Tuesday, April 22nd4.4°C

Funding for cancer test

BC has become the latest province to fund a test that can help determine whether patients with a certain type of early stage breast cancer could benefit from chemotherapy.

California-based Genomic Health says the BC Cancer Agency has agreed to fund the company's Oncotype DX test.

The test, which costs US$4,300, examines genes within breast cancer tumours to predict which patients would benefit from chemotherapy.

Conversely, the test is also used to predict which patients would see little or no benefit from chemotherapy.

The funding applies to patients that meet a list of criteria, including that they have early stage, node-negative, estrogen receptor-positive invasive breast cancer.

The test is already funded by provincial governments in Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Canadian Press


Injured skydiver to return

A British Columbia woman who was seriously injured after a skydiving accident in Arizona is expected to be transported back to Canada.

Kenzie Markey’s father, Joe, confirmed to CTV News in a series of emails that his 32-year-old daughter will be flown back to Canada on Tuesday.

"She should be in (Vancouver), B.C., this evening," Markey said on Tuesday. "Her condition is the same and she is very happy to be going back to Canada."

A seasoned jumper, Kenzie was injured on April 6 just outside of Phoenix, Ariz., during a skydiving expedition. Her parachute collapsed during the jump and she fell to the ground. Kenzie suffered a number of serious injuries, including a broken femur, pelvis, toe and ribs, along with facial and head injuries and a collapsed lung.

The Nova Scotia native, who now calls Squamish, B.C., home, underwent three surgeries in the U.S.

Markey estimated his daughter's medical bills would total approximately $500,000, and the cost to transport her back to Canada by air ambulance would be between $25,000 and $45,000.

A fundraiser was started earlier this month to help her family with the mounting bills. Although Kenzie had insurance, her policy did not cover extreme sports-related incidents.

So far, more than $16,000 has been raised. A goal of $50,000 had been set by Kenzie's friend, Kelley Richardson, who started the campaign. It ends on June 9.

Meanwhile, Markey said he plans on leaving Nova Scotia on Wednesday morning to join his daughter in Vancouver. She will be staying at Lions Gate Hospital.

Once there, Markey said British Columbia’s health care system will pay an amount equal to the cost for equivalent care in a Canadian hospital.

BC medical bud recalled

A BC producer of medical marijuana has voluntarily recalled a batch of its "purple kush" strain and is advising consumers not to smoke the weed, following a Health Canada inspection of the grower's operations.

Greenleaf Medicinals in Nanaimo is advising clients to immediately stop using any marijuana from batch number PK-10-20-13, Health Canada said in an advisory.

"The recall is due to issues with the company’s production practices, which were identified during an inspection by Health Canada and may impact the product," the federal department said.

Health Canada did not disclose the problems with Greenleaf's production nor what adverse effects might occur from smoking or ingesting the recalled pot.

Greenleaf could not be reached for comment Tuesday, its website appears to have been taken down and the company's name does not appear on Health Canada's online list of authorized growers of medical marijuana.

However, Health Canada said in its advisory that the company had said it was working with other licensed producers to find a supply of purple kush for its clients. Purple kush is considered a potent strain of cannabis, with a high concentration of the psychoactive ingredient THC.

About a dozen producers have been licensed by Health Canada to sell various strains of medicinal marijuana after the federal government revamped regulations governing access to the drug.

As of April 1, federal authorization to possess medicinal pot for patients with chronic pain, multiple sclerosis and a variety of other ailments shifted from Health Canada to physicians.

Under the new program, doctors can provide a prescription that allows patients with symptoms that may be helped by medical pot to purchase up to 150 grams of dried weed each month from a licensed commercial grower.

Producers are subject to compliance and enforcement measures similar to those that regulate producers of other controlled substances. Licensed medical marijuana growers must meet strict security, control and reporting requirements, and are regularly inspected.

"Dried marijuana is not an approved drug or medicine in Canada. Possession and use of marijuana remains illegal unless authorized under regulations with the support of a doctor or nurse practitioner," Health Canada said.

The Canadian Press


1 dead in domestic dispute

Update -- April 22

A mother-of-three is dead and her estranged husband has been arrested following a tense police standoff in Clearwater, B.C.

The suspect was taken into custody Monday evening after his home was surrounded by RCMP officers, an Emergency Response Team and a police helicopter.

