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Park board restricts Aquarium

New restrictions adopted by Vancouver's park board mean only threatened species of whales and dolphins will soon be bred at the city's aquarium.

The unanimous vote Thursday saw park-board members amend a bylaw that will prohibit the breeding of all other captive cetaceans at the facility.

Elected members also decided to form a committee of animal-welfare experts to provide public oversight and ensure the well-being of all cetaceans owned by the Vancouver Aquarium.

The contentious issue drew more than 130 people to speak at several recent park board public hearings, and four former Vancouver mayors signed letters in support of the aquarium's cetacean program.

Park Board chair Aaron Jasper says the issue is complex and he thinks the board struck a balance between supporting the aquarium's good work and continuing the discussion of the ethics of keeping the animals in captivity.

The aquarium houses rescued animals that cannot be returned to the ocean or animals that were born in captivity, and among its current residents are two Pacific white-sided dolphins, two harbour porpoises and two belugas.

The Canadian Press


BC chief's pay, expenses: $1M

Newly posted documents show a dramatic disparity in the salaries and travel expenses paid to a handful of Canada's First Nations chiefs, ranging from thousands of dollars to almost $1 million.

Following the passage of a financial-transparency law by the federal government in 2013, First Nations are now required to publish audited financial statements of salaries and expenses online within 120 days of the end of the financial year ending March 31, 2014.

As of Thursday, many links to the data on the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada website still read "not yet posted."

But Metro Vancouver's Kwikwetlem First Nation has published, and the website shows that economic development officer and Chief Ron Giesbrecht was paid $914,219 in remunerations and $16,574 in expenses for the financial year ending March 31, 2014.

Remunerations are defined in the document as salaries, wages, commissions, bonuses, honorarium, dividends and any other benefits, other than reimbursements, and non-monetary benefits. Expenses are defined as the costs of transportation, accommodation, meals, hospitality and incidentals.

A person answering the phone at band's office had promised a statement, then later said there would be no comment at this time.

Still, the band states on its website that it is creating an environment that promotes a higher quality of life.

"We are committed to transparency, responsibility, financial accountability, social, health, education, and economic development," the website states.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada reports the Kwikwetlem band has a registered population of 37 and 33 people living on the reserve.

Earlier this month, the Kwikwetlem claimed title to all lands associated with now-closed Riverview Hospital in Metro Vancouver and other areas of its traditional territory, citing the recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling in Tsilhqot'in v. British Columbia.

The O'Chiese First Nation of Rocky Mountain House, Alta., reported Chief Darren Whitford received remunerations of $164,453 and travel and meeting expenses of $100,778. The First Nation's six councillors reported remunerations starting at just over $102,261 and expenses starting at $27,433.

The band's total population reported by Statistics Canada in the 2006 census was 450.

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation in the northwestern, B.C., community of Atlin also published a document showing a salary of $72,800 to band spokesman John Ward and travel expenses $6,400.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation expressed "jubilation" over the publication, and noted more and more information would be available over the coming weeks as the federal government scans and posts the documents.

"When we first called for the disclosure of chief and council pay information back in 2009 a lot of people told us Ottawa wouldn’t touch the matter," said federation spokesman Colin Craig in a news release. "But we mobilized people on and off reserve to tell Ottawa to make legislative changes so that the government could start posting the details publicly. Kudos to the Harper government for listening."

He said many aboriginal people have been bullied or harassed for asking for the basic information in the past.

In March 2013, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt and others tried to speak in Winnipeg on the First Nations Financial Transparency Act but were interrupted by protesters who opposed the law.

Protester Pam Palmater of the Idle No More movement said at the time she opposed the law because the financial information is already transparent.

The Canadian Press

BC Hydro: smart meters safe

BC Hydro is turning a negative into a positive.

While Saskatchewan is pulling the plug on its smart meters because of fire concerns, BC Hydro is trumpeting the safety record of its program.

Over the next six to nine months, SaskPower will remove all 105,000 of its smart meters after at least eight of them caught fire in the last two months.

Bill Boyd, minister responsible for SaskPower, told a news conference in Regina that all of the province's meters are to be replaced with traditional units.

