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Ship back under power

A troubled cargo carrier travelling south along the British Columbia coast has managed to restart its engines after several hours adrift.

Transport Canada says the MV North Star is once again en route to Tacoma, Wash.

An electrical problem left it dead in the water, 45 nautical miles of the west coast of Haida Gwaii, on Tuesday morning.

A Canadian Coast Guard vessel and two tugs were heading toward the big ship late Tuesday, but were not required.

The North Star left port in Anchorage, Alaska, and was about halfway through its journey when it lost power.

According to Transport Canada, crew members managed to restart the engines at about 10 p.m. Tuesday.


Ready to welcome refugees

A B.C. branch of the United Way is launching a fundraising appeal to raise $500,000 to help as many as 3,000 Syrian refugees it says are expected to arrive in the Lower Mainland in the coming weeks.

United Way of the Lower Mainland says 40 per cent of the new arrivals will be children under 18 and will require settlement and community integration support as they adjust to life in Canada.

The refugees destined for British Columbia are among about 25,000 displaced Syrians expected to settle in Canada.

The federal government had planned to accept them all by the end of the year, but the resettlement process will now be split in two, with 10,000 to arrive by Dec. 31 and the remainder by the end of February.

Specific details of how that will be accomplished remain unclear, with federal officials unable to say when mass arrivals of refugees will begin or where they'll go after landing in Toronto or Montreal.

The first group will be made up largely of privately sponsored refugees, whose files, in many cases, have been in the works for months as churches and other community groups moved to assist some of the most vulnerable people fleeing the Syrian civil war.

"We join all British Columbians in welcoming Syrian children and families to the place we are so proud to call home," said Michael McKnight, the president and CEO of United Way of the Lower Mainland.

"Together, we can help them begin the next chapter of their lives in Canada, become accustomed to a new language and culture, and ensure the most vulnerable among them, the children, get the best start possible."

Lounges no longer needed

Restaurants in B.C. no longer need to provide a separate lounge for customers who want to drink.

The government made the announcement Tuesday.

The decision is part of a liquor review update that now allows customers to order alcohol without having to order food. Previously, restaurants were required to provide a separate lounge area for those customers.

"This is a small change that will make a big impact," said BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association president/CEO Ian Tostenson.

"By removing the licensing requirements and fees the restaurant can open up more physical space that can be used to seat customers who are dining or enjoying a cocktail. This is a winning change."

Creating flexibility for restaurants will help to remove the unnecessary burden for businesses in B.C., while understanding that restaurants will still need to ensure that their primary purpose is the service of food.

The province is also relaxing entertainment rules. Restaurants are no longer required to apply for a permit to host entertainment, such as a guitar player or comedian, as long as patrons are not participating in the show.


Adrift off Haida Gwaii

The Canadian Coast Guard says a cargo ship is drifting off British Columbia's coast.

The MV North Star was sailing from Anchorage, Alaska, to Tacoma, Wash., when it experienced an "electrical issue" and lost propulsion.

The coast guard says it is now 45 nautical miles off the west coast of Haida Gwaii and crew members are working on the problem, hoping to soon restore the ship's propulsion.

A Prince Rupert-based tug and the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Gordon Reid are en route to the North Star, as is another tug from Neah Bay, Wash.

The coast guard says there are no dangerous goods aboard the North Star, which will be assisted to port if it can't restore power.

The Gordon Reid is expected to arrive at about 4 a.m. Wednesday, when the North Star will still be about 20 nautical miles from shore.

5 months for poppy thief

A man who admitted in court to repeatedly pilfering poppy donations before Remembrance Day has been sentenced in Nanaimo, to five months in jail.

Criminal Justice Branch spokesman Neil MacKenzie says Anthony Britt pleaded guilty to four separate theft charges arising out of incidents on Nov. 3 and Nov. 6.

He says Britt was accused of distracting the clerks, or waiting for them to be busy, before stealing the donations.

MacKenzie says Britt was also ordered to serve one year of probation and pay a $100 victim surcharge on each of the charges.

Const. Gary O'Brien of the Nanaimo RCMP says tipsters lit up the detachment's switchboard with information about Britt's identity within an hour of an image of the suspect appearing in local media.

O'Brien says Britt turned himself in to the detachment on Nov. 10 and was not given credit for the two weeks of time he served before being sentenced.