Mounties have confirmed few details but said the couple's children were unharmed.

The children were with the suspect in his home at the time of his arrest and safely removed by RCMP Emergency Response Team members

“As the investigation is in the early stages, police are not able to provide further information at this time,” Clearwater RCMP said in a statement.

The department would not comment on a potential cause of death.

Neighbours said the victim was killed at home and that the suspect barricaded himself inside his own residence across town, sparking the lengthy standoff.

The suspect is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday afternoon where formal charges will be laid.

Until then police will not confirm the identity of either the suspect or the victim.

An RCMP Emergency Response Team has surrounded a home in Clearwater, B.C., where there are unverified reports of a fatal domestic dispute.

Mounties have been on scene for hours in an apparent standoff but have provided few details about what’s going on.

“Clearwater RCMP is currently dealing with a police incident which involves the deployment of additional police resources,” the force said in a statement. “Police are not able to provide further information at this time.”

Several officers and a police helicopter have been dispatched to the home.

Neighbours said a man is barricaded inside the residence and that a woman was killed.

Shortly after 6 p.m., a young boy was taken from the scene in an ambulance, though it’s unclear whether he suffered any injuries.

Dog starves to death in box

The BC SPCA is hoping the public can help solve an animal cruelty case involving a deceased dog found near Revelstoke.

“A member of the avalanche control safety patrol found a large cardboard box at a truck turn-around on the Western boundary of Glacier National Park,” says BC SPCA senior animal protection officer Kathy Woodward. “Inside the box was a dog crate containing a deceased terrier-cross dog.”  Cst. Woodward notes there was feces inside the crate, leading constables to believe that the dog, who was tan in colour and had no identification, was alive when abandoned.

“A dog of this type should weight approximately 35 pounds, but this poor dog weighed a mere 11 pounds,” says Woodward. “A necropsy is being carried out, but it would appear that the dog was starved to death.”

The BC SPCA is asking anyone with information about the case to please contact the BC SPCA animal cruelty hotline at 1-855-622-7722.

In another recent case of animal cruelty a dog was shot with pellets near Chase, but the animal will recover.

The BC SPCA responds to nearly 8,000 complaints of animal cruelty each year and relies on community donations to support its work. To find out more information visit the SPCA online.

Invasive predators on island

Amphibian hunter Stan Orchard says now's the time to get the jump on a population of invasive predators on southern Vancouver Island.

The dinner-plate-sized American bullfrogs have mouths nearly as wide as their bodies and will gobble down anything they can, including bugs, birds and fish.

Municipal officials with the Capital Regional District around Victoria, B.C., sprang into action against the bully bullfrogs back in 2006 and have nearly doubled the budget for the control program this year.

In fact, a report to the regional district recommended officials spend about $74,000 on control efforts.

Orchard is now courting the provincial government, saying it's still possible to wipe out the introduced amphibian, but wildlife officials need to hop to it.

He says local municipalities have historically been the only funding providers of the bullfrog eradication effort, which means it has been limited in scope. 

The Canadian Press

Shorter summer for students

A shorter summer is better in the long run, according to staff at two Metro Vancouver schools that have successfully transitioned to a “balanced calendar” system.

Four years ago, Garden City Elementary School in Richmond shrank its summer down to six weeks and added an extra week onto its spring and Christmas breaks.

Principal Diane Steele said two-month summers were too disruptive to her students’ educations, particularly for the 58 per cent who are English language learners.

“The longer they can be in school the better because they may not be speaking English at all at home,” Steele said.

Research also suggests students forget math lessons and disadvantaged students lose reading skills over a long summer break, particularly at the elementary level, according to a report from the Centre for the Study of Educational Leadership and Policy.

Grace Cheng of the Garden City parent advisory council said families benefit from the extended spring and Christmas breaks as well, which make it easier to plan trips without cutting into their children’s school year.

“It gives them more options to take vacation times,” Cheng said, “so less absenteeism.”

About 100 schools across Canada have embraced the balanced calendar, though only five are found in B.C. Douglas Park Community School in Langley made the switch 10 years ago, shortening summer to six weeks and adding a week off in May and November.

Officials said the school saw improvement in students’ reading scores and numeracy scores after the change.

