Thursday, November 20th4.9°C

Protesters arrested

A small group of protesters has linked arms and is chanting "Stop Kinder Morgan" as Mounties move in to end the months-long demonstration against the pipeline expansion.

Media are reporting that some people have been arrested as police begin to enforce an court injunction granted on Friday by B.C. Supreme Court.

A number of RCMP cruisers arrived just after 8 a.m.

Reports say some several activists were taken into custody, while other protesters are observing from the sidelines.

Simon Fraser University Prof. Lynne Quarmby, a defendant in the injunction ruling, says she is very disappointed police are taking action and believes the officers are operating under "tremendous pressure" from the energy giant.

A court deadline passed Monday for protesters to vacate encampments set up to block workers from carrying out survey work for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

The Canadian Press


Ballet teacher charged by police

A 49-year-old former Goh Ballet Academy instructor has been charged after allegedly having a sexual relationship with an underage student, Vancouver police revealed Wednesday.

Alejandro Vargas Gomez is accused of starting the relationship last January with a girl who was between the ages of 16 and 18.

Sgt. Randy Fincham said investigators are concerned there could be more potential victims, and urged anyone with information to call the Vancouver Police Sex Crimes Unit.

“We’re looking for other people to come forward,” Fincham said. “Any information shared with the Sex Crimes Unit will be held in confidence.”

Fincham couldn’t confirm whether Gomez, who is originally from Mexico, has a criminal history outside of Canada.

Police said the alleged relationship took place outside of work, and that the Goh Ballet Academy is cooperating with their investigation.

Academy director Chan Hon Goh told CTV Vancouver that staff only learned about the allegations Wednesday afternoon, and were left shocked and dismayed.

“I’m a parent myself and I wish [parents] so much to know that there is nothing that anyone here, under our supervision, could have done to have foreseen any of this,” she said. “I wish there was.”

Gomez started working at the academy in fall 2013.

He is charged with two counts of sexual exploitation and one count of luring, and is being held in custody pending further investigation.

Anyone potential victims or witnesses are asked to call the Vancouver Police Sex Crimes Unit at 604-717-0600 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

Gangsters will stay in jail

A British Columbia judge has rejected an attempt by two gangsters to have convictions related to a mass killing near Vancouver thrown out, ruling Wednesday that alleged abuses by police and jail officials shouldn't outweigh society's need to have the men punished for their crimes.

Cody Haevischer and Matthew Johnston were each convicted last month of conspiracy and six counts of first-degree murder for an October 2007 shooting in Surrey, B.C., that left six dead, including two innocent bystanders.

Their lawyers alleged the behaviour of several RCMP officers involved in the case — including having sex with protected witnesses — amounted to an abuse of process.

The lawyers also alleged their clients received inhumane treatment in jail following their arrests.

Because of those alleged abuses, the defence lawyers asked a B.C. Supreme Court judge for a stay of proceedings, which would have effectively thrown out the convictions.

Judge Catherine Wedge said the allegations, if true, would represent serious misconduct on the part of the police officers, while the mistreatment in jail would likely violate international treaties that dictate how prisoner's should be treated.

But Wedge said those abuses do not warrant throwing out the convictions.

"In light of the number of victims and the motivation underlying the murders, society's interest in seeing justice done on the merits of this case is profound," she wrote in a 42-page decision.

"I am satisfied that the price of staying these convictions could not be worth the gain to our justice system."

The Crown's theory at trial was that the killings began as a hit on a rival drug trafficker, ordered by the leadership of the Red Scorpions gang. Five others, including a neighbour and a fireplace repairman who were both in the wrong place at the wrong time, were also killed to eliminate potential witnesses, the trial heard.

The defence application to stay the charges heard allegations that four RCMP officers with the region's integrated homicide unit engaged in a series of inappropriate actions during the investigation,

Sgt. Derek Brassington, Staff-Sgt. Dave Attew, Cpl. Paul Johnston and Cpl. Danny Michaud, who have all been charged with allegations of misconduct, were accused of having sexual encounters with protected witnesses and hiding their behaviour from their superiors.

The allegations against the officers have not been proven, and Wedge did not rule on the veracity of the claims. The criminal case against the four officers has yet to be heard.

