Monday, October 20th13.1°C

Tougher distracted driving laws

British Columbia's Justice Minister, Suzanne Anton, has introduced tougher distracted driving penalties and is signalling that higher fines are coming down the road.

Starting Oct. 20, three penalty points will be added to the record of drivers caught talking on a handheld device while driving. The points are in addition to the current $167 fine for those caught talking on a cell phone while behind the wheel, she said.

Drivers ticketed for texting while driving already get three penalty points, along with a fine of $167.

Anton said distracted driving is the second-leading cause of driver deaths in BC, averaging 88 deaths, while speeding is the top reason for such deaths, with an average of 105 fatalities every year.

A statement released by the Justice Ministry said between 2009 and 2013, the average number of annual impaired driving deaths in BC was 86.

"We are doing this because it's a very serious problem on British Columbia roads," said Anton. "Other drivers can't stand it when people around them are on their phone and distracted, because they are just not paying enough attention to the task at hand, which is driving."

Since 2008, every province and territory in Canada — with the exception of Nunavut — has created laws to deal with cellphone use by drivers.

In Ontario, distracted drivers now face fines as high a $1,000.

Anton said the BC government will examine increasing fines for distracted driver offences, but Ontario's fines seem too high.

"We're having a look at the fines," she said. "My goal on the fines is to have a proportional scheme of fines, so that they're based on risk and proportionate to each other."

Last year, police issued 51,200 violation tickets to drivers who were using an electronic device, said a Justice Ministry statement.

The statement said research shows five seconds of texting while driving at highway speeds is like driving blindfolded for almost the length of an entire football field.

The Canadian Press


Serious weekend crashes

Three people are fighting for their lives after a series of crashes that happened around the Lower Mainland Saturday evening and early Sunday morning, reports CTV Vancouver.

Alcohol is believed to have played a role in a serious crash in Vancouver that happened on West Broadway near Cypress Street just after midnight Sunday.

Police say a 31-year-old woman driving an SUV eastbound on Broadway allegedly collided with a car travelling westbound.

The driver of the westbound car, a 29-year-old man, became trapped inside the vehicle and had to be rescued by firefighters, according to police. The man was taken to hospital with serious injuries, where he remains in critical condition.

The driver of the SUV has been detained by police as they investigate the crash. No charges have been laid.

Woman airlifted after three-vehicle collision in Chilliwack

Police in Chilliwack say three vehicles were involved in a crash at a four-way stop just before 6:30 p.m, at the intersection of Prest Road and Prairie Central.

A woman had to be airlifted to Royal Columbian Hospital with critical injuries, while another victim was taken to Chilliwack General Hospital with less severe injuries.

A third person suffered minor injuries and was treated at the scene. The cause of the crash is still under investigation.

Single-vehicle crash in Langley leaves man critically injured

A man had to be airlifted to hospital after a serious crash in Langley that happened around 10 p.m.

Witnesses say he was driving a pickup truck that crashed into a tree near 256th Street at 16th Avenue.

The man was initially reported to have suffered life-threatening injuries in the collision, and is now in stable condition in hospital, according to police.

Repairs begin on disabled ship

A Russian cargo ship that was adrift off the British Columbia coast after a power outage has docked.

The Prince Rupert Port Authority says the Simushir has been towed to the Fairview Container Terminal, and the vessel is expected to stay for 48 hours for repairs.

The container ship was en route to Russia from Washington state when it lost power on Thursday night west of the Haida Gwaii archipelago, off B.C.'s north coast.

A tug boat arrived Saturday night to tow the disabled ship to port, after a tow line from a Canadian Coast Guard ship snapped three times and set the Simushir adrift again.

The vessel was carrying hundreds of tonnes of bunker and diesel fuel, sparking concerns that if it drifts ashore, it could create an environmental disaster.

Fisheries and Oceans Minister Gail Shea commended rescuers for their quick response but area First Nations say the response wasn't good enough, especially when oil and gas exports could see a significant rise in tanker traffic off the B.C. coast.

The Canadian Press


Sights on Site C's price tag

With provincial and federal environmental certificates now in hand, BC Hydro faces a much tougher hurdle for its massive Site C hydroelectric project — the bottom line.

The Crown agency estimates it will cost $7.9 billion to build the dam on the Peace River, making it the largest provincial public expenditure in the next two decades and the second-largest in the country right now.

It would take a decade to build and would be expected to power the province for a century.

