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Pulp mill owner to pay large fine

The owner of the Port Alice pulp mill on northern Vancouver Island has been convicted and fined $175,000 for polluting a nearby inlet.

The B.C. Environment Ministry says Neucel Specialty Cellulose Ltd. was found guilty by a provincial court for exceeding authorized levels of discharge into Neroutsos Inlet.

The Conservation Officer Service's major investigations unit conducted a joint investigation with Environment Canada and then sent a recommendation of charges to the Crown.

The service says Neucel exceeded it's discharge rates on three separate occasions.

The company has been ordered to pay $1,000 in fines to the provincial government and $174,000 to the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation.

The Canadian Press


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Snow on 97C

It's here! Winter has arrived on Hwy. 97C.

DriveBC reports the highway has slippery sections due to slush.

The alert is from the junction with Highway 5A, at Aspen Grove to Pennask Summitt (1728 metres) (49.5 km).

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Early morning shooting, stabbing

One man was stabbed and another shot in an early morning incident in Maple Ridge, RCMP confirmed Tuesday.

It took place at two different crime scenes a short distance apart on Laity Street near Lougheed Highway, according to police.

CTV Vancouver reports that one of the victims tried to drive away from one of the crime scenes.

Both men were taken to hospital and the stabbing victim sustained serious injuries, police said.

One of the victims is known to police.



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Fire season adds up to timber loss

An overheated forest fire season in British Columbia resulted in a near-record loss of timber -- the third highest total since 1950 when the government started keeping track.

Chief provincial fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek said Monday 1,424 fires consumed more than 3,590 square kilometres of forest this season.

Skrepnek said an intense provincewide hot weather spell in July, where temperatures soared to 40 C in some areas, dried out forests and contributed to extreme fire conditions that lasted much of the summer.

"When you look at the statistics in terms of the number of fires we're had, we've had a little over 1,400 -- 1,424 -- that's actually below average in terms of the number of fires," he said. "So, what we saw this year was a below average number of fires, but in terms of the area burned, quite above normal."

The largest fire of the year occurred near the Chelaslie River near Burns Lake, consuming 1,330 square kilometres. It's still burning, but 75 per cent contained.

"We had a pretty steady season -- nothing spectacular -- until the second week in July, and then we had an unseasonably high system come in and add really hot temperatures, record-breaking temperatures," said Skrepnek. "We had a high-pressure system that stretched into the Yukon. That was what set the season off."

Skrepnek said cooler temperatures and rain showers this week are expected to signal the conclusion of the core fire season.

The top two B.C. fire seasons were recorded in 1958 when fires burned 8,590 square kilometres and in 1961 when 4,830 square kilometres of forest land was burned.

Skrepnek says the provincial government has spent more than $293 million fighting fires this year, but the government allocated just $63 million in its budget to cover fire costs.

Last year, the province spent $122 million fighting 1,857 fires.

The Canadian Press


Adults, 5 kids, rescued at sea

Two adults and five young children had to be rescued Monday night off the BC coast when their fishing vessel began sinking.

The Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Victoria says the rescue took place in the Georgia Strait, off Galiano Island, about two miles from shore.

Acting Sub. Lt. Ron MacDougall said a call came in at about 8 p.m. PT, that a 30-foot gillnet fishing vessel was sinking.

MacDougall said the adults and children were found clinging to the vessel and did not suffer any major injuries.

”The patients exhibited mild to moderate hypothermia,” he said.

”They were in very cold water for almost a half-hour.”

MacDougall could not say if the seven people were wearing life-jackets.

He said a Coast Guard hovercraft was the first of several vessels to head to the scene and its crew carried out the rescue.

Two BC Ferries, the Spirit of Vancouver Island and the Queen of Cowichan, as well as two Coast Guard vessels and a US Coast Guard helicopter were also at the scene to assist in the rescue if needed.

MacDougall could not say what caused the vessel to begin to sink, but noted the ship was in an area with rapids and may have been swamped.

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The Canadian Press


Judge to determine homeless fate

The fates of two separate homeless populations in British Columbia's Lower Mainland remain in the hands of judges.