Wedge said in her ruling that the alleged police misconduct, if true, would be serious, though she said it was contained.

"The state has taken decisive action to disassociate itself from their behaviour," wrote Wedge, who noted the officers were removed from their duties in 2010.

Haevischer's and Johnston's lawyers also said the conditions the men faced in jail were inhumane. They included being housed in solitary confinement for 14 months, sometimes in cells that were dirtied with feces and blood, with severely limited contact with their lawyers and families.

The judge said the men's alleged treatment would violate corrections polices, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and international human rights treaties that Canada has signed. Jail officials appeared to be working under the direction of the RCMP, the judgement said.

However, Wedge noted those conditions improved more than four years ago.

Gang leader Jamie Bacon, who is also charged in the killings and is scheduled to stand trial separately next year, sued over similar complaints and a judge ruled in his favour in June 2010. Haevischer and Johnston were moved out of segregation the day after the ruling in Bacon's case, the court heard.

Among the victims were fireplace repairman Ed Schellenberg and building resident Chris Mohan, who had no connection to gangs or drugs. Also killed were Corey Lal, who was the intended target; Lal's brother Michael; Eddie Narong; and Ryan Bartolomeo.

Haevischer and Johnston started their trial alongside former Red Scorpions leader Michael Le.

Le entered a surprise guilty plea last year to a charge of conspiracy to commit murder and received a sentence of 12 years, reduced to three years after time served, in exchange for his testimony.

The Canadian Press

Ski hills anxious for snow

Ski hills across the Okanagan are ready to open the doors on a new ski season.

Only one thing is missing - snow.

Although that is said to be on the way beginning tonight.

Sun Peaks in Kamloops will be the first area ski hill to welcome skiers - they're scheduled to open Saturday.

Officials at the hill say it won't be determined until Friday exactly how much of the mountain will be available to skiers.

They're busy making snow and expect some to fall between now and Saturday's opening.

In the North Okanagan, Silver Star in Vernon is scheduled to open Nordic trails Friday with the Alpine portion of the hill Nov 27.

In Kelowna, Big White is also scheduled for a Nov 27 opening.

Sr VP, Michael J. Ballingal, says there's no appreciable snow on the hill right now but forecast calls for snow to begin falling on the hill Wednesday night.

"The good thing is the ground is cold and there is a layer of hoar frost, ice and snow mixed together so when it does fall, it will stay, it won't melt," says Ballingal.

"And, when it doesn't snow the phones don't ring. We want the snow. Everything is slowing down until the next big pick up which is snow."

In the South Okanagan, Apex Resort is expecting to open for the season Dec 6.

Crystal Mountain on the westside will not open this year as they deal with issues related to April's chairlift accident while in the South Okanagan Mount Baldy, which went into foreclosure and did not operate last year, could open this season if a new owner is able to take over in time.

On the coast, Cypress and Grouse mountains have already opened while Whistler/Blackcomb is expected to open on the weekend.

Cop investigated for drunk driving

A Vancouver police officer is under investigation for allegedly drinking and driving while off duty in Delta earlier this month, reports CTV Vancouver.

Delta police said the officer failed a roadside alcohol screening after being pulled over on Nov. 6. When they realized the officer worked for the Vancouver Police Department, Delta police notified the other jurisdiction.

The VPD referred the incident to the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, and VPD Chief Constable Jim Chu requested that the Delta Police Department conduct the investigation.

The accused officer was issued a 90-day immediate roadside prohibition and a 30-day vehicle impound at the scene of the incident. The officer’s name has not been released.

Grocery store liquor on April 1

Attorney General Suzanne Anton says liquor sales in British Columbia grocery stores start on April 1, 2015.

She says April Fool's Day also marks the first day restrictions are lifted at B.C. Liquor Stores.

Anton says government-run liquor stores will now be permitted to open on Sundays, with longer hours and the stores will offer chilled products, similar to private liquor outlets.

She says grocery store liquor sales will fall under the store-within-store model where consumers must go to a special section of the market to purchase alcohol.

Anton says the changes offer greater consumer choice, convenience and fair wholesale pricing across the industry.

The changes are part of the Liberal government's wide-ranging initiative to modernize B.C.'s liquor regulations.