"Site C is not an ordinary project," a joint environmental assessment panel said in its report.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency report said there is little doubt about BC Hydro's competence to build and operate the project efficiently, but it fell short of endorsing the Crown agency's estimates.

"The Panel cannot conclude on the likely accuracy of project cost estimates because it does not have the information, time, or resources," the report said.

They recommended that if the project proceeds, it should be referred to the BC Utilities Commission for a detailed examination.

But Energy Minister Bill Bennett has been steadfast.

"You have to ask yourself what the BCUC would do if this suddenly landed in their lap? I think probably they would go out and do exactly what BC Hydro has already done and duplicate the already considerable cost that's been involved in looking at the costs of Site C and make sure they're accurate," Bennett said last week.

An independent engineering group, an independent construction management group and KPMG have all reviewed the estimates at Hydro's behest, he said.

And there is an 18 per cent contingency built into $3.8 billion for construction costs, which would cover any overruns, he added.

"I believe that BC Hydro has brought a sufficient number and quality of experts into this business of assessing the costs that we have, I think, a reliable number at this time."

Utilities commission or not, someone needs to check the math, said Jordan Bateman, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

"This is such a massive investment, you better make sure that these numbers are solid and that the long-term interests are protected," he said, adding that members are split right down the middle on the project.

BC Hydro estimates the province's electricity needs will grow 20 to 40 per cent in the next 20 years, and that need cannot be met through conservation alone. Additional capacity is necessary.

But the Crown utility's most recent record is cold comfort for project critics.

When a transmission line into the northwest corner of the province was announced in 2009, the original cost estimate was $404 million. The final price tag for Northwest Transmission Line was $736 million.

Based on average cost overruns for recent energy projects throughout North America, the dam could cost up to $10 billion, said Adrian Dix, energy critic for the Opposition New Democrats.

The provincial government's utility bookkeeping should add to concerns, he suggested. Three years ago the provincial auditor general rapped the Liberals for funnelling billions of dollars of Hydro expenses into deferral accounts.

By 2015, those deferrals were expected to total $5 billion. BC Hydro has a total debt of almost $17 billion.

"The mismanagement of the last 10 years has put hydro in a poor position to undertake a big initiative such as this," Dix said.

Green MLA Andrew Weaver said that while the cost to the environment, agriculture and First Nations are huge concerns, the economics of the project are the major issue.

"It does not make sense in today's economy to spend $10 billion on a legacy dam that we might need one day — maybe a decade, maybe 20 years from now. If we need energy, we can get it so much cheaper, without incurring debt," said the Nobel-winning climate scientist.

Let industry take the risk, he said.

Current provincial debt is $62 billion.

"This is a huge decision that will have implications for the people of B.C., who own BC Hydro, and rate-payers for generations to come," Dix said.

Bennett said a final investment decision will be made by cabinet by the end of the year.

The Canadian Press

Disabled ship heads to BC port

The stricken Russian container ship Simushar is under tow again off the north coast of British Columbia.

The Canadian Forces' joint rescue co-ordination centre in Victoria says the ocean-going American tug boat Barbara Foss has a secure line attached to the ship.

Spokesperson Acting Sub Lt. Melissa Kia says the owners of Russian vessel plan to have it taken to Prince Rupert.

Kia says the winds and seas have calmed significantly since yesterday, and at their current speed of seven nautical miles per hour the ships should reach port later today.

The Canadian Coast Guard vessel Sir Wilfrid Laurier and the U.S. Coast Guard vessel Spar are providing escort service.

A mechanical failure left the Simushar drifting in heavy seas Thursday night, sparking fears it could run aground and spill hundreds of tonnes of fuel along the pristine shores of Haida Gwaii, also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands.

A Canadian Coast Guard vessel tried towing Simushar yesterday, but the tether kept breaking.

Kia says there have been no such problems since the bigger and better equipped tug took over.

The Canadian Press

Care facility death natural

The BC Coroners Service says a man in a Salmon Arm long-term care home died of natural causes, and not an attack by another resident as first suspected.

Ninety-three-year-old John Young was found Oct. 2 in the room of another Bastion Place patient who suffered dementia, and died five days later.

Staff feared Young, who also suffered dementia, was attacked by the other patient.

But coroner Andrew Cave says a CT scan after death showed no evidence of trauma and he concluded Young died of natural causes.

The facility came under scrutiny seven years ago when two residents were beaten, and the issue resurfaced last year when a 95-year-old patient with severe dementia was accused of killing his 85-year-old roommate at a Vernon residential care home.