The Vancouver School Board has flirted with the idea of testing out a balanced calendar, though superintendent Steve Caldwell said there are concerns communities might not embrace it right away.

“People don’t want to give up their summers,” Caldwell said, “although a balanced calendar doesn’t actually give up a long summer. They still have five or six weeks.”

Response in schools that undergo the switch is overwhelmingly positive, he added.

“Staff love it, parents love, students love it.”

Court upholds election rules

A British Columbia judge has upheld a law that requires anyone engaged in political advertising during a provincial election campaign to register, even when little or no money is involved, after concluding the law represents a reasonable infringement on free speech rights.

The B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association filed a constitutional challenge of a section of the province's Election Act, which requires people or groups to register with Elections BC before participating in a wide range of activities considered to be third-party advertising.

The association argued the law violates the charter because it applies regardless of how much money is spent, which the group says discourages smaller voices that may not have the means or the wherewithal to navigate the registration process.

The group argued the registration rules should only apply to advertising that costs $500 or more.

A B.C. Supreme Court agreed that the law impedes political speech, but the judge said those effects were offset by the benefits of ensuring transparent elections.

"It is plain that the requirement to register ... would have the effect of restricting spontaneous or unplanned election advertising, which, like other forms of political expression, enriches political discourse," wrote Judge Bruce Cohen.

"The salutary effects of the impugned measure outweigh the deleterious effects," Cohen continued. "The salutary effect of (the law) is that it ... increases the transparency, openness and accountability of B.C.'s electoral process and promotes an informed electorate."

B.C.'s current restrictions on third-party advertising in election and byelection campaigns were introduced in 1995, though they have been revised several times since.

The Election Act requires any person or group that intends to advertise during an election campaign to first register with Elections BC.

In 2009, a B.C. Supreme Court judge struck down another provision in the law that said restrictions on third-party advertising also applied 60 days before the start of the campaign. The ruling was upheld by the B.C. Court of Appeal.

The province responded with revisions that included reducing the pre-campaign period to 40 days, but the B.C. Court of Appeal concluded that, too, was unconstitutional.

At the time, the province's limits on third-party advertising were commonly referred to in the media as a "gag law."

The Canadian Press

LNG's greenhouse gas issue

British Columbia Environment Ministry staff have warned their minister that the province's dreamed-of liquefied natural gas industry poses some big challenges with greenhouse gas emissions.

Internal briefing notes prepared for Environment Minister Mary Polak since she took office last year and obtained by The Canadian Press, single out methane emissions for concern.

On top of emissions from combustion and flaring of natural gas, methane and carbon dioxide escape during hydraulic fracturing process, or fracking, the documents said.

"Methane emissions are a particular concern since they have a global warming impact 21 times higher than carbon dioxide," said one July briefing note.

"A small increase in the percentage of natural gas that escapes can have a significant impact on overall emissions."

At a meeting last November, staff warned Polak that the federal government has updated its formula for calculating greenhouse gas emissions and that alone will increase methane values by 20 per cent. The province will need to follow suit, members of the Climate Action Secretariat told Polak.

Premier Christy Clark says BC is poised to develop a trillion-dollar LNG industry.

But emissions remain a hurdle for the provinces, which has legislated targets for reductions. Legislation dictates that emissions are to be reduced by at least a third below 2007 levels by 2020.

Polak has also been told that while BC estimates that between 0.3 and three per cent of natural gas extracted is lost as fugitive methane emissions, other North American jurisdictions and scientific literature estimate that rate is between seven and eight per cent.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates between four and nine per cent is lost.

However, in BC regulations are significantly different, the briefing notes pointed out. Because BC gas contains toxic hydrogen sulfide, leaks are more tightly regulated.

The province's Climate Action Secretariat and Natural Gas Development Ministry are working with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers to test technology to curb emissions, said the internal documents.

"Though significant, this work does not address concerns about potential fracking-related emissions from geological formations, poor cement casing or produced water storage tanks," said the briefing prepared last July.

Polak declined a request for an interview.

"Based on academic research and work in the United States, there is concern that fugitive or unplanned emissions from oil and gas facilities are higher than currently reported in BC," the ministry said in an emailed statement to The Canadian Press.


The Canadian Press

Shooting in Richmond

Richmond RCMP are investigating an overnight shooting

Police were called to the Mcneely Drive area just before 10:30 p.m.  on April 18,  after a man was shot while sitting in a vehicle.  

