Wednesday, April 16th7.0°C

Horses seized in Chilliwack

The BC SPCA has seized five badly emaciated horses from a rural property in Chilliwack, including a pregnant mare whose foal may not survive.

The animals were severely undernourished and suffering from various medical problems when officers found them earlier this month, but animal protection officer Eileen Drever said the mother-to-be’s condition was the most distressing.

“She’s currently receiving specialized care,” Drever said. “We’re not sure if her foal will live and we’re not sure if she’ll have enough antibodies in her milk to give the foal.”

Officers said the property also lacked adequate shelter for the horses. The SPCA will be recommending cruelty charges against their owner once its investigation is complete, Drever said.

In the meantime, the organization is calling on the public to help care for the horses, either by adopting them or making donations to pay for their treatment.

“I’m begging at this point,” Drever said. “The mare alone is costing the SPCA $30 per day.”

More than 80 neglected or abused horses have come into the SPCA’s care over the past five months. Drever said complaints involving horses are on the rise, a problem she blamed more on ignorance than outright cruelty.

“I truly believe that people don’t realize what they’re taking on when they buy a horse. They may have the acreage but that’s not enough,” she said.

New horse owner may not realize the animals can’t feed on grass during winter, Drever said, when the food source is completely devoid of nutrients.

The latest horses seized “clearly haven’t been fed sufficiently over the winter months,” she added.

The SPCA said horses are also fairly cheap to purchase right now, and can be found for as little as $70 to $100 at auction.

Anyone who wishes to adopt one of the horses can call the SPCA cruelty investigations office in Surrey at 604-575-2249. Donations can also be made on the SPCA website.

Gateway sweet talks unions


Enbridge is aiming to build support for its proposed Alberta-to-BC oil pipeline by pledging to bring good jobs, meaty paycheques and ample training opportunities to Canadian workers.

A memorandum of understanding has been signed between Northern Gateway Pipelines and trade unions representing pipeline construction employees.

Northern Gateway says the MOU promises a minimum of about 2,100 person years of union employment to the Pipe Line Contractors Association of Canada and four unions, including the Teamsters and the International Union of Operating Engineers.

A news release says the plan is in addition to Northern Gateway's existing purchase, job and training guarantees for local businesses and First Nations.

Signing of the memorandum comes amid growing concern about other businesses abusing Canada's temporary foreign workers program by displacing eligible Canadian staff.

It could also be a slap at UNIFOR, the largest private-sector union in the country, which signed a deal last December supporting 130 First Nations working to ban pipelines and oil tankers from BC and the West Coast.

The Canadian Press

20 hectare wildfire burning

Update -- April 16

The evacuation alert issued by the Bridge River Indian Band has been rescinded for five homes on the Bridge River Indian Reserve.

A large wildfire has sprung up in the Bridge River area near Lillooet, causing four homes to be evacuated.

Wildfire crews with helicopter support responded last night, according to the BC Wildfire website.

The size of the blaze has grown to roughly 20 hectares and an evacuation alert is in effect for five more homes.

There are currently 21 firefighters in the area who will return to the scene today to continue mopping up the fire.


No charges laid in mill fire

Massive changes are needed at WorkSafeBC to restore public confidence in the worker protection agency's investigations after two deadly sawmill blasts have failed to result in charges, says Labour Minister Shirley Bond.

British Columbia's Criminal Justice Branch announced Monday that no charges will be laid in connection with a fiery blast at the Lakeland Mill in Prince George, B.C., where two people were killed and 22 were hurt in April 2012.

The branch made a similar announcement in January, saying no charges would be laid after the explosion at the Babine Forest Products mill, despite the deaths of two workers injuries to 19 others in January 2012 -- partly because of a flawed WorkSafeBC inspection.

Bond said she met with the WorkSafeBC board on the weekend, and that members decided to appoint BC Ferries commissioner Gord Macatee as the WorkSafeBC administrator.

Bond gave Macatee until July 1 to produce a report that would ensure future WorkSafeBC investigations are handled correctly, that B.C.'s sawmills are safe workplaces and to develop a plan for implementing a world-class inspection and investigation regime.

"There can be no mistaking the need for reform in WorkSafeBC's investigations approach," Bond said in a letter sent to WorkSafeBC on Monday. "Together, we must address the pressing need to both restore the public's confidence in WorkSafe BC investigations, and to ensure we are never again faced with circumstances like those at Babine and Lakeland."