Prosecutors stayed second-degree murder charges in that case because the man was unfit to stand trial. (CFJC-The Canadian Press)

The Canadian Press

Two missing after barge sinks

One man was rescued Saturday and two others are missing after a barge sank in the Georgia Strait near Campbell River, B.C.

A mayday call went out from the 20-metre vessel just before 3 a.m. Saturday, advising that the steel landing craft was taking on water.

Cpl. Poppy Hallam says one man escaped as the vessel capsized and was picked up by a zodiac sent from an Alaskan ferry that heard the emergency call.

An RCMP patrol vessel, a Cormorant helicopter from Canadian Forces Base Comox and three Canadian Coast Guard vessels also responded and carried out a search by air and sea, but the two other occupants were not located.

The vessel went down 800 metres from a dock and Campbell River ground search and rescue searched the water using lights from shore in the hope the men may have tried to swim to shore, but to no avail.

RCMP are now investigating the missing persons case.

The Canadian Press

Russian ship drifts again


A large tug boat arrived Saturday night to hook onto a Russian cargo ship adrift off the British Columbia coast, calming fears that the ship might drift ashore and cause an environmental disaster.

Lt. Paul Pendergast of the Canadian Forces' Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre said the Barbara Foss arrived shortly after 5 p.m. local time, and was securing a line to the Simushir.

"When they get the vessel under tow, they'll first head in a northwesterly direction and get it further from the coastline and eventually into more sheltered waters to the north of Haida Gwaii," Pendergast said. "Then a decision will be made on where to take it."

The ship was adrift again for several hours Saturday after a tow line tethering the vessel to a Canadian Coast Guard ship snapped.

Lt. Greg Menzies of the rescue co-ordination centre said earlier that the crew members were in no danger.

"Right now all 10 crew members are on board," he said. "There's been no request for evacuation."

Two Canadian and one American coast guard ships were also on scene and three helicopters were on stand-by at the closest airport, he said.


The tow line attached to a disabled Russian cargo ship off the British Columbia coast has snapped, setting the ship adrift once again.

But Lt. Greg Menzies of the Canadian Forces' Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre says there are three Canadian and U.S. Coast Guard ships on scene and three helicopters on stand-by.

He says the 10 crew members remain on board in no danger and the vessel is about 45 kilometres from shore.

Menzies says the Canadian Coast Guard is attempting to reattach a tow line until an ocean-going tug arrives tonight.

Crew members are also continuing to try to repair the broken oil heater that has left the vessel disabled.

The Simushir lost power Thursday night in rough seas off Haida Gwaii while sailing from Washington state to Russia.

Menzies says the weather is co-operating and once the tug is attached, a decision will be made whether the vessel can be repaired at sea or should be towed to the nearest port.

With files from the Canadian Press.

There are reports that the tow lines have snapped on the Russian ship off the coast of Haida Gwaii, allowing it to drift free once again.

The Russian container ship with hundreds of tonnes of fuel on board was drifting without power in rough seas off British Columbia's northern coast on Friday.

A Canadian Coast Guard tug boat had attached lines to it late Friday and crews began towing it back out to sea. Those lines were temporarily severed on Saturday, possibly due to gale-force winds.

CBC said "Tow lines snap, leaving Russian cargo ship adrift off Haida Gwaii once more," in a tweet.

Environment Canada issued a gale wind warning for the area which is making the recovery effort more difficult.

Mat Wright, the press secretary for the BC Green Party said "tow lines snapped on Russian cargo ship off #HaidaGwaii : CCG (Canada Coast Guard) say ship is safe until tug arrives later today," in a tweet.

More details to come.

Contributed Coast Guard

Maple Hall opens in S. Korea

B.C. wood-frame construction was showcased in South Korea Saturday, with the official opening of the GICO Community Centre.

Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson cut the ribbon for the project, which is the centrepiece of a 141-unit wood- frame housing complex in Daljeon-Ri, a community 65 kilometres east of Seoul.

The GICO community centre demonstrates to South Korean political and business leaders the many benefits of building with wood, including sustainability, environmentally friendly building practices and energy efficiency.

The community centre is being named "Canadian Maple Hall" in honour of the Canadian contribution to the project.

The event was the highlight of a busy day meeting with prominent Korean business and political leaders to promote B.C. wood products on the final day of the 2014 Forestry Asia Trade Mission.