The smart meters were made by North-Carolina-based company Sensus, which said in a statement that it has not confirmed whether smart meters sparked the fires.

"We are working with SaskPower to understand what specific events led to those issues and to determine the best course of action," the statement said. "The investigation is still underway."

SaskPower CEO Robert Watson has said the issue is being taken extremely seriously.

“The safety of our customers and employees is our top priority as we continue our investigation,” he said in a news release. "We are taking every step possible to ensure the highest level of safety.”

But BC Hydro has installed smart meters in 99 per cent of homes and businesses provincewide, and said there has been no evidence of fires started by smart meters.

The utility uses equipment manufactured by Itron Inc., based in Washington state.

B.C. Energy Minister Bill Bennett said he's not aware of any problems with the meters.

"We've got a really comprehensive application of smart meters," Bennett said. "Saskatchewan, I think, didn't go all the way and the value of SmartGrid and the value of smart meters really is only appreciated when you have done the whole jurisdiction and that's the approach we've taken."

"I think ratepayers will thank us for this," he said.

Two studies commissioned by BC Hydro suggest smart meters may have actually decreased the risk of electrical fires in B.C.

The studies were conducted by the University of the Fraser Valley during and after the installation of 1.9 million meters across the province, with data from fire departments across the province.

Len Garis, Surrey's fire chief and a researcher who worked on the reports, said BC Hydro's safety checks could be behind the decrease in fire risk.

"When they deployed smart meters they actually inspected the meter bases," Garis said. "If the sockets showed any signs of wear or tear or corrosion or fractures when they removed the meters, they actually replaced them for free."

BC Hydro conducted more than 2,000 socket repairs while implementing the program, Garis said, adding there were no findings suggesting smart meters caused fires.

"It was alleged that there were more fires," he said. "We just simply could not find that in the data whatsoever."

The office of B.C.'s fire commissioner said it reviewed about 17,000 fire reports and found only seven contained a reference to smart meters in the area where a fire started.

"None of these reports definitively identified the smart meter as the actual source of the fire,” fire commissioner Gordon Anderson said in an email.

BC Hydro spokesman Greg Alexis said all of BC Hydro’s meters must pass stringent federal and North American standards set by Measurement Canada, American National Standards Institute, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the International Electrotechnical Commission.

Ontario and Alberta use smart meters, and the devices were piloted in Manitoba.

(The Canadian Press, CHNL)

The Canadian Press


Strike: Cash for kids

The B.C. government says it will financially compensate affected parents if the provincial teachers strike continues into September.

B.C.'s Finance Minister Mike De Jong promised Thursday that parents of children under 13 years old will get $40 per day per child to help with daycare costs and tutoring.

He said the cash will come from the money the province has saved under the teachers' job action.

De Jong said he recognizes that “there are costs that accrue to parents and families” when their children are not in school.

“Parents can utilize that money to acquire tutoring for their children, they can use their money to explore other educational opportunities as they see fit. For others it'll be basic daycare,” he told reporters in Victoria.

De Jong insists this is a contingency plan only and hopes the strike will be resolved before the end of August.

Eligible parents will be able to apply online, and will be paid by cheque starting in October.

The minister said safeguards are being implemented to ensure money only goes to parents who have children registered in public schools.

The strike, which started seven weeks ago, was prompted by a dispute over class sizes, composition and wages.

There are currently no scheduled talks between two sides.

More to come. 


North Shore rescue x 2

Two separate searches made for a busy Wednesday night as volunteer members of Vancouver's North Shore Rescue team scour the rugged backcountry just north of the city.

A search for two men was underway on Crown Mountain, a peak just north of Grouse Mountain, when the second call came in about a man and woman in trouble in the Lynn Headwaters region, several kilometres to the east.

North Shore Rescue spokesman Mike Danks says team members found the man early this morning, but the woman is still missing after the pair separated in darkness.

One crew continues to look for the woman in the Lynn Headwaters area while a second group has moved toward Hanes Creek and the eastern flank of Crown Mountain.