Bond also announced a coroner's inquest will be held into the April 2012 explosion and fire at the Lakeland Mills sawmill. She earlier announced a coroner's inquest into the Burns Lake explosion.

B.C.'s Criminal Justice Branch said Monday that based on available evidence there would be no substantial likelihood of conviction connected to the Lakeland Mills blast.

In February, WorkSafeBC recommended charges connected to regulatory offences against the company.

On Monday, Criminal Justice Branch officials met with the families of the dead and injured workers in Prince George to inform them of the decision before it was released publicly.

The April 23, 2012 explosion killed 43-year-old Alan Little and 46-year-old Glenn Roche.

Canucks' pipeline

An aboriginal businessman and former motivational speaker has teamed with the British Columbia billionaires best known for their ownership of the Vancouver Canucks to pitch an alternative to the struggling Northern Gateway pipeline.

Calvin Helin, CEO of Eagle Spirit Energy, said the project would include a pipeline linking the Alberta oil sands to a tanker terminal on the BC coast. It would also include an upgrader to refine the heavy bitumen oil produced in the oil sands to a lighter, more conventional and less controversial product, he said.

But Monday's announcement, which also included the Aquilini Investment Group, the company that owns the Canucks, raised as many questions as it gave answers, such as where the tanker port would be located and how many First Nations have signed on.

"We're at the beginning of a process," Helin said. "Our goal is to earn the social licence to operate."

The new proposal was endorsed by two small BC aboriginal communities.

The Nee-Tahi-Buhn band has 135 members, about 55 of them living on the band reserve near Burns Lake. The Stellat'en is a band with about 500 members, half of them living in the band community near Fraser Lake.

The Nee-Tahi-Buhn had signed on to support the Northern Gateway, said Chief Ray Morris, but have withdrawn that support.

"We saw a better project, more inclusion from the get-go," Morris said. "With Enbridge, it was a lot of years of struggle. That goes back 12 years, when they first came around."

Helin said Eagle Spirit cannot reveal the number of aboriginal groups on board because it would breach non-disclosure terms.

"I can tell you with great confidence that we have a substantial number of communities that are interested," Helin said.

"It doesn't mean we have a deal yet. It means we have heard their concerns. ... We will continue to consult with them and work with them and take our direction from them."

The Eagle Spirit Energy proposal is the third alternative plan to surface since Calgary-based Enbridge (TSX:ENB) ran into resistance from environmentalists and First Nations in BC to its proposed Northern Gateway project.

Media mogul David Black has proposed a $13-billion oil refinery for Kitimat to process oil before shipping it overseas. And Texas-based Kinder Morgan has filed an application to triple the capacity of its existing Trans Mountain pipeline between Alberta and its refinery in the Vancouver area.

The latest blow for Northern Gateway came last weekend, when residents of Kitimat — the proposed the would-be tanker port and the community with the most to gain — voted against the pipeline in a municipal non-binding plebiscite.

The Canadian Press

Police shoot murder suspect

Panicked calls to 911 about a child in distress and a bloody apartment building hallway on Monday led Vancouver police to shoot a suspect who refused to drop a knife.

Inside the apartment above one of the city's busiest streets, the officers found a woman dead. Their 33-year-old male suspect was loaded into an ambulance with a police bullet wound.

Vancouver Cst. Brian Montague said a girl, about five or six-years-old, was taken to children's hospital with some injuries that aren't considered life threatening.

"Our officers attended and they were confronted by a man with a weapon. The officers gave him some commands and ended up firing their weapons," Montague told reporters outside the complex.

Montague said the call came into police mid-morning on Monday.

"The initial call did say there was yelling and crying going on. So it would be safe to say that the homicide, potentially, occurred around 10:30."

When officers entered the apartment the female victim was clearly deceased, he said. Police said they had not yet determined the relationship between the dead woman, the child and the suspect.

They did not release any names.

Yellow police tape blocked off access to the building on Kingsway in the city's eastside, keeping out residents and reporters.

Durinder Sodhi, who owns the accounting firm below the complex and several units within the building, said he was alerted to trouble when someone told him about police vehicles and ambulances around the building.

He said the incident took place in suite 301, and he knew the residents in passing.

Sodhi said he saw paramedics load the man into an ambulance, bleeding profusely from his wounds. Police said the suspect was in stable condition in hospital.

