on these sections of highway. In fact, the 2015 data shows distracted driving – also called driver inattentiveness – is still on the rise. Between Nov. 1, 2014, and Oct. 31, 2015, 28 per cent of all crashes in these areas were primarily caused by distracted driving.

Distracted driving was the primary cause of 22 per cent of crashes during the previous 10 years. Driving faster than the posted speed limit was a contributing factor in only two per cent of the crashes.

"Once again, this data serves as a reminder for the public to put your phone away while you are driving," Stone said. "We continue to see a rising number of people being killed or injured while using their phones and driving a vehicle. A text message, a phone call, a Facebook post is not worth your or someone else's life."

The ministry retained University of British Columbia researchers to assess the first year's crash data and look specifically at the sections of highways where the speed limits increased. The researchers concluded there was not enough data in a single year to develop a statistically-significant trend for individual highway segments.

However, they were able to determine, using a theoretical model, that the increase in crashes for all segments was up by an average of 11 per cent in the first year.

The UBC modelling is consistent with the nine per cent increase the province saw on all other British Columbian highways where the speed limits were not raised.

The one-year increase on B.C.'s highways is also consistent with the rising crash and fatality rates in places where speed limits have remained unchanged, as more people take to the road with lower gas prices and as distracted driving rates continue to climb.

In total, the crash rate increased on 14 of 33 sections of highways where speed limits increased. On the 14 sections where the crash rate has increased, the province will invest in added safety features like improved road markings, better signage, new rumble strips, variable speed signs and wildlife safety measures.

"When we introduced the speed changes in 2014, I committed that if any of the zones show an increase in crashes and we can't reduce them with engineering measures, the ministry would readjust the speeds," Stone said. "That is why the ministry will be rolling back the speed limit changes on two of the 33 sections of highway: Highway 1 from Hope to Cache Creek will return to 90 km/h and Highway 5A from Princeton to Merritt will return to 80 km/h."



Alarm sounded over drought

Low rainfall and record-high temperatures have prompted British Columbia to issue its highest drought alert for residents across southern and eastern Vancouver Island.

The province is asking people to conserve water as much as possible because of extremely dry conditions that will force the closure of the sports fishery across much of the southern island between July 1 and Sept. 1.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations says the alert comes five days earlier than the one it issued last year, when the drought conditions lasted until September.

The ministry's water stewardship manager Valerie Cameron says the River Forecast Centre analyzes conditions such as stream levels and snowpack that would melt into reservoirs and saturate dry soil.

She says significant rainfall that would normally be seen in the fall is needed to "turn things around," but it's not in the forecast for Vancouver Island, which is typically warm and dry during summer.

Cameron says the province is asking everyone in that area, including industry, farmers and municipalities, to voluntarily conserve the maximum amount of water so it does not have to regulate water usage.



Extreme sport, spiritual leap

Sean Chuma describes it as a spiritual moment, standing on the railing of the Perrine Bridge, 150 metres above the meandering Snake River in southern Idaho.

Moments later, his mind completely focused on the present, he said he hurled himself into the stifling afternoon air.

"I have a passion for flight," the BASE jumping enthusiast said by phone less than an hour later, having successfully completed the 3,767th jump of his career.

"The feeling is complete freedom. It's complete responsibility for yourself," he added. "It's just a beautiful thing."

BASE jumping, which stands for building, antenna, span and Earth, is an extreme sport that involves leaping from tall structures or cliffs with the help of a parachute or wingsuit. It's considered more dangerous than skydiving because of the low altitude jumps.

Avid jumpers such as Chuma dispute the widely held view that the adrenaline rush fuels athletes' passion for the extreme sport.

They describe it instead as a spiritual activity, that isn't done impulsively but rather follows years of meticulous research, planning and study.

On Sunday, longtime jumper and former U.S. marine Gary Kremer of Seattle died when his parachute failed to open after leaping from the Stawamus Chief Mountain outside Squamish, B.C.

His girlfriend, Paige Anderson, said Kremer fell in love with the extreme sport after picking it up nine years ago and had jumped from the Stawamus Chief many times before.

Sports psychologist Holly Thorpe of New Zealand's Waikato University says that while mainstream society usually responds with shock after hearing about the death of yet another extreme athlete, it is important to remember that people who participate in such sports aren't crazy.

Most of them wouldn't consider themselves big risk takers, she said by phone from New Zealand.

"It doesn't feel like they're doing something completely crazy because it's a constant progression," said Thorpe, explaining that extreme athletes tend to challenge themselves incrementally. That can amount to significant changes in behaviour over an extended period of time, she added.

