Monday, July 28th13.9°C

Students 2nd at RoboCup comp

A team of Vancouver high-school students came in second place at an international robotic soccer competition held in Brazil.

Allen Chak, Bryan Ge (GUH), Felix Huang (HWONG), Jeff Ma (MAH) and Robert Mo (MOH) built soccer-playing robots that competed in the 2014 RoboCup competition.

Sixteen-year-old Chak says getting second place was a great surprise and says he is thinking of programming robots when he grows up.

Team SagerSoccer competed under the category of two-on-two robot teams built by people aged 14 to 19 that must use artificial intelligence to operate.

SagerSoccer's robots are about the size of two phone books stacked together and raced around on wheels to manoeuvre the ball.

Once the robots were had the net in sight, they would use compressed air to extend a small pipe that kicked the ball into the net.

Chak says he would love to enter the competition again.

The Canadian Press


Shots fired at RCMP after arrest

A routine curfew check turned into an arrest and then attempted murder after shots were fired at RCMP officers west of Williams Lake.

On July 27 around 1 a.m., an Alexis Creek RCMP officer was on the Anaham Reserve to conduct curfew checks.

While there, the officer witnessed two men allegedly attempting to start a stolen pick-up truck. Upon approach, the passenger fled, but the driver was taken into custody.

While the officer was dealing with the man in custody, two other men, one of them armed with a knife approached the officer and threatened him. 

He immediately called for backup and the suspects who threatened the officer fled on foot.

Additional officers attended the scene and began a search for the suspects. During the search, several shots were fired at police at two different times.

No injuries were reported as a result of this very high risk incident.

Additional resources have been called in to assist in moving this investigation forward.

Alexis Creek RCMP are asking anyone with information regarding this incident to please contact the Alexis Creek Detachment at 250-394-4211 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS). 


Police gear up for fireworks

Hundreds of Vancouver police officers are expected to be present at the Vancouver's Celebration of Light.

The high-profile fireworks show in English Bay is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people.

Police say a visible presence is intended to deter alcohol-fuelled fights and disturbances.

Officers say they are not expecting major disruptions, but say they want to ensure safety among attendees.

Officers on foot, horseback, bicycle, in police boats, and from the air, will monitor the crowds and boats around English Bay.

This year's event runs for three nights — July 26, July 30 and Aug. 2.

The United States is scheduled for the first night's performance, followed by France and Japan on the following two.

The Canadian Press


Train collides with logging truck

There were no serious injuries as a result of a collision between a CN Rail train and a logging truck near Burns Lake.

Burns Lake RCMP Cpl. Jack Ashford, says the incident occurred about 7 a.m. Friday on a private road that services Decker Lake Sawmill.

Ashford says the train was heading eastbound at the time.

"As a result of that collision there were some minor, non life threatening injuries to both the train crew and the driver of the logging truck," says Ashford.

"The driver of the truck was taken to hospital (Burns Lake) and later released."

Ashford says CN Rail has confirmed the train was not carrying any hazardous materials.

He says some diesel fuel did spill from the logging truck, however, that has been contained and taken care of.

According to Ashford, 15 cars were derailed and logs have been strewn around the crash site.

The train was two miles long.

He expects it to take a day and a half to two days for the site to be cleaned up.

The Ministry of Environment, WorkSafeBC and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Enforcement team have all been informed.

Province provides cheaper beer

The BC government has decided to slightly change the new minimum drink pricing, and will now allow bars and restaurants to price jugs of beer at 20 cents per ounce.

They had initially set the price of draft beer and cider at 25 cents an ounce, but had said they would revisit the prices if they did not match consumer expectations when happy hours and minimum pricing was introduced in June.

“When we announced BC’s minimum prices, along with the introduction of happy hour, we were clear that we’d keep a close eye on how these prices impacted consumers and businesses,” says Attorney General and Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton.

“Creating a new category for draught beer in servings over 50 oz. is a fair balance for consumers that still takes into account the views of business owners and health and safety advocates.”

This will only affect beer or cider served in jugs of 50 ounces or more, pints of beer will not be affected. The province is also reverting back to a $3 per-ounce price for spirits.

