Time to Shine gala co-chairs Pei Huang and Judy Leung tasted the gyoza dish that will be modified by chef John Carlo Felicella and his team for February’s IKA Culinary Olympics in Stuttgart, Germany. Malcolm Parry / PNG
CONNECTIONS: The VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation made quite a to-do of Willie Li’s Lion Way Properties becoming the sixth annual Time To Shine gala’s presenting sponsor (Sun, Jan. 20). Former gala chair Cecilia Tse, the Colliers International senior VP-Asia Pacific, staged a kickoff for that Feb. 1 fundraiser in her company’s downtown offices.
Colliers is the sales-marketing agent for hitherto-residential-developer Lion Way’s first commercial project, the 10-floor Landmark at Richmond City Centre. Meanwhile, the gala’s third-time co-chair, foundation board member Judy Leung, is the CFO of another development firm, Westbank Corp. At the foundation’s 2018 gala, Westbank principal Ian Gillespie donated $1.5 million toward the $4,343,552 reportedly raised. Leung hopes that this year’s event will raise $5 million to conclude the foundation’s $60-million Future of Surgery campaign.
Gillespie partnered on several projects (including Georgia Street’s 62-floor Shangri-La) with Peterson Group executive chair/CEO Ben Yeung, who is a former VGH & UBC Foundation board member. Peterson will be the fourth-time presenting sponsor March 7 when Yeung’s differently named daughter, Jane Young, co-chairs B.C. Children’s Hospital Foundation’s 25th-annual For Children We Care gala. That Chinese-community event likely has a $5-million target, too. Supporters of both galas doubtless endorse Willie Li’s assertion to Sun reporter Nick Eagland: “That is the basic culture in Canada — give back.”
DOLCE E GIALLI: Founding co-curators Tom Charity and Giulio Recchioni kicked off the seventh annual Italian Film Fest in the Vancity Theatre recently. The Italian Cultural Centre, the Vancouver International Film Festival and the Consulate General of Italy co-presented the weeklong program. Five-month Consul General Fabio Messineo attended the opening event. He returned later to introduce and discuss director Marco Bellocchio’s Il Traditore (The Traitor) that was shot in his home island, Sicily. Audiences appreciate the festival’s mix of new and old films, said Charity. The old included two screenings of La Dolce Vita by the late Federico Fellini who would be 100 on Jan. 20. Recchioni welcomed the festival’s new three-film component, Gialli (Yellow), “that is the Italian version of Noir with more sex,” he said. First-nighters thanked Museum of Vancouver CEO Mauro Vescera, who founded the festival when he was the cultural centre’s executive director.
PRO’S CONN: As usual, feted city jazzer Cory Weeds entertained Italian Film Festival first-night guests, backed by keyboardist Sharon Minemoto. Weeds’ much-vaunted Conn10M tenor sax looked and sounded as fresh as when new almost 80 years ago. Called the Naked Lady because of an engraving on its bell, the Indiana-made sax would be ideal to accompany a festival screening of Roberto Roberti’s 1922 silent film, La Donna Nuda.
BETTER BY ALF: Like Federico Fellini, Victoria-born Haida artist Bill Reid would have been 100 this month. The Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art will stage year-long commemorative events. Master carver, goldsmith and writer-broadcaster Reid was also a dry humorist. At a retirement ceremony for Canada’s first Indigenous lawyer-judge, Alf Scow, Reid presented an artwork depicting his own wolf clan’s symbology. “I created this drawing at great expense and long labour,” he said. “I began it about 3:30 this afternoon.”
Scow topped that by smilingly telling his largely non-Indigenous well-wishers: “I’ve apologized to my brother Rupert for not keeping a promise to put all the white men in jail.”