They're hoping to spot the two hikers who sparked the original search, but pinpointing the pair has been difficult because the men's cell phone died shortly after they called a friend to say they were off-course but proceeding down the mountain.

A helicopter was standing by, overnight, ready to assist with both searches at first light.

The Canadian Press

$5.3B mine approved

The British Columbia government has granted environmental approval for a proposed $5.3-billion mine in the provinces north, which would tap into one of the largest gold and copper deposits in the world and has already received support from local First Nations.

The provincial environment and mines ministers issued an environmental assessment certificate Wednesday to Seabridge Gold Inc. (TSX:SEA) for the company's KSM project, also known as Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell.

Seabridge has applied to open the project more than 900 kilometres northwest of Vancouver, where the company says it would be able to mine 38.2 million ounces of gold and almost 5 billion kilograms of copper — enough to produce 130,000 tonnes of ore per day for up to 52 years.

The company says the project would create 1,800 jobs during construction and more than 1,000 permanent jobs if it gets up and running, though Seabridge also notes it still must find a partner to fund and actually build the mine.

BC Mines Minister Bill Bennett said the project would be a boon to the province's economy and First Nations in the region.

"This will be a major employer, not just for the northwest but for all of BC and it will pump a lot of money into our economy," Bennett said in an interview Wednesday.

"These are high-paying jobs. They're family-supporting jobs."

The Gitxsan First Nation has also come out in support of the project, and the company says it hopes to sign an agreement with the Tahltan First Nation soon.

"We're going into land that they've inhabited for generations, and we need to make sure that we're a responsible neighbour," Seabridge's CEO, Rudi Fronk, said in an interview.

The Canadian Press

Site C dam a threat

Major development projects such as the Site C dam in British Columbia's Peace River watershed could threaten up to $8.6 billion in ecological values, suggests a report commissioned by the David Suzuki Foundation.

Faisal Moola, a chief scientist with the environmental group, said the 56,000-square kilometre watershed is a "Fort Knox" of ecological wealth, with ecosystems providing benefits including clean air, clean water, carbon storage and flood and erosion control.

BC Hydro is proposing an $8-billion hydroelectric dam in the Peace River Valley, which would flood an 83-kilometre stretch of land along the river. It would be the third dam on the river, downstream from the W.A.C. Bennett and Peace Canyon dams.

Moola said carbon stored in forests, wetlands and grasslands are conservatively worth $6.7 billion to $7.4 billion a year, while other ecological services amount to $1.2 billion annually.

Policy-makers typically ignore ecological advantages because they appear to be provided by nature for free, he said.

The study, authored by ecological economist Sara Wilson from the Toronto-based firm Natural Capital Research and Consulting, included satellite images of the watershed and used modeling techniques to ascribe a dollar value to services such as water filtration by trees.

"We know for example that forests are really important in terms of filtering water, but on the other hand, grasslands and farmland are really important in terms of providing habitat for bees and pollinators, which is something that is critical to sustaining agricultural commodities," Moola said.

"If we actually make a decision to further degrade the amount of natural forest cover we have in an area, that will incur explicit costs. And in the case of water filtration, it's been very well documented that this will actually increase the cost to local municipalities to provide potable drinking water. And typically, those costs are downloaded to rate payers."

BC Hydro said in a statement that officials are reviewing the report, the project is undergoing a three-year, federal-provincial environmental assessment process, and the foundation presented its perspective at federal Joint Review Panel hearings last December.

The economic values in the report are for a watershed of about 5.6 million hectares but the amount of land that's expected to be flooded for the reservoir is about 5,550 hectares, the utility added.

"All new electricity-generation projects have effects and Site C is no different," the statement added. "While Site C has the potential to result in some significant effects, we believe those effects are justified by the need for the project, and the benefits it would provide for our province."

The utility has said the Site C dam would generate enough energy to power 450,000 homes a year.

Further development in the area could erode its ecological benefits, Moola said.

"The Peace region is already some two-thirds developed. Essentially, it's a perfect storm of logging, mining, conventional and unconventional oil and gas development. And there's a proposal to build a major dam on the Peace River that will further the cumulative impacts of industrial development on this region."