The province has implemented 17 of the 73 recommendations provided by the BC Liquor Policy Review to date. Their goal is to implement 70 per cent of the recommendations by next spring.

New fee for cleaning cabs

If you're feeling queasy, step away from the cab.

That's the advice from taxi drivers across British Columbia after the province's Passenger Transportation Board approved a new fee.

It allows drivers and companies to charge a $75 fine, on top of the flag fare, to passengers who soil or damage the interior of a vehicle with bodily fluids or solids.

Drivers have always been permitted to charge for the cost of cleaning vomit — or any other nasty substance — from cabs, but the new rule sets a specific rate, giving cabbies and their companies more certainty about how to handle spewing patrons.

Calgary City Council imposed a $100 charge on vomiting passengers earlier this week.

A $25 fee is charged in Toronto, after councillors approved it in February.

The Canadian Press

Police raid pot store

Vancouver police executed a search warrant at a medical marijuana dispensary Thursday after receiving word that pot purchased inside was being re-sold to youth.

Officers searched the Weeds store at 992 East Hastings Street around 1 p.m., identified five customers and three staff members, then released them.

CTV Vancouver is reporting that no arrests were made.

Police were responding to reports that marijuana bought at the dispensary was taken outside and sold to underage buyers in the neighbourhood. No further details has been released, as the investigation is ongoing.

The department said it will respond to all complaints about illegal marijuana use and sales, but that its main focus is on violent drug traffickers and people preying on the young, marginalized or drug-addicted.

Officers use their own discretion enforcing federal laws on pot possession and consumption, the department added.

Scofflaws can face penalties as harsh as criminal charges, or as light as drug seizures and violation tickets for breaking city smoking bylaws.

Second school damaged by fire

For the second time in under a week a school in Metro Vancouver has been damaged by fire, this time in Port Coquitlam.

Fire crews responded to B.C. Christian Academy on Fernwood Avenue late Thursday night.

When they arrived they discovered a fire burning through the exterior wall of a portable classroom, according to CTV Vancouver.

"The damage was kept to mostly the exterior portion, though we have heavy smoke and water damage to the inside of the portable," said Deputy Chief Robert Kipps. "The guys did a good job, quick knockdown with exterior water attack."

While the cause of the fire has so far not officially been deemed suspicious, that's not the case in Delta where a suspected arson earlier in the week is being blamed for $100,000 in damage.

On Wednesday, crews found a fire burning against the wall of Sunshine Hills Elementary School and the flames quickly spread inside.

Eventually firefighters had to use saws to cut through the metal roof to get at the flames.

Both of the fires are still under investigation.

Thousands still in the dark

Update -- July 25

Just over 200 people are still without power following Wednesday's thunderstorm, according to BC Hydro. These residents are mostly in small pockets throughout the Okanagan/Kootenay and Thompson/Shuswap regions.

Original story -- July 24

A number of people in central BC are still without power following Wednesday's severe thunderstorm that saw rain and hail pelt communities throughout the Okanagan Valley.

BC Hydro is reporting that nearly 10,000 hydro customers both in the Okanagan/Kootenay and Thompson/Shuswap regions, are still in the dark.

One of the hardest hit regions is Sicamous, where 1,341 homes are still without power and the estimated time of recovery is not until 4 p.m. this afternoon.

There are more than a dozen other pockets of power outages throughout the Shuswap, including Chase, Sorrento, Salmon Arm, Enderby, and Mabel Lake.

A few people were also without power in Kamloops, Cranbrook, Coldstream and Vernon on Thursday morning.

In Kelowna, power went out downtown around 4 p.m. Wednesday night, but that only lasted for a few minutes.

Last night, BC Hydro had reported most would be back on by 5 a.m. this morning, yet thousands still wait. 

Storms throw blanket over fires

Heavy rain showers over the past 48 hours have wiped out any imminent wildfire danger across British Columbia, although it's expected to be only a temporary reprieve.