"B.C.'s growing business relationship with Korea makes it a fitting place to wrap up the 2014 Forestry Asia Trade Mission," Thomson said. "The community centre at the Gapyeong Project showcases the opportunities that exist for B.C. wood and wood-building technology in Korea."

Thomson was also a keynote speaker at a green building seminar in Seoul, where he highlighted the many positives of wood-frame construction.

Wood in-fill wall construction has particularly strong potential in the South Korean market, especially for mid- to high-rise apartment and office buildings.

"We are deeply honoured by Korea's decision to name the new GICO community centre the 'Canadian Maple Hall,' said Canada's minister of natural resources Greg Rickford. "Korea is currently the fourth-largest offshore market for our nation's forest sector, and projects such as this one help to further strengthen the economic ties between our two countries." 

The day began with Thomson joining other dignitaries at a wreath-laying ceremony at the Gapyeong Canada Monument.

The monument honours the sacrifice and bravery of Canadian soldiers during the Korean War, particularly at the pivotal 1951 Battle of Gapyeong. 

No excessive force charges

Two Mounties involved in a late-night physical altercation with a man in Princeton, B.C., won't be charged, but the man who went to hospital still faces assault allegations.

A statement from the provincial Criminal Justice Branch says an altercation broke out between the unnamed driver and officers in a school parking lot early March 22, 2014.

When the driver was arrested and placed in the back of a police cruiser he lost consciousness and was taken to hospital, the statement said.

Crown counsel reviewed the file, including witness statements, police reports, photos and medical evidence, and determined there was no substantial likelihood of convicting the officers.

The statement said the officers' statements were "reasonably capable of belief," but the Crown had concerns with evidence given by the driver and female passenger.

The branch will only release limited information on the incident because the driver has been charged with assaulting a police officer.

The Canadian Press

$62M to fight homelessness

The BC and federal governments have announced a five-year-program worth more than $62 million to help those most at risk of becoming homeless.

The Homeless Prevention Program will help youth just leaving foster care, women who have experienced or who are at risk of violence, people just leaving hospitals or prisons, as well as aboriginals.

Monthly supplements will be put towards housing costs, and the province will contribute other support services to help people maintain their tenancies.

The program will start in six BC communities and will grow to include more than 30.

It's estimated the funding and support will be able to help up to 4,000 people.

Rich Coleman, the minister in charge of housing, says the supplements offer a more flexible option for people who can choose where to live based on their needs.

The Canadian Press

Cargo vessel adrift

UPDATE 5:00 P.M.

A Russian container ship with hundreds of tonnes of fuel on board was drifting without power in rough seas off British Columbia's northern coast on Friday.

But there was conflicting information about where the ship was headed, with a nearby First Nations community saying the "worst-case scenario" of the ship running aground was just hours away, while the Canadian Forces said the vessel was not drifting closer to land.

The Canadian Forces' joint rescue co-ordination centre in Victoria said the Russian carrier Simushir lost power late Thursday night off Haida Gwaii, also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, as it was making its way from Washington state to Russia.

Navy Lt. Paul Penderghast said the ship was nine nautical miles, or about 17 kilometres, from the shore of Haida Gwaii, though he said the vessel was largely maintaining that distance from land.

"It is drifting, but it's drifting parallel to shore," said Penderghast.

The Council of the Haida Nation, however, warned the ship could run aground by Friday evening. Haida president Peter Lantin said the council was preparing for the ship to potentially reach land in a remote, rocky section of coastline along the southwestern edge of Haida Gwaii, raising the possibility the vessel could break apart.

"I think all efforts are being made to revive the ship and deal with the mechanical failures that have happened, so for us that's the best-case scenario if they're able to fix it and keep it from running ashore," Lantin said in an interview.

"Right now, there is no optimism that this thing is going to be salvaged. We're preparing for the worst-case scenario."

The Simushir, which is 135 metres long, was carrying "a range of hydrocarbons, mining materials and other related chemicals," said acting Sub. Lt. Ron MacDougall of the joint rescue co-ordination centre. Also on the ship were more than 400 tonnes of bunker oil and 50 tonnes of diesel.

The vessel is not a tanker but rather a container ship. In comparison, the Exxon Valdez, which ran aground in Alaska in 1989, spilled out 35,000 metric tonnes of oil.

The ship had 11 crew members on board, though the captain was injured and had to be removed by helicopter. MacDougall didn't know the nature of the captain's injuries or what caused them.

It wasn't clear why the ship lost power.