The City of Vancouver applied to the BC Supreme Court for an injunction to evict dozens of people camping in Oppenheimer Park on the city's Downtown Eastside.

About 66 kilometres to the east, the City of Abbotsford asked a separate BC Supreme Court judge to dismiss a constitutional challenge of its bylaws by members of the Drug War Survivors society.

DJ Larkin of the Pivot Legal Society, which is representing both groups, says her group has asked for a 10-day injunction against the city's application for eviction and a judge will make a ruling on the issue Tuesday morning.

She says the Drug War Survivors will get the chance to challenge the City of Abbotsford's bylaws in court after a ruling by a separate judge.

In his ruling, Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson has dismissed Abbotsford's application, saying the society may pursue its court challenge against the city.

The Canadian Press


Doctors urge health care stand

With provincial and territorial health ministers gathered in Banff over the next few days, advocates of Canada's public health-care system are urging them to protect medicare.

The British Columbia government is in negotiations right now to end a long-running dispute with the private Cambie Surgery Clinic in Vancouver.

The BC Health Coalition says the outcome will send a message about the province's stance on the public system.

They're urging BC to order a full audit of the clinic and impose hefty penalties for almost $500,000 in over-billing during a 30-day period, which came to light in an audit two years ago.

The coalition, along with the group Canadian Doctors for Medicare, has written to BC Health Minister Terry Lake, Attorney General Suzanne Anton and the chairman of the Medical Services Commission, asking them to ensure the clinic is in compliance with medicare rules.

Coalition spokeswoman Dr. Vanessa Brcic, says there has been a lack of federal leadership on health care affecting all provinces and territories, but other jurisdictions have not seen the emergence of as many for-profit health services as BC.

The Canadian Press


YVR suicide inquest

A coroner's inquest starting Monday into the death of a Mexican national who hanged herself inside a Vancouver airport holding cell offers a rare chance to examine the secretive deportation process encountered by many migrants, says an advocacy group with ties to Lucia Vega Jimenez's family.

The group "Mexicans Living in Vancouver" was formed after the 42-year-old woman attempted suicide in late December, following several weeks in jail and Canadian Border Services' Agency custody awaiting her removal. She died several days later.

"This inquest will be an X-ray. For the amount of time they will be spending and the amount of witnesses they probably will call, it's going to be really detailed and a real opportunity to see how things really work," said Rocco Trigueros, the group's director.

"My hope is that recommendations are brought up and things change and we definitely can help these people who came here to work, and contribute in some way, to send them home in a less traumatic way."

The inquest is aimed at shedding light into circumstances so far kept largely shrouded by authorities. The case was not revealed until about a month after Jimenez died, when media heard reports of the incident from members of the Mexican community in Vancouver.

The BC Coroners Service called the inquest in late February, with the explanation that an extra responsibility for care is required because the incident leading to the woman's death occurred while she was in custody. A jury cannot make findings of fault and instead is tasked with making recommendations to prevent similar deaths.

Jimenez was working as a chamber maid for a Vancouver hotel. She was arrested over an unpaid transit ticket and her lack of status in the country was discovered.

"Mexicans Living in Vancouver" quickly raised funds to bring Jimenez's sister to Canada from Mexico after the woman tried to kill herself. The sister was at Jimenez's bedside when they disconnected her from life support.

Trigueros has met several individuals who personally knew the woman. They described her as a hard-working person who would send money back home to her family, including her ill mother, he said. She attended community events, including an anti-racism march, and was also planning to soon get married. She did not show signs of depression, he said.

The coroner says Jimenez was found in a shower stall at the immigration holding centre at Vancouver International Airport on the morning of Dec. 20. She died in hospital on Dec. 28.

It may be difficult for Canadians to understand what might be going on psychologically for a migrant suddenly being forced from the life they've built, said Trigueros. But he suggested it's important to try stepping into a detainee's shoes.

"For them it means a lot. It means not being able to help family, suddenly being cut off from friends. They have a country that they probably love," he said. "In those isolated dungeons, I don't think Lucia was the only one who considered probably doing something like that."

The advocacy group, and its umbrella called the Coalition for Immigrant Rights, was barred from participating in the inquest. Trigueros said the group was told it didn't have anything new to add to the proceedings.