Provincial fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek, at the Wildfire Co-ordination Centre in Kamloops, said on Thursday that concern remains for the Chilcotin, Kamloops and southeastern regions of the province. But most wildfire warnings will likely be downgraded soon, he said.

"With the rain that came through we have seen a very significant shift in the fire danger across the province," he said.

Low-pressure system that's brought gusty, stormy conditions into the province on Wednesday put a dent in most active fires, but hot-and-dry conditions are expected to return next week, he said.

The downpours have also helped rescind a number of fire evacuation orders and alerts.

The Wildfire Management Branch said all evacuation orders and alerts have been dropped for the Smith Creek fire, which forced about 2,500 from their West Kelowna homes last week.

Evacuations were also rescinded for the Jura fire, west of Princeton-Summerland, Apex Mountain, and the Maka-Murray fire, in the Thompson-Nicola region.

An evacuation order was also lowered to an alert for residents near the Botanie Road fire on private land, north of Lytton.

Skrepnek said that because the majority of fires are human-caused, he's cautioning the public about lighting campfires, sparking fires from vehicle-exhaust pipes and discarding cigarettes.

"The biggest message we want to emphasis is we don't want the public getting complacent just because we've had this dump of rain," he said. "We don't want people, a week down the road, thinking that there isn't still a very real and present danger of wildfires."

On Wednesday, flash floods washed over roads and into basements, scattering debris across Kamloops, B.C., when thunder showers soaked the city in 25 millimetres of rain in less than 30 minutes.

There have so far been 678 fires across the province since the fire season started April 1, with this July being called the most active fire month since 2010.

The Canadian Press

Dangerous offender loses appeal

A dangerous offender who posed as a gynecologist and convinced one victim to tattoo a name across her stomach has lost an appeal of several sexual-assault convictions in British Columbia's highest court.

Kolten Mastronardi was convicted in November 2006 on 12 counts of sexual assault, as well as other charges related to assault, threats, fraud and extortion. He was declared a dangerous offender in June 2012 and given an indeterminate sentence.

Mastronardi appealed four of the sexual-assault convictions, arguing the trial judge erred in law by convicting him of four counts for fraudulent gynecological examinations.

He also argued the trial judge shouldn't have dismissed an application to sever counts of fraud and extortion and one count of sexual assault from the other charges.

B.C. Court of Appeal Justice Daphne Smith, writing for the three-member panel, dismissed the appeal in a ruling posted online Thursday.

"Irrefutably his admitted non-consensual touching of their genitals necessarily violated their sexual integrity and constitutes a sexual assault," she said.

Smith also said it was irrelevant that the "examinations" were consistent with medical exams.

"A fraudulent skill cannot legitimize non-consensual sexual activity."

Smith said the trial judge did not err in principle or fail to consider relevant factors when dismissing Mastronardi's severance application. She said the trial judge fairly weighed the risk of prejudice and considered the interests of justice.

"In all of the circumstance, it cannot be said that the ruling resulted in an injustice," she wrote.

Smith's ruling laid bare the details of Mastronardi's "fantasy world."

She said with slight variations he presented himself as a member of a Sicilian family that was organized in a Mafia-like manner, a medical doctor and widower seeking a wife. Mastronardi also told his victims his family required submissive wives and the amalgamation of finances, said Smith.

Her ruling said he broke the nose of one victim, sexually assaulted her with the butt end of a knife, and convinced her to tattoo the sentence, "Property of Nicolo Mastronardi," across her stomach, and in large black letters.

Mastronardi also accused his victims of giving him sexually transmitted infections after examinations and false diagnoses.

Smith said Mastronardi extorted intercourse from a young naive foreign student by threatening to inform her parents and reporting "her 'crime' of 'sexual teasing' to the immigration authorities and have her deported."

Mastronardi also defrauded his victims of money and credit, and one lost as much as $55,000, said Smith.

The Canadian Press

High risk of Hep C in street youth

Vancouver street youth face an alarmingly high risk of hepatitis C infection because of a high incidence of injection drug use, according to a new study published in the British Medical Journal.

The B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS tracked youth aged 14 to 26 over the course of six years.