The Canadian Press

New gas rate across province

Energy utility FortisBC is preparing to introduce a common provincial rate for natural gas, resulting in some customers seeing an annual savings of more than $200.

The company says the BC Utilities Commission has approved its request to modify rates provincewide, and most customers will now pay the same for natural gas no matter where they live.

Starting Jan. 1, 2015, a consistent rate of $3.781/gigajoule will be phased in over three years for all customers in BC except those in Fort Nelson.

The company says the change means that its customers in Whistler will save about $212 every year on their natural gas bills, while those in Revelstoke will see a decrease of about $154.

Customers on Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast and Powell River will pay about $98 less annually, while customers everywhere else, including the Okanagan, will only save about $6 per year of a decrease of one per cent.

The estimates are based on average residential use in each area, with storage and transport rates also be slightly lessened which factors into the decrease.

The Canadian Press

Veteran ticketed in parade

The Victoria Police Department has issued an apology following reports that an officer ticketed a veteran driving in a procession for Pvt. Steven Allen on Remembrance Day.

Allen was killed during a military training exercise at an Alta. base earlier this month, and the 20-year-old’s body was flown to Victoria International Airport on Nov. 11.

While his remains were being driven to a local funeral home, a police officer allegedly pulled over a veteran in the procession and ticketed her $230 for an obstructed licence plate.

The woman told CTV News the incident left her "in shock.”

“The procession was stopped at a red light at the time,” she said in an email. “You really couldn’t miss the hearse as well as the various motorcycle riders within the procession.”

The incident made international headlines and sparked outrage on social media, and on Tuesday Police Chief Frank Elsner apologized to Allen’s family for what happened.

“We had a long conversation. I met with them and I apologized if our actions made their situation even worse. I just felt terrible, I still feel terrible that that occurred,” Elsner said.

The Police Chief claims the procession had passed by before the ticket was issued. He also clarified that, contrary to some media reports, it was not a funeral procession. The funeral took place four days later, on Nov. 15.

The fact that the ticket was issued on Remembrance Day, and that the incident was so widely reported still warranted an apology, Elsner added.

“Social media took off with it and it impacted the family,” he said. “I wish it hadn’t occurred.”

The woman ticketed told CTV News she’s pleased police have apologized to Allen’s family. She said her ticket was never the issue, and that she only ever wanted the officer to show compassion during an emotional day.

Adoption campaign for 300 kids

A fierce critic of British Columbia's Children and Family Development Ministry was singing its praises Tuesday over the campaign to find families to adopt 300 children.

Independent Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond said the ministry's adoption campaign is on target to reach its goal of finding permanent families this year for 300 children and teens who need homes.

She said in an update report that 153 children and youth who were in government care during the first seven months of the 2014-2015 fiscal year have been adopted.

At a joint news conference last June, Turpel-Lafond and Children's Minister Stephanie Cadieux pledged to launch a public effort to increase adoptions in B.C. On any given day in the province, more than 1,000 children in government care are waiting to be adopted.

Cadieux and Turpel-Lafond, who are often at odds over child-protection issues, agreed that the number of children waiting to be adopted is too high.

The minister was present Tuesday when Turpel-Lafond tabled her updated report.

Earlier this month, Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon attended an adoption awareness event at the legislature, where she related her experiences as a mother of four adopted children.

Guichon said the four children helped her through a tragedy in her life that occurred when her husband died in a motorcycle crash 11 years ago.

She said families will never regret adoption.

The government recently introduced a social media campaign to encourage people to become adoptive parents.

"Sometimes we get lost in the very big numbers and don't realize how every single child's case matters, and of the adoptions that have been successful this year, the 153 we are reporting today that is very good progress," Turpel-Lafond said. "I look forward to in the spring, updating again, and seeing greater progress on the issue."

Cadieux said finding families willing to adopt children in care is one of her ministry's top priorities.

"We need to continue to raise awareness and find loving, caring, secure, adoptive homes for the kids who are currently in government care," she said.

Turpel-Lafond said her report last June found that 56 children in government care have been waiting six years to be adopted.

The Canadian Press

Millions needed for SkyTrain

Implementing 20 recommendations that could prevent shutdowns of Metro Vancouver's SkyTrain transit system and improve customer service will cost at least $71 million, says the operator TransLink.