The victim was able to get himself to hospital and he is in stable condition.  

Anyone with information regarding this shooting can email [email protected]  or remain anonymous by calling Crimestoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS(2477).


Air Canada luggage toss

Air Canada is apologizing after a video purporting to show a baggage handler dropping luggage from roughly six metres off the ground hit social media.

The video, taken by a passenger on board a plane, shows a baggage handler dropping bags from a boarding gate to a luggage bin.

The video posted April 18 on YouTube is titled "How Air Canada Handles Your Baggage," but it doesn't say where or when the incident occurred.

It's generating a wide range of comments both on the video site and Twitter, with some people lambasting Air Canada and saying they won't fly on the airline again.

Others were more charitable saying the airline should not be judged by the actions of one baggage handler.

In Twitter posts on Saturday, Air Canada says it has launched an investigation and is "very disappointed & sorry about the actions in the video."

"The actions don't reflect our procedure. We apologize for this," the airline said in another tweet.

The Canadian Press

Killer sponges

They look like fuzzy fingers, waving gently from the depths of the ocean floor but make no mistake — they're stone cold killers.

Scientists have discovered four new species of carnivorous sponge off the Pacific Coast, including one deadly variety found hanging from the deep-sea ridges off southern Vancouver Island.

Fortunately, these killers are about the size of a piece of spaghetti and they feed only on the tiny, shrimp-like amphipods and copepods that drift through the sea.

"Sponges characteristically feed on small particles, like bacteria, little tiny guys," said Henry Reiswig, a retired professor of biology at McGill University, volunteer taxonomist at the University of Victoria and the Royal British Columbia Museum, and self-described "sponge guy."

But these meat eaters feed on tiny crustaceans.

"It's a snaring process involving spicules, pieces of glass on their surfaces that they use to snare," said Reiswig, who is "77 or something like that."

Two of the newly discovered species were collected by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute off the California coast and another from a hydrothermal vent field in the Gulf of California off Mexico. The fourth hails from a formation called the Endeavour Segment on the Juan de Fuca Ridge, off south Vancouver Island.

The Canadian beast, Cladorhiza caillieti, looks like a skinny bottle brush. The samples were five to seven centimetres long and only millimetres wide, found attached to the underside of overhanging ledges of basalt more than two thousand metres below sea level.

Reiswig and William Austin, of the Khoyatan Marine Laboratory on Vancouver Island, were enlisted by marine biologist Lonny Lundsten from Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute to help identify the sponges.

Carnivorous sponges were only discovered in 1995. Since then, only 137 species have been described, including these four. Just 11 of them were found in the North Pacific.

They've been described as the Venus fly traps of the deep sea, a "truly extraordinary species," wrote Lonny Lundsten, the lead author of an article published in the most recent edition of the scientific journal Zootaxa.

Lundsten said the samples were collected by remotely operated vehicles during other research, most of it geological surveys of the sea floor.

Their meat-eating ways are believed to be an adaptation to the nutrient-poor environs of the deep sea, where most are found.

The Canadian Press

Suspicious fires investigated

Abbotsford police are investigating five fires that struck the city in less than 48 hours.

Const. Ian MacDonald says officers have not determined if the incidents are linked but is calling the timing and location of the blazes suspicious.

He says that all of the fires were started in the city's central region during early morning hours.

Three suspicious fires were reported on April 16, and two more occurred today.

MacDonald says residents were evacuated, but no one was injured during any of the blazes.

The Canadian Press

Breach by sex offender

A man who police say is a convicted sex offender is in custody after allegedly breaching the terms of his release.

Thirty-nine-year-old James William Conway of Surrey is charged with two counts of breach of recognizance and is due to appear in court April 23 to face the allegations.

He is accused of violating conditions stating he cannot contact anyone under 18 and that he is to carry a copy of his release order at all times outside his home.

Transit police say a SkyTrain passenger accused a man of behaving inappropriately towards young girls at Columbia Station in New Westminster.

Police issued a news release saying the witness alleged the man was staring at the girls, looking down the fronts of their skirts and attempting to talk with them by producing a teddy bear.

The police news release didn't provide details of Conway's conviction.

The Canadian Press

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