He said he recognized the man from the apartment, where he lived with his mother. Sodhi said he had seen the woman with a child, who he assumed was her granddaughter.

While Vancouver police investigate the homicide, under provincial law any police-involved shooting is investigated by the Independent Investigations Office.

Robin Plomp, with the IIO, said the office was called minutes after the incident.

"The information was that the officers had response to a complaint of a child at risk, or a child welfare type of complaint. Upon arrival they had an interaction with a male subject who was shot."

Plomp said the man was armed with a knife.

He said two officers attended the call, but he's not sure if both of them fired their weapons.

The Canadian Press

Dad stabs mom, takes baby

Police are praising a 23-year-old woman for calling for help after she was stabbed multiple times and her baby was snatched from her home in Abbotsford.

Cst. Ian MacDonald says that despite her serious injuries, the woman managed to phone 911 and report that a man had fled with her 18-month-old son.

MacDonald says the suspect was arrested in a nearby backyard and is the baby's father.

He says the 24-year-old man is well known to police and faces various charges.

The woman remains in hospital.

MacDonald says the child appears to be OK, but he didn't know if the boy was with family or in the care of the Children's Ministry.

The Canadian Press

Coquihalla reopens after fire

12:30 p.m. update: Highway 5 northbound has reopened from Hope to Merritt, but southbound lanes are still closed.

There are detours available via Highway 8 to Highway 1. This will add an additional 1.5 hours of driving times.

Estimated time of opening to single lane traffic is at 2:30 p.m.

11:10 a.m.: Southbound traffic has come to a stop on the Coquihalla Highway between Merritt and Hope.

The southbound lanes have been completely shut down due to a semi-truck fire just south of the Great Bear Snowshed.

The fire occurred about 10:45 Monday morning.

DriveBC does not have an estimated time of re-opening.

The situation will be reassessed later this morning.

Loaded man had loaded gun

A 68-year-old Salmon Arm man is in custody after firing a weapon through the floor of his home.

Salmon Arm RCMP say they were called to the home on 52 Avenue NW about 11 a.m. Saturday for what was called a firearm incident.

The man, intoxicated at the time, loaded a long barrel rifle and shot a round through the floor of his home.

A family member was downstairs at the time, however, there were no injuries reported.

"Prior to police arrival the male drove away from the residence towards the wooded area of the Big R Reservoir," says Staff Sgt, Kevin Keane.

"As the male remained armed and intoxicated, police employed the RCMP helicopter and Dog Master to assist in the search."

Keane says the man was found and taken into custody without further incident.

He remains in custody. Police have recommended charges.

Conservatives name leader

Dan Brooks has been named the new leader of the BC Conservative Party.

He won the vote over Rick Peterson at the party’s convention in Richmond this past weekend.

The party was in desperate need of new blood, following their pitiful showing in last year’s provincial election when they failed to win any seats.

Former leader John Cummins stepped down last July after losing his own riding in Langley.

Brooks, 38, is from Vanderhoof but now calls Kamloops home.

4 survive plane crash

A scenic flight over the Fraser Valley turned into terror when the small plane crashed at Pitt Meadows Airport Saturday.

A pilot and three passengers onboard the single-engine Cessna remarkably escaped with only scrapes and bruises – and an unbelievable story to tell.

A group of three men, including two brothers, took up an offer for a free flight from a pilot they knew through work.

“It was beautiful. There was no turbulence. We were just kind of cruising along, enjoying the scenery,” Devon Siebenga told CTV News.

But when the pilot got to Pitt Meadows Airport, he tried to execute a manoeuvre known as a “touch-and-go,” where the plane touches the runway before lifting off again.

“By the end of the runway, we weren’t getting the lift and our plane actually went a little sideways,” said Siebenga. “So he had a split second to make a decision whether he would push it or abort the takeoff, and I think he made the right decision in that moment.”

The pilot cut the throttle to the plane, and Siebenga said he realized then that they were in for a crash landing.

“The pilot was starting to go ‘Oh my goodness, oh my goodness. What are we going to do?’” Siebenga said. “The next thing you know, we’re going into the field and I’m just sitting there praying, I’m like “God, just help us, just help us in this moment.’”

The plane then hit a pylon, flipped over onto its roof and stopped in the field.

“We just kind of cordially got out of the plane and felt our legs and kind of chuckled because we were just in utter shock,” he said.