The recommendations released Tuesday were included in a report written by McNeil Management Services and follow two system-wide, five- to six-hour shutdowns on July 17 and July 21.

On those days, passengers pried open train doors and walked along the elevated guideways next to electrified tracks back to the nearest transit stations.

Report author Gary McNeil, the former head of Toronto's Go Transit, said each shutdown was caused by a different problem, but a common issue was behind each of the extended delays.

He said after staff fixed the problems, they spent hours manually re-entering train information into the automated system known as SELTRAC.

"Because of the duration of the delay, unauthorized self-evacuation from the trains occurred," he wrote. "Severe pedestrian and vehicle congestion was experienced around stations."

He said customers were stranded in unfamiliar locations, had to find alternate transportation and their "experience was poor."

McNeill made 20 recommendations, and listed first is a new auto-restart program for SELTRAC, estimated to cost $5 million but expected to reduce delays.

He also said the system needs new guideway-intrusion technology that will allow staff to cut down on unnecessary alarms that stop trains and cause delays.

His other recommendations addressed issues like staffing and customer service and new technology.

For example, ensuring there are enough qualified front-line staff to respond to problems is expected to cost $1 million annually, and improving the passenger-address system and installing programmable message signboards could each cost $15 million.

A TransLink news release said the cost of all 20 recommendations is expected to hit $71 million.

"The service disruptions in July were unacceptable to customers and unacceptable to us," stated the document.

"We are committed to better service on SkyTrain and with this review, we now have a clear plan of action for improving our customers' experience with this vital regional service."

Transportation Minister Todd Stone said he didn't think funding of the system was the problem. He said the question was about whether the dollars were being spent wisely.

He also said TransLink is responsible for making operational decisions, like those included in the report.

"Certainly, I acknowledge the frustration of the travelling public," he said. "I think on a system like we have in Metro Vancouver, the expectations are not unreasonable for the travelling public that these kinds of disruptions just should not take place."

The Canadian Press

Film props up for auction

Two giant hamburgers, Elvis statues, spaceships and even a graffiti-covered shark could be out of the movies and into your living room if you are the highest bidder at a clear-out auction in Vancouver this week.

Gargoyles, a life-size purple elephant and a three-metre tall Buddha head are also up for grabs on Thursday and Friday as the owner of hundreds of TV and movie props puts them up for bids.

Paul Pincott of Can Am Importique said that after 38 years of renting the props he's made and acquired from various productions, he's ready to give up his inventory prior to vacating a warehouse.

The props range from TV series such as the "X-Files" and "Arrow" and movies including "Scooby Doo," "American Pie" and "The New Addams Family."

Plenty of coffins, including one in which Ashley Judd hid inside in the movie "Double Jeopardy," will also be up for auction alongside lions and leopards.

Pincott will also be auctioning off memorabilia from music videos and charity events.

Able Auctions will be behind the event for which a preview will be held Wednesday, before bidding starts on Thursday and Friday, when online bids will be accepted.

For the last 15 years, Pincott has rented the items he's imported or fabricated for sets and said he's interested in finding out who will end up wanting the metre-tall hamburgers that were used in the TV series "Falling Skies," for example.

Some of the props and memorabilia will be grouped into lots while others will be sold separately, he said of the business that he tried to retire from 25 years ago.

"It didn't last very long," he said. "I've got to be busy and I couldn't think of a better business to be busy at."

Colin Hole, a manager at Able Auctions, said the range of interesting items is sure to draw a variety of buyers.

"You can have anybody from a regular couch potato who's watched a movie and has seen a prop that's in it that they want to buy, all the way up to people in the film industry."

Bidders aiming for a North Pole-themed event could opt for several Santa Clauses, reindeer, sleighs and snowmen.

The Canadian Press

E-COMM takes over 911 calls

As of 10:33 a.m. today, 9-1-1 calls from the Central and Southern Interiors were answered by E-Comm—British Columbia’s largest 9-1-1 public-safety answer point.

The changeover to E-Comm was transparent to residents, who should dial 9-1-1 as usual.