Highway 5 closed

UPDATE 8:30 P.M.

According to Drive BC, one lane closure is now in  effect.

Highway 5 Southbound is closed from Surrey Lake Summit to Merritt because of a vehicle recovery.

According to Drive BC, the estimated time of opening currently unavailable and an assessment in progress.

Alternate routes are available via Highway 97D through Logan Lake to Highway 97C, or via Highway 5A from Kamloops to Merritt.

Arrest in school lockdown

A Coquitlam middle school went into lockdown Monday, after a report of a man near the school with a weapon.

Police responded to Scott Creek Middle School about 3:15 p.m.

After a thorough investigation of the premises and surrounding area, RCMP determined the report of a weapon was unfounded and downgraded the situation to a hold-and-secure at the school.

The difference between a lockdown and hold-and-secure is that a lockdown is initiated when there is an immediate and imminent threat. A hold-and-secure is initiated when there is no immediate or active threat to students and staff, RCMP spokesman Cpl. Jamie Chung said in a release.

School District 43 assistant Supt. Reno Ciolfi said on the school's website: "An adult from the community entered the school in emotional distress. The school principal contacted the RCMP to address the situation and placed the school under hold-and-secure as a precautionary measure."  

The man was apprehended under the Mental Health Act, and the hold-and-secure was lifted about an hour later.

At no time was there a threat to public safety.

Pileup closes Hwy 99

A multi-vehicle pileup closed down the northbound lanes of Highway 99 in Richmond this morning.

The crash happened north of the Deas Island tunnel about 9 a.m., closing all northbound lanes between Steveston Highway and Westminster Highway as crews managed the chaotic scene. As of 4 p.m., only a single lane had been reopened, but authorities hoped to have the scene cleared for rush hour.

Deas Island Traffic Services reports a semi-truck with trailer collided with the back end of an Astro van, which led to a chain reaction of several vehicles being rear-ended, including, a Ford Escape and a Volkswagon GTI. The last vehicle to be hit, a Toyota Highlander rolled on its side from the impact.

The driver of the truck and occupants of the Highlander were unharmed, while the occupants of the other three vehicles were transported to hospital, where they were treated for non-life-threatening injuries. 

“Investigators are amazed there are no fatalities ... given the destruction of the vehicles,” said RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Ronda McEwen.

The cause of the crash is not yet known.

Integrated Collision and Reconstructionist Service (ICARS) and Commercial Vehicle Safety Enforcement (CVSE) officers are on the scene to assist with the investigation. 

Deas Island Traffic Services, Richmond Fire Rescue, Richmond RCMP and B.C. Ambulance paramedics all responded to the scene.

Anyone with information about the collision is asked to call Deas Island Traffic Services at 778-290-2400 and reference file 2015-4401.

SkyTrain grinds to halt

SkyTrain service was knocked out in downtown Vancouver Tuesday afternoon.

An unspecified “power issue” has shut down service in both directions on the Expo and Millennium lines, and TransLink is telling commuters to expect delays.

Trains were brought to a halt between the Waterfront to Broadway stations about 3:15 p.m.

TransLink blamed the problem on power issues at the Stadium and Main Street stations. Vancouver firefighters were also being sent to assist with near National Avenue.

CTV reports shuttle buses are being brought in to pick up stranded passengers.

Transit Police and additional security have also been dispatched to “ensure safety and crowd control.”

“Our crews are working hard to restore full service, but passengers should expect delays and allow extra travel time,” TransLink said in a statement.

– with files from CTV Vancouver

Poor kids left behind

A coalition of 95 B.C. groups says the provincial government is failing to help its youngest and poorest citizens.

First Call: B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition says one in five children in this province live in poverty, topping the national child poverty rate of 19 per cent.

The numbers are from 2013 statistics, the most recent data available, and the coalition says just over half of all B.C. youngsters in poverty live in Metro Vancouver.

“I would say that any child that is in poverty is a crisis,” said Ami Catriona, director of community relations at the Central Okanagan Food Bank. “It is a disturbing trend, families that we’re helping, probably about 30, 32 per cent of families are with kids under the age of 15. It’s a lot of kids.”

Catriona said proper nutrition at a young age is vital for growing up healthy and for proper learning.

“When you’re sitting in school and you’re trying to learn, but you’re hungry, how do you focus?” she said. “Not only how do you focus, but your brain power is not turned on, or you’re sleepy.”