However, his organization of about 40 people has held seven meetings in the months since Jimenez died. They've formulated their own recommendations despite knowing the concerns won't get aired at the inquest.

Immigration holding cells in B.C. should be opened up to support workers, community groups and mental health professionals, Trigueros said. His group also opposes the use of private security firms by the border agency, saying both the company Genesis Security and the CBSA must be held to greater transparency.

"If there's one opportunity, this is the one" to make improvements, Trigueros said. "It's suddenly clear that many things were wrong. So this is the opportunity to throw light, because, before that, other cases probably happened and we never knew."

A spokeswoman for the border agency previously declined to comment on the case, but did say it welcomes the opportunity to provide information and clarity of its detention policies and procedures.

The BC Civil Liberties Association was granted status to participate and has talked to the coalition about its concerns. Its executive director said the association will raise many issues around the handling of the Jimenez case.

Josh Paterson questioned whether the woman's death would have ever been made public if not for the vocal role of the Mexican community. He is critical of the border agency, which he said notified police and the coroner of the incident but does not have an independent watchdog.

"When someone dies in the custody of any other police force in the country, the expectation is that is revealed to the public very quickly," he said.

"This (inquest) is going part way towards answering the serious questions around her death and the aftermath of her death, but it's not going to get us all the way there. We're going to be continuing to seek answers."

 

The Canadian Press


Tiny quake hits Haida Gwaii

A minor earthquake has given the B.C. coastal islands of Haida Gwaii a shake.

Natural Resources Canada reports a 4.5 magnitude rumbler struck the northwestern land mass at 2:05 p.m. PT.

The quake rattled an area 63 kilometres southwest of the village of Queen Charlotte.

A report by spokeswoman Alison Bird says there are no reports of damage and none are expected.

She says the quake was lightly felt.

No tsunami is expected.

The Canadian Press


Referendum on law school

The Law Society of B.C. is putting the contentious question of whether to accept graduates of Trinity Western University’s proposed law school to a binding referendum.

Bar associations in Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have already chosen to reject students from the evangelical Christian university, citing its controversial ban on gay sex.

CTV Vancouver reports that all students and staff who attend TWU have to sign a covenant promising not to engage in sexual intimacy that “violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”

The rule effectively asks gay students, even those who are married, to refrain from sex with their partners.

The board of B.C.’s law society voted 20-6 in favour of accrediting TWU graduates in April following a spirited debate over how to balance students’ right to equality and the university’s right to religious freedom.

The decision sparked backlash among thousands of the province’s lawyers, however, leading the board, or benchers, to reverse course on Friday in favour of a referendum.

“We are disappointed with this decision,” TWU spokesman Guy Saffold said in a statement shortly after the reversal.

“The benchers originally approved TWU graduates based on constitutional principles and the rule of law. They have now decided that the matter should be determined by popular vote.”

The referendum results will be binding if more than one-third of the society’s more than 10,000 members vote, and two-thirds vote against TWU. A date hasn’t been set but it’s expected to take place before the end of October.

TWU’s law school, described as the first Christian law school in Canada, is scheduled to open in fall 2016.



No trial for accused kingpin

A British Columbia provincial court judge has stayed charges against an accused drug kingpin because for more than nine years Canadian officials made no move to have him extradited from India to face trial.

An arrest warrant was issued for Arpinder Singh Gill on July 23, 2004, for conspiracy to import cocaine between BC, Ontario, Quebec and the United States.

Gill left Vancouver for India in September 2003, and court heard that Canadian police knew where he lived in that country but did not ask for his extradition.

He was not arrested until he returned to Canada on Aug. 1, 2013, to attend his son's engagement celebration in Ontario.

Gill petitioned the court for a stay of proceedings, arguing that the delay was a violation of his charter rights and prejudiced his ability to defend himself.

In a decision posted this week on the court website, Judge Gregory Rideout agreed, saying the allegations against 47-year-old Gill are extremely serious but the delay was "extraordinary" and the Crown offered no explanation.

The Canadian Press


Clark on BC's future

In what sounded more like a speech to the United Nations rather than local politicians, British Columbia Premier Christy Clark travelled through history from past aboriginal-settler conflicts to the recently concluded teachers' strike to highlight how the path to peace can shape the province's future.