Calls are being routed to the same local police, fire and ambulance dispatchers who currently dispatch first responders to emergency situations.

After four months of collaborative technical and operational planning that included the engineering, design and installation of new 9-1-1 infrastructure, the transfer of 9-1-1 services for the Central Okanagan, North Okanagan, Central Kootenay, Columbia-Shuswap, Okanagan-Similkameen, Thompson-Nicola, East Kootenay, Kootenay-Boundary and Squamish-Lillooet (North) regional districts occurred seamlessly. Representatives from the new service areas were onsite at E-Comm to witness the official cutover.

“This is a significant event for all nine interior regional districts involved,” says Regional District of Central Okanagan Chair Robert Hobson. 

“Public safety is always our top priority.  E-Comm’s outstanding track record means residents will receive the same high-quality level of service they are accustomed to, but with added operational and technical benefits. These include a larger workforce to handle high call volume and increased security and resiliency.”

Hobson added that there will also be significant cost savings for each of the regional districts.

The approximately 230,000 emergency calls placed each year from the regional districts will now be routed to E-Comm, where highly-trained 9-1-1 call-takers will quickly confirm which agency the caller requires and for which location.

Police calls will then be transferred to the same dispatchers in Kelowna, fire calls will continue to be dispatched by centres in Cranbrook, the Fraser Valley, Kamloops, Kelowna, Surrey, Trail and Vernon while ambulance calls will continue to be managed by the BC Ambulance Service’s dispatch centre in Kamloops.

Part of the robust preparations surrounding this morning’s transition included more than 240 test calls across all regional districts.

Geography familiarization was also a priority for E-Comm call-takers in the lead-up to today, with the many geographical and other special attributes of the new service area being a focus of their training program, along with the policies and procedures for individual agencies.

“9-1-1 is a lifeline, which is why thorough preparation was our top priority for today’s transition,” explains David Guscott, E-Comm President and CEO. 

“We’re eager, and ready, to share our large team of experienced 9-1-1 staff, our technology and purpose-built facility with residents in the Central and Southern Interiors and we are proud to be their partners in public safety.”

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Appeal in fatal ferry sinking

BC's highest court is set to hear the case of the navigating officer who was on the bridge of a provincial passenger ferry the night the vessel sank, killing two people.

Karl Lilgert was convicted last year and sentenced to four years imprisonment for criminal negligence causing death for the March 2006 sinking of the Queen of the North.

His lawyer filed an appeal soon after, arguing the judge made numerous mistakes in her instructions to the jury, and the BC Appeal Court is scheduled to hear the case beginning today.

Lilgert was the navigating officer on the bridge when the vessel missed a scheduled turn and hit a remote island, sinking in the early morning of March 22, 2006.

Passengers Gerald Foisy and Shirley Rosette were never seen again and presumed drowned.

Lilgert's trial heard he was on the bridge with his ex-lover, and the Crown suggested he missed the turn because the pair were either arguing or possibly having sex, which Lilgert denied.

The Canadian Press

Councillor keeps his fire pledge

Peter Kent made a fiery pledge to Sea-to-Sky voters, and he intends to keep it.

The newly-elected Squamish city councillor promised if the turnout in Saturday’s vote improved over last election’s dismal 39 per cent, he’d light himself on fire.

Sure enough, the voters did their part.

“I’m really grateful to the voters of Squamish for coming out,” Kent told CTV Vancouver.

“I’m going to honour [my promise]. I can’t walk in on my first pledge as a councillor and back away from that.”

Preliminary results indicate turnout was up more than three per cent over 2011.

Kent, who ran unsuccessfully once before, is a former stunt man who doubled for Arnold Schwarzenegger for 15 years.

His experience doesn’t diminish the danger of the stunt, however. Kent said he’ll be using state-of-the–art fire gels and a professional fire team to pull it off.

The date and details haven’t been confirmed yet, but Kent said it’ll last roughly as long as he can hold his breath.

“If you suck the fire down your throat, basically you’ll burn your throat,” he said. “You just hit the ground and the team hits you with a fire extinguisher and puts you out.”

Kent hopes to get the stunt together before Christmas, but the timing hinges on how quickly the city grants him the proper permissions.

“To burn on a street, you have to have a permit for that,” he said.

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