Children from single-parent families are at risk, with the coalition's 2015 B.C. Child Poverty Report Card showing 50.3 per cent of children from those families live in poverty, compared to 13 per cent from two-parent families.

Coalition chairwoman Cheryl Mixon says the child poverty crisis reaches into every corner of the province, and the group demands B.C. develop a comprehensive poverty reduction plan, complete with targets and timelines.

The report card makes 21 recommendations to help reduce the child poverty rate to seven per cent or less by 2020 — including raising the minimum wage and welfare rates and adopting a $10 per day childcare plan.

“When you and I get hungry, we can go to the coffee shop, we can grab a coffee, we can grab a muffin. But, there are families where there’s literally nothing in the cupboards,” Catriona said. “It’s heartbreaking when you think of a parent who doesn’t have anything to give their kids.”

– with files from The Canadian Press

UBC in damage control

The University of British Columbia seems more concerned about handling a public relations crisis than taking meaningful action to help women feel safe after multiple allegations of sexual assault, says a complainant.

Glynnis Kirchmeier, who is planning to launch a human-rights case against UBC, published an open letter to the university's interim president on Tuesday.

In the letter, the former student questions why Martha Piper issued a public apology but didn't directly contact her or other students who made complaints.

"I was surprised to learn on Sunday that you had issued an apology to 'the women in these cases who feel they have been let down by our university,'" she wrote.

"Did you mean to include me? I did not receive a personal communication from you, though you could have asked associate VP Dr. Sara-Jane Finlay for my email and phone number."

She and other former and current students held a news conference Sunday, when Kirchmeier announced her plans to file a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. The women said the university lacks a clear policy for handling sexual assault reports and that it took a year and a half to act on six complaints about a PhD student.

Kirchmeier was not assaulted by the student but said she witnessed his behaviour and reported it to the university in January 2014. She said UBC failed to act on complaints by her and others until last week, when it said the student was no longer at the university.

Piper's apology, issued Saturday, acknowledged the process took too long and pledged to begin a discussion with students, faculty and staff on a new sexual assault policy.

In her letter, Kirchmeier said Piper could release documents that she has requested under freedom of information legislation on the university's sexual harassment and assault policies.

Piper did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

UBC currently relies on a discrimination and harassment policy to respond to sexual assault allegations. It sets out a general process for handling complaints, but does not include specifics about sexual assault complaints.

According to a report to the board of governors, the Equity and Inclusion Office received 273 complaints between September 2013 and August 2015, and 69 of them were related to sex, a broad definition that includes harassment, stalking, pregnancy and the hiring of women.

Just six of the 273 complaints were referred for a formal investigation.

Former graduate student Caitlin Cunningham told Sunday's news conference that she chose not to report her alleged sexual assault to police after speaking with university administrators in July 2014 because she was reassured the school "would handle it."

"Honestly, I had no idea what to do," she said. "I turned to the people I thought could help me. I turned to the university for guidance and they assured me they could and would help me. But this has proved for the most part to be untrue."

Cunningham said she would have filed a police report had the university suggested that was her best course of action, adding the process remains unclear to her.

"I don't know if they make it up as they go," she said.

Finlay, associate vice-president of equity and inclusion at UBC, said the university provides sexual-assault complainants with extensive information and resources and always encourages them to contact police.

"There is nothing that precludes them from going to the RCMP," she said.

When asked whether sexual assault is an issue on campus at UBC, Finlay said: "Sexual assault is an issue that is concerning to all universities across Canada."

Budget surplus shrinking

Finance Minister Mike de Jong says British Columbia's projected budget surplus continues to dip, but economic growth forecasts remain stable amid declines in neighbouring provinces and overseas.

B.C.'s budget surplus was forecast at $284 last February, but now it's projected to be $265 million, down $19 million.

De Jong provided an accounting of the provincial finances before meeting later this month with independent economic forecasters ahead of his budget presentation in February.

He says B.C.'s economic growth is forecast at two per cent this year and 2.4 per cent in 2016, slightly ahead of Canada's growth projections of two per cent next year.

The minister says B.C.'s strong housing market continues to contribute to government tax coffers and is driving increases in government revenues, as are rising retail sales of more than seven per cent.

He says natural resource revenues are down by $85 million and the government is concerned about economic downturns in Asia, especially Japan.

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