Along with the two existing dams, the region has more than 16,000 oil-and-gas well sites and about 8,500 petroleum and natural gas facilities. The area would also be the heart of B.C.'s proposed liquefied natural gas industry.

Earlier this year, a joint review panel concluded the dam would have significant adverse effects on the environment and wildlife. But it also said the benefits of the project are clear and there are few alternatives to provide the type of long-term, inexpensive energy source proposed by the Crown utility.

The panel report, released in May, did not give a clear yes or no answer. The federal and provincial governments are expected to release a final decision later this year.

Provincial Energy Minister Bill Bennett has said that if approved, construction could begin in January 2015, and the dam would be completed by 2024. He has also said that the benefits of the project will outweigh the impacts cited in the review.

The Canadian Press

Teacher banned from province

A BC elementary school teacher convicted for possession of child pornography has been banned from teaching in the province.

Timothy Ouellette was sentenced to four months in jail and five years' probation in September 2013.

The former information technology teacher in the northern Vancouver Island community of Port McNeill signed an agreement in early July with the province's teacher regulation branch, giving up his teaching rights.

Ouellette voluntarily agreed not to apply for any BC teaching certification and also acknowledged certification would not be granted in a document posted on the Education Ministry's website.

The part-time teacher was suspended by the local school board immediately after being arrested in March 2012, but he wasn't charged until seven months after Mounties raided his home and seized evidence.

At the time he was charged, RCMP told the board that police had no evidence to suggest that any children were victimized locally.

The Canadian Press

$400,000 drug bust

Three men have been arrested and nearly $400,000 worth of drugs seized following an investigation into the Langley-based “856” gang.

Members of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of BC (CFSEU-BC) began their investigation into the gang’s alleged drug trafficking earlier this month and arrested the men last week.

One suspect was arrested outside an apartment building on July 22, in the 4600 block of 236th Street in Langley. He was found with “significant quantities of both cocaine and methamphetamine,” according to a media release from the CFSEU-BC.

While officers were still on scene, two more suspects in the investigation arrived. One man was arrested, but the other fled on foot and was caught several hours later.

The following day detectives executed a search warrant at the building where the arrests were made and found large quantities of drugs and drug-related items, including a 20-ton press used for re-pressing kilogram bricks of cocaine after it has been diluted (buffed) with other substances. Officers believe the suite was being used as a drug processing and repackaging facility.

“This seizure represents a significant quantity of drugs that will now not make it onto the streets and into the hands of some of the most vulnerable people in our communities,” says CFSEU-BC spokesperson Sergeant Lindsey Houghton.

“By taking quick enforcement action against a group known for their violence across British Columbia and beyond, we have made a serious impact on their ability to further victimize people and make our communities safer.”

In addition to $5,464 cash and the 20-ton press, the total amount of drugs seized and their estimated wholesale price (according to CFSEU-BC) is listed below:

  • Cocaine: 2.514 kg ($150,000)
  • Methamphetamine: 3.846 kg ($100,000)
  • Heroin: 522 g ($55,000)
  • Oxycontin: 123 tablets/pills ($3,700)
  • Cocaine cutting agent/buff: 44.062 kg ($80,000)

All three men arrested, aged 23, 25, and 47, were interviewed by police and released from custody pending charges. They are all believed to be high-ranking members of the 856 gang.

The CFSEU says the 856 gang originated in the Aldergrove area – hence the telephone prefix – and is made up of members and associates living and operating in the Lower Mainland and as far away as Fort St John, the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Alberta, and even Ontario. They have been in existence for close to a decade and have been featured in local and other media for their involvement in assaults, drugs, weapon-related, property-related, and other types of crimes.

One dead in shooting


One man is dead after a shooting Tuesday night in Maple Ridge.

Police were called shortly after 10:15 p.m. to reports of shots fired in the 10300 block of 240th Street.

Officers found 33-year-old Trevor Koehler with multiple gunshot wounds. He was transported to hospital where he was pronounced dead.

The Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT) was called to the scene and investigators are looking for a light coloured -- possible white or cream -- compact import car, believed to be a Honda, Toyota or Acura.