Of 940 people recruited between September 2005 and November 2011, 100 tested positive for the disease at the outset.

Of the people 512 who tested negative at the beginning and showed up for at least one subsequent visit, 56 were positive in follow-up tests — 10.9 per cent.

And of those 512 youth, 166 — about 32 per cent — reported prior use of injection drugs.

"We found that the risk for (hepatitis C virus) acquisition among street youth in this setting was alarmingly high, and that intravenous drug injection remains a primary risk factor," said the study, led by Dr. Scott Hadland.

The study was also the first to look at the risk of hepatitis infection from injecting opioids like oxycodone and morphine, which is on the rise throughout North America.

It found that while the risk of infection is elevated by the injection use of heroin, cocaine and crystal meth, it does not appear to increase with opioid injection.

The researchers acknowledged that there was a relatively small number of youth in the study who engaged in prescription opioid misuse, which could have limited the ability to measure risk in opioid users.

It is also possible, the study said, that opioid users may not be as entrenched in the local drug scene and, therefore, may not associate frequently with hepatitis-positive drug users.

Either way, the excessive risk of infection among street youth requires specific prevention and mitigation strategies, the study found.

The street youth are a marginalized and difficult-to-reach population, Hadland wrote.

There are challenges to providing maintenance programs such as methadone to the population, and harm reduction services such as needle exchanges and safe injection sites may not effectively target younger users, he said in the study.

The Canadian Press

Transgender child changes sex

An 11-year-old Vancouver Island girl was among the first 30 Britsh Columbians to take advantage of a new law that allows transgender people to change the sex listed on their birth certificates without having surgery. According to her, she was the first person in line after the bill passed.

“I was probably the youngest,” Harriette Cunningham told CTV Vancouver. “I know I was the first.”

The Comox resident said she’s always known she was a girl, despite being labeled “male” on her original birth certificate. The new document is the latest success in a campaign to get legal recognition for her gender that began when she was 8 or 9, she said.

“It just made me so mad and made me almost frustrated to know that I’m a girl and then I look on my passport and it says that I’m a boy,” Cunningham said.

Some children who don’t conform to gender norms can be persuaded to stay quiet about it in official situations like border crossings, Cunningham’s father Colin told CTV News. That was never an option with Harriette, who’s expecting a new passport soon to match her new birth certificate.

“For her, it was a matter of principle, where she wasn’t being acknowledged for who she really was,” Colin Cunningham said.

The younger Cunningham has always been very sure of her gender identity, her father said. It was up to her parents to educate themselves and support her in her transition. It was a steep learning curve.

“We didn’t even know there were transgender youth,” Colin Cunningham said. “Once she started down that path, it was really obvious. It was really obvious that this is exactly who she is. It was us that had to catch up.”

Part of that education, for both Harriette and her parents, was the realization that not everyone fits into the sex and gender binary of male or female, boy or girl. Some people identify as both boy and girl, or as neither, so why should one or the other be picked for them from birth?

Harriette Cunningham knows her transition would have been much easier if she hadn’t been assigned the wrong sex at birth. So her next fight is going to be to get the province to stop including sex on birth certificates.

“I’m not done yet,” she told CTV News. “I want to get gender off the birth certificates so when a child is born they don’t put M or F on their birth certificate. That would have made it a lot easier for me.”

The Cunningham family is scheduled to appear before the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal in October to argue for this change.

Wanted on Canada-wide warrant

A Canada-wide warrant has been issued for a federal offender on the loose.

Donald James Sabey was last seen in Vancouver and is wanted after failing to return to his halfway house.

He has been charged with sexual assault, forcible confinement and uttering threats.

Sabey is considered to be a violent and high risk sexual offender.

The 48-year-old man is 6'4 and weighs around 240 pounds, with blue eyes and a shaved head.

He has multiple tattoos all over his body, including the name “Dawn” on his left forearm, and tribal art. He also has “KEYGRIP” skulls and demon faces on his right forearm and a dragon head on his left shoulder.

Anyone who sees Donald James Sabey or has information on his whereabouts is asked to call 911 and to not approach him. 

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