The Canadian Coast Guard ship Gordon Reid was heading to the area and was expected to arrive Friday afternoon. A tugboat from Prince Rupert, on the northern B.C. coast, was expected to arrive by early Saturday morning.

In addition, the United States Coast Guard had a helicopter on standby in the event the entire crew needed to be removed from the ship.

Numerous federal and provincial agencies were involved co-ordinating the response, including the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Transport Canada and B.C.'s Environment Ministry. Western Canada Marine Response Corp., which is contracted by the federal government to respond to oil spills, said it had been notified and its crews were on standby.

Rough weather was also a concern. MacDougall said there were winds of almost 30 kilometres per hour with seven-metre seas, though he said that was easing up as the day progressed. Environment Canada had issued a storm warning for much of the northern coast, including the area around Haida Gwaii.

The Haida Nation set up an emergency command centre in Old Massett, located on the northern tip of Haida Gwaii, in the event the vessel runs aground.

Lantin, the Haida president, said an oil spill along the coast of Haida Gwaii would be a disaster.

"This is home for us. If this thing runs aground and hits in one of the most culturally sensitive areas of Haida Gwaii, it's going to have catastrophic effects," he said.

The potential for marine disasters along B.C.'s coast has become a particularly sensitive subject in recent years amid the debate over the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline. The project, if approved, would include a terminal in Kitimat, B.C., and would see tankers carrying heavy crude from Alberta traversing B.C.'s northern coast.

Lantin, whose community has staunchly opposed the Northern Gateway pipeline, said a spill in Haida Gwaii would only strengthen that opposition.

"This feels gigantic, but when you think about what's being proposed, for Haida Gwaii to bear the risk of these tankers coming in, the scale is enormous compared to this," said Lantin.

"What this gives is a real-life example of what needs to be considered. If it does (run aground), it's going to ramp up the opposition. This will change everything for us."

The Simushir is registered in Kholmsk, Russia, and owned by Russian shipping firm SASCO, also known as Sakhalin Shipping Company, according to the company's website.

The SASCO website says the ship was built in the Netherlands in 1998.


A container ship carrying hundreds of tonnes of bunker oil and diesel is adrift off the north coast of BC, though the navy says the vessel is maintaining its distance from shore.

The Canadian Forces' joint rescue co-ordination centre in Victoria says the Russian carrier Simushir lost power overnight as it was making its way from Washington State to Russia.

Acting Sub. Lt. Ron MacDougall says the ship is currently about 17 kilometres off Haida Gwaii and carrying 400 tonnes of bunker oil and 50 tonnes of diesel.

Eleven passengers are on board, and MacDougall says a helicopter has been dispatched to remove the ship's captain, who is injured.

A Canadian Coast Guard vessel and a tugboat are also en route, while the U.S. Coast Guard has a helicopter on standby.

Heavy winds are expected today, but Navy Lt. Paul Pendergast says the vessel is currently drifting parallel to the shore and its maintaining its distance from land.

The Canadian Press

Grizzly supermom caught on tape


A grizzy bear supermom, followed by her four doting cubs, has been unknowingly caught on camera.

The short 10-second video was captured by local wildlife filmmaker and photographer John Kitchin for part of his Ph.D work. The bears movement triggered his hidden camera to start filming.

It was then shared on Facebook by the Knight Inlet Lodge, which is located floating off the mainland across from the north tip of Vancouver Island in Glendale Cove, right near where the bears were filmed.

The video on their Facebook has now been shared over 2,500 times. 


Man dies from Enterovirus

CTV Vancouver is reporting that a young BC man has died of Enterovirus D68, marking the first Canadian fatality from the illness.

The BC Centre for Disease Control tells CTV that the man, who is in his 20s, also had a history of severe asthma.

He did not have any paralysis or neurological symptoms, the agency said.

Dr. Danuta Skowronski says the number of lab-confirmed cases of enterovirus in BC has doubled to 36 over a week, and two-thirds of those are in men and boys.

Skowronski says because there is no specific vaccine or treatment for the infection, prevention measures include washing hands thoroughly and sneezing or coughing into your elbow.

She also says most people who are infected with enterovirus D68 have common cold-like symptoms, but those with heart and lung conditions or a history of asthma need to be cautious.

The US Center for Disease Control says seven people have died from the same infection this year.

The BC CDC says most people who have the virus will only have mild symptoms. It advises anyone with breathing difficulties to seek immediate medical treatment.

-- With files from the Canadian Press

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