"At this early stage of the investigation we can say Trevor was the victim of a targeted attack and this was not a random occurrence.  IHIT continues to work with the Ridge Meadows RCMP to determine why this shooting occurred and who is responsible," says Sgt. Adam MacIntosh of IHIT.

Koehler had no criminal record and was not known to police.

The shooting does not appear to be gang related at this time.

Border uniforms found in trash

The Canada Border Services Agency is facing serious security questions after a number of uniforms were found discarded in a Vancouver dumpster.

According to CTV Vancouver, homeless blogger Stanley Q. Woodvine discovered the uniforms late last month in the Fairview neighbourhood, near 15th Avenue and Fir Street, and alerted authorities.

“I don’t know if other binners or dumpster divers helped themselves to a shirt. It’s been over two weeks since I took the photos and the shirts are long gone,” Woodvine wrote in a recent post.

According to CBSA policy, uniforms are only to be thrown out after all agency identification is removed. The uniforms photographed by Woodvine had CBSA patches on the shoulders.

The CBSA confirmed it’s launched an internal investigation into how the shirts ended up in the dumpster, and cautioned that pretending to be a peace officer is a crime.

“Uniforms with CBSA identification remain the property of the Government of Canada,” the agency said in an email statement.

A spokesman told CTV News the uniforms haven't been recovered but there were no serial numbers on them. He couldn't say whether officers swept the area where the photos were taken to look for them.

Border security expert Josh Labove said the incident is a potential embarrassment to the agency, and raises questions about how closely CBSA protocol is followed.

“It represents a lapse in judgment for at least one person,” he said, “but it’s a pretty sizable cache of uniforms, which begs the question: was more than one person involved?”

The CBSA has only been around for 11 years, Labove added, and is still facing some learning curves.

“We need to remember that this organization that we’ve come to know and expect seeing at the border is still very young and still has a lot of learning to do, a lot of development still to do,” he said.

“They’re still two years away from getting all of the border officers to the point of being armed.”

Mill ordered to pay for fatal fire

Penalties and levies totalling more than $724,000 have been imposed on a company that owns a northern British Columbia sawmill which was flattened by a fire.

The May 12, 2012 blaze at Prince George's Lakeland Mills Ltd. claimed the lives of 43-year-old Alan Little and 46-year-old Glen Roche.

The province's Criminal Justice Branch announced earlier this year it would not lay charges against the company because it feared the evidence collected wouldn't be admissible in court.

But WorkSafeBC, the agency that investigates workplace accidents in the province, says it has completed an inspection report and found the company breached the Workers Compensation Act and Occupational Health and Safety Regulations.

It has ordered the company to pay a $97,500 penalty and a $626,663 levy for breaching the act and the regulations.

"The dollar value of a penalty or claims cost levy does not and cannot reflect the loss of lives and the pain and suffering of workers and families," the agency states on its website, adding the company has the right to appeal and review the penalties.

The order follows a similar $1-million ruling in April by WorkSafeBC against Hampton Affiliates, the owners of the Babine mill.

Lakeland Mills president Greg Stewart responded to Tuesday's report with a written statement, saying the company had just been notified earlier in the day.

"It will take some time to review the information," he said. "Only then will we be in a position to respond to WorkSafeBC’s allegations."

Shane Simpson, the New Democratic labour critic, called the penalties and assessments a slap on the wrist and of cold comfort to the families of the workers killed and the survivors.

He reiterated calls for an independent inquiry.

"We haven't got to the bottom of this," he said. "We haven't found closure for the families, and I'm afraid that's not going to happen until we have the kind of independent inquiry that has been called for across the board by most people other than the government."

The fire at the mill broke out at about 9:30 p.m. on April 23, 2012, and WorkSafeBC found the mill's northeast corner exploded outward. A few seconds later another section, known as the bag house, erupted in flames, it found.

The explosion travelled east to west through the mill's operating level, destroying the mill, killing and injuring the workers.

All the evidence indicated wood dust was dispersed throughout the mill and in a high-enough concentration to explode, stated a WorkSafeBC report issued in May.