Clark told the roomful of municipal politicians at the annual Union of BC Municipalities Convention that peace talks — not conflicts — can settle difficult issues, including school strikes, aboriginal claims, resource disputes and the high-cost of running governments.

She said possessing the courage to talk out difficult issues between parties with opposing viewpoints has helped make the province what it is today, and the recent strike by members of the BC Teachers' Federation is one of those examples.

"The BCTF could have decided to force the government's hand, and the government could have decided to legislate them back to work," she said.

But both sides decided leadership was needed to reach an agreement after decades of acrimonious battles on picket lines, courtrooms and inside the legislature, she said.

"Today, none of us is leading our communities to war, thank goodness," said Clark.

She said similar difficult issues exist between government and First Nations, but the willingness to talk offers hope that both sides can reach settlements.

The recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling granting the Tsilhqot'in Nation title to 1,750 square kilometres of land southwest of Williams Lake represents a fork in the road for government and aboriginal relations, and it appears the sides are ready to talk it out, Clark said.

The premier and her cabinet met with more than 400 aboriginal leaders earlier this month to find ways to address the court ruling. Legal experts say the high-court ruling forces government to include First Nations in decisions over land use.

"The first step to solutions is dialogue," she said. "It's what made the province the place it is today."

Clark said similar issues were faced more than 150 years ago in 1858 before BC was a province, when a militia army and First Nations chiefs reached an accord in the Fraser Canyon after several tense standoffs.

"Both had the courage to shape our history," she said.

The premier also addressed potentially divisive issues between municipal and provincial government relations that have dominated the convention.

Several reports released days before the gathering put both levels of government on the defensive.

A report released by a UBCM committee concluded rising ferry fares and service cuts have hurt coastal communities and have resulted in financial losses in those areas of more than $2 billion. A government-commissioned report found municipalities are not controlling the wages of their workers, ultimately hurting taxpayers.

Clark said controlling costs is difficult but all governments must do their utmost to protect taxpayers.

The Canadian Press


Large, lazy bear prowls school

A Port Coquitlam school was locked down Thursday afternoon while conservation officers dealt with a large, lethargic black bear that was found napping on a nearby yard.

Authorities also temporarily closed off part of Prairie Avenue while armed Mounties and conservation officers try to corral the animal down to the Coquitlam River. Ecole Kwayhquitlam Middle School was only locked down as a precaution, and there was no apparent threat to students.

Conservation officer Jack Trudgian said the efforts to steer the bear out of the neighbourhood were unsuccessful.

“We tried pepper spray, we tried rubber bullets, we tried bear bangers, but I think because the bear is so tired and it’s so big it was just exhausted," Trudgian said.

Both the school and street were reopened around 4 p.m. after the bear fell asleep in some bramble bushes. Authorities said they'll continue to monitor the bear, and advised the public not to approach it.

Neighbours told CTV Vancouver the animal had been wandering from yard to yard for days. Conservation officers were called to the area on Wednesday but decided to give the animal time to leave on its own rather than tranquilize and relocate it.

The officers said they didn’t recognize the bear, which has a distinctive mark on its chest, as a problem animal.

Witnesses said the bear appeared tired, and may be either sick or potentially intoxicated from eating fermented fruit that fell off trees in the area.

"I think he ate too many apples," Michael Sonntag said. "He's sleeping off a pretty stiff hangover."

One Prairie Avenue homeowner said he nearly tripped on the bear early Thursday morning when he stepped outside and found it lying near his front door. The animal remained on his property into the afternoon.

Many area residents said they don’t want to see the bear hurt or killed.



Murder suspect arrested

Police say they have arrested a suspect wanted in the killings of two men and attempted killing of a female in the Fraser Valley community of Chiliwack.

The Integrated Homicide Investigation Team tweeted Thursday night that Aaron Douglas was arrested at a residence in Abbotsford.

A Canada-wide warrant had been issued for Douglas in August over what police called a targeted shooting.

The two homicide victims were identified as 38-year-old Richard Blackmon and 36-year-old Tyler Belcourt.

Police did not identify the female victim.

The Canadian Press




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