Passenger Brendan Robinson said everyone onboard stayed surprisingly calm in the moment disaster struck – and said he was amazed that everybody walked away relatively unscathed.

“It’s pretty surprising I think. I have a little bit of burns from the seatbelt from hanging upside-down, but that’s it. It’s pretty incredible,” he said.

Though they’re all a bit shaken, the passengers said the ordeal won’t stop them from flying again.

ICBC to pay back millions

The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia was scrambling Sunday to explain why thousands of its customers were wrongly billed, a mistake that is expected to cost the Crown corporation $110 million to fix.

ICBC will reimburse with interest the approximately 240,000 optional insurance customers who have been overcharged by mid-July, says Mark Blucher the Crown corporation's CEO.

The average overpayment was $21 each year per customer and ICBC estimates that it will be paying back $36 million plus an additional $3 million in interest.

Blucher blamed errors in ICBC's database for the billing mess.

ICBC became aware of the errors in 2009 after new computer systems were approved for installation a year earlier, but the scale of the problem only became apparent last year, Blucher said in an interview.

"That's when this issue first came up to say 'hey there's a potential issue here, we need to start looking at that issue,'" said Blucher. "The scale and the scope of this really didn't become apparent until I put focus on this as the new CEO in 2013."

Customer data was entered in the computer manually, making it easier for mistakes to occur, he said.

However the company is switching to a system where data will be entered automatically, reducing chances of human error. Blucher expects it will be in place mid-July.

The company only archives six years worth of data, it is impossible to tell if the problem had existed prior to 2008, he said.

Although ICBC has been aware of a problem for months, it only became public on Sunday after a story appeared in the Vancouver Province.

Blucher defended the secrecy, saying the company wanted to keep a low profile until it had understood the situation and was ready to pay back clients.

"We were desirous of reducing the anxiety and stress for our customers by informing them about this issue in July when we had finalized all of the work on this," he said.

In addition to the overpayments, some 350,000 optional insurance customers were not billed for as much as they should have been over the last six years.

The underpayments total about $71 million and they work out to about $34 each year per customer, but ICBC won't be allowed to raise rates to recoup the money or require those who were undercharged to pay retroactively, Transportation Minister Todd Stone said Sunday.

"Anyone who has underpaid will not be retroactively charged," said Stone. "This was not their error so they should not be asked to pay retroactively."

Stone says he was angry when he found out about the issue in February and told the public auto insurer it had to repay those who were overcharged with interest.

Optional insurance coverage includes collision coverage, comprehensive coverage, specified perils, new vehicle replacement plus, replacement cost endorsement and limited depreciation policy.

Blucher says that rates and service will not be affected by the shortfall.

He says that it is a small amount in comparison to the $4 billion in premiums that the company collects each year.

"We certainly have the capability to absorb this amount into the capital of the company without having to make any adjustments to rates," he said. "And that's exactly what we're going to do."

The company must undergo a third party audit to make sure the problem has been fixed, Stone said.

"I expect the system to be fixed so this never happens again," he said.

The Canadian Press

Kitimat says 'no' to pipeline

The residents of Kitimat, B.C. have voted against the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline project in a non-binding plebiscite.

The ballot count from Saturday's vote was 1,793 opposed versus 1,278 who supported the multi-billion dollar project — a margin of 58.4 per cent to 41.6 per cent.

The $6.5-billion project would see two pipelines, one carrying oilsands' bitumen from Alberta to Kitimat's port, and a second carrying condensate — a form of natural gas used to dilute the bitumen — from Kitimat back to Alberta.

Kitimat would also be the site of a proposed two-berth marine terminal and tank farm to store the thick Alberta crude before it's loaded onto tankers for shipment to Asia.

Until this vote, Kitimat had remained neutral in its opinion on the controversial project. It didn't take part in the joint-review process, which heard from hundreds of people before a federal panel approved the project with 209 conditions.

The federal cabinet is expected to release its decision on Northern Gateway by June.


The Canadian Press

Woman killed in avalanche

Golden Search and Rescue is confirming that a woman was caught and killed in an avalanche while skiing near Golden, B.C.

Spokesman Ben Tanasichuk says that the accident occurred Friday afternoon and the woman was rushed to hospital.

He says she was skiing on Gothics Glacier above Fairy Meadows.

Tanasichuk says further details are being withheld until the family of the victim is notified.

The Canadian Press

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