"They are every day pushing it just a little bit. And sometimes I think that what may happen is they get a bit detached from the real consequence of what might happen."

Tom Aiello first BASE jumped two decades ago and eight years later he founded a BASE jumping school in Twin Falls, Idaho.

It's a calming, meditative experience, he said in an interview.

"You have a chance to focus on yourself and the rest of the world goes away," he said. "It sounds kind of cheesy but it's sort of active meditation.

"You don't have to worry about paying the bills or picking the kids up from school or whatever else you're doing. It sort of gives you your own space."

Aiello agreed the sport's appeal is a spiritual one, but he said he also recognizes the risk associated with the pastime.

That danger has led some people to call on the government to introduce laws regulating the practice.

Jon Heshka, a law professor from Thomson River University in Kamloops, B.C., said it would be both difficult and unwise to introduce and enforce legislation controlling the sport.

"(Pierre) Trudeau once talked about the state not having the right in the bedrooms of the nation. Well, I'm not sure whether the state ought to get into the backpacks of the nation either," Heshka said.

"If people want to huck big air while they're skiing or do big water while they're kayaking or launch off the top of the Chief then that's their right. Most of the time things are fine, but when they aren't I'm not sure we should overreact and regulate it and make it illegal."



More gunfire on streets

RCMP responded to yet another incident of shots fired in Surrey's Newton area Monday night.

About 8 p.m., police received a report of gunfire on the 12800 block of 60th Avenue.

Two vehicles were seen fleeing the scene, but descriptions have not been confirmed. 

Officers are canvassing the neighbourhood for more information. 

Evidence was found to support that shots had been fired, but no victims were located. 

Traffic was closed for a time in the area of 128th Street and 60th Avenue while police investigated.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Surrey RCMP at 604-599-0502 or, if they wish to remain anonymous, CrimeStoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or www.solvecrime.ca.



More diversity for police

Surrey police are becoming even more multicultural.

As many Surrey residents celebrate Canadian Multiculturalism Day today, Surrey RCMP is working to connect with the many diverse communities it serves with its Diversity Unit.

Sgt. Alanna Dunlop said as the City of Surrey continues to grow and attract a wide range of individuals and families, Surrey RCMP expanded its Diversity Unit earlier this year with the addition of a Diversity and Community Engagement Sergeant, the first position of its kind in the RCMP.

Sgt. Paul Hayes was selected for this new position and has been tasked with developing strategic partnerships and identifying issues and topics that are important to our city’s diverse community groups. Together with diversity co-ordinator Yousef Nasimi, Hayes is reaching out to local communities and diversity-focussed organizations to build relationships, mutual respect and a shared understanding.

“The expansion of our Diversity Unit is very timely in light of the increasing number of newcomers, including refugees, that are moving into Surrey,” said Supt. Shawn Gill, community services officer. “Over the past four months, we have been working closely with community agencies to engage with local newcomers to develop trust and an awareness about the role of police in Canada.”

A number of community engagement sessions have been held for newcomers and refugees to dispel any misinformation or misunderstandings about police that may have been acquired from their homelands or peer groups.

“We wanted to show our newest residents that police are approachable and that we are there to help,” said Hayes. “Trust cannot be developed overnight and it will take a continued and committed effort on the part of the police to achieve trust, better communication, and positive involvement from these communities.”

The positive feedback received from these sessions has led to additional public forums being requested and planned in multiple languages. In May, a forum was held in Arabic and a Mandarin forum is being planned by the Diversity Unit for July.

“The Surrey RCMP’s Diversity Unit has joined us in ensuring that our immigrant and refugee populations are supported in integrating and thriving in their new environment,” said Corina Carroll, manager of counselling services at DIVERSEcity Community Resources Society. “We have witnessed the power of connection as our newcomers who, because of their experiences prior to arrival, were distrustful and fearful of police, move to seeing them as a new source of support and safety. It has been a pleasure to work with the Diversity Unit and we are confident that this initiative will continue to have a positive impact.”

“The Diversity Unit is also responsible for co-ordinating the Surrey RCMP’s participation at many cultural events this summer to build relationships and provide communities with crime prevention and youth intervention information,” said Dunlpo. “The unit participates in a number of roundtables, meetings and campaigns specific to diverse community groups and is also responsible for internal training around diversity and cultural sensitivity.”

Moving forward, the Diversity Unit has plans to expand further by adding two more police officers and another municipal support staff co-ordinator to keep up with the increasing demand for their services.

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