The report noted the primary explosion occurred an area of about three-square metres which was surrounded by a conveyor, steel-plated ceiling and exterior wall.

The report described the important relationship between containment and a fuel-like wood dust.

"If these components are contained and ignition occurs, the pressure develops to a degree that typically is violent and destructive," it stated.

The friction that ignited the blaze was caused when a piece of equipment known as a gear-reducer cooling fan failed, and a rotating shaft generated friction, heat and a temperature of 577 degrees Celsius, the report added.

As a result, the airborne dust burned away in the containment zone during the primary explosion and the secondary explosions, and fire levelled the mill, it stated.

The report also cited several underlying factors.

There was a lack of a dust-collection system and ineffective dust-control measures, as well as ineffective maintenance and inspection of the gear reducers, it found.

The configuration of the waste conveyor increased airborne wood dust as well, and wood and weather conditions played a role, the report noted.

"The weather conditions resulted in a very dry environment with low humidity," it stated. "The condition was compounded by the very dry beetle-killed wood. The dusts produced were drier, finer and migrated throughout the mill."

Finally, the report cited "inadequate supervision of clean-up and maintenance staff."

The agency said it has ordered every B.C. sawmill to assess the risks and hazards of combustible dust and implement effective dust-control programs.

Followup inspections have been ordered by WorkSafeBC at other sawmills and wood-processing operations, and the agency has ordered hazard alerts for gear reducers and wintertime conditions when there are increased risks.

The Canadian Press

Wanted on Canada-wide warrant

Update -- July 29

The Vancouver Police Department says Donald James Sabey is back behind bars, after he was picked up at a home in Vancouver on Tuesday.

Investigators with the VPD High Risk Offender Unit made the arrest without incident.

Sabey had been missing since July 24.

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. 

Shot cyclist made tourniquet

It was just before 1 a.m. during an overnight cyclying race when loud explosions disrupted the solace of a rider along Highway 1 in British Columbia.

At first, Craig Premack, 59, thought he was hearing firecrackers near Spences Bridge while he was taking part in a 600-kilometre, two-day cycling event called the Cache Creek 600.

"But then my right forearm just blew up," Premack said at a police news conference Tuesday. "Seconds later I could feel the warmth of the blood rolling down my leg. I quickly realized that I had been shot and pedalled faster to escape."

Premack said the bullet entered his right forearm, just below his elbow.

As he tried to make sense of what was happening, he saw a dark-coloured vehicle leaving a highway pullout.

"It was almost like a bad dream. I looked down and I could feel the blood. My goodness, I've been shot. I've really been shot. And all I could think was get away."

Premack said he slowed the bleeding with a tourniquet he fashioned out of a pair of pants, and hoped his cycling buddies would soon come by.

He said some cyclists were 20 minutes ahead of him and others were 20 minutes behind him in the cycling event that runs from Metro Vancouver to B.C.'s southern Interior and back.

"After the longest 20 minutes of my life I could see the lights of what could only be my cycling friends. They were quick to react, with one of them riding back to Spences Bridge to summon help."

RCMP Insp. Ed Boettcher told the news conference that police believe the potentially deadly incident near Lytton is random.

"We're very fortunate today to be talking about a shooting and not a homicide," he said.

"It was a completely and utterly violent act, one that could have been directed at any one of us."

Boettcher said some cyclists have reported that two men in a pickup truck threw objects at them earlier in the race, though there is nothing to indicate that incident is connected to the shooting.

Premack said he was taken to a nearby hospital in Ashcroft before being transferred to Vancouver for surgery.

He appealed to anyone with information about who could be responsible for the shooting to contact police.

"The community at large needs to be protected from this person," he said. "The outcome would be tragic should this ever happen again."

The impact of the bullet turned the bone, about two centimetres below his elbow, into small fragments, Premack said, turning his arm to show where the bullet entered and exited.

"Over time those pieces are supposed to find each other and turn back into a bone."

Premack said he won't be able to return to work for several months and that he's concerned about finances.

Although he can't ride these days, the avid cyclist added: "I will for sure. There's no question."

The Canadian Press

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