CAN IT: Brewhall Beer Co. owner Daniel Frankel and brewmaster Kerry Dyson did just that after their Köl Story Bro Kölsch won the 2019 B.C. Beer Awards’ Pale German Beer category and Azedo Tropical Fruit Sour took the People’s Choice Award. Those beverages and others, including customer-favourite Neon Lights Pale Ale, went into tins for the first time recently at the 1918-built Second-off-Quebec facility. That once-derelict building was dismantled, renovated and reopened in 2014 as Steel Toad Brewing. Frankel acquired it in 2017. With an outlet of his Tap and Barrel chain two blocks away, he needed another name — ergo Brewhall — for the pub-restaurant and what he calls “an experimental, not a production brewery.” Born like Kiss bassist-singer Gene Simmons in Haifa, Israel, guitarist Frankel also played in a heavy-metal band, The Sabras. Maybe he’ll have Dyson concoct a version of Israel’s popular Dancing Camel beer that, once you’re filled, may need no top-up for 10 days.
DEJA WOE: Beset by today’s ICBC problems, Attorney General David Eby might endorse education-science-technology minister Pat McGeer’s 1976-new-year cheeriness. Money-losing ICBC’s under-$300 basic rate would rise by 300 per cent, McGeer announced then. Those who couldn’t pay should simply sell their cars. Motorists countered with: “Stick it in your ear, McGeer.” They might have said, “you know where, Rafe Mair,” had that then-consumer services minister handled ICBC.
DOWN PARRYSCOPE: Although “security concerns” kept North Saanich part-timers Harry and Meghan from sampling nearby Deep Cove Chalet’s noisette of lamb a l’Indienne and Laurent Perrier Rosé Champagne, the democratizing duo might slip in for turkey wings, poutine and beer at almost-as-handy Chuck’s Burger Bar.
Fentanyl test strips will soon be available for people to take home from designated sites throughout the Vancouver Coastal Health. Vancouver Coastal Health / PNG
Take home test strips that are able to detect the presence of fentanyl in recreational drugs will soon be made available to the public at designated sites throughout the Vancouver Coastal Health region.
“Providing people with a simple, convenient way to check if their drugs contain fentanyl may help them avoid an overdose, and reduce the number of lives lost due to the contaminated illegal drug supply on our streets,” said Judy Darcy, B.C.’s mental health and addictions minister.
The VCH says the strips were shown in a study to be just as accurate as drug checking at a health care facility in identifying opioids contaminated by fentanyl, the toxic drug responsible for killing thousands of people in B.C.
According to the research study conducted last year by the VCH, Interior Health and the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, take-home strips found 89.95 per cent of opioid samples contained fentanyl, while on-site drug checking found 89.14 per cent of samples contained fentanyl.
“We’ve been offering drug checking at community health centres, overdose prevention and supervised consumption sites but we know that not everyone can or wants to go to these sites, especially in light of the stigma that people who use drugs can face,” said Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, medical health officer at Vancouver Coastal Health. “We know most people who die from overdoses are using alone. Being able to check their drugs for fentanyl may help them make safer choices and ultimately prevent overdoses.”
Originally intended for urine drug tests, the use of fentanyl testing strips to check the drugs for fentanyl was pioneered by VCH in 2016. A small amount of a drug is mixed with a few drops of water, the test strip is inserted into the solution, and a positive or negative for fentanyl is revealed within seconds.
The strips will be available at four Vancouver pilot sites — Insite, Molson overdose prevention site, Overdose Prevention Society and St. Paul’s Hospital overdose prevention site — by next week and at other sites in the following weeks.
At VCH sites, clients voluntarily have their drugs checked an average of 500 times each month.
Holding an IUD birth control copper coil device in hand, used for contraception flocu / Getty Images/iStockphoto
Free prescription contraception is a no-brainer, according to groups advocating its inclusion in February’s provincial budget.
A cost-benefit analysis conducted by Options for Sexual Health in 2010 estimates the B.C. government could save $95 million a year if it paid for universal access to prescription contraception.
It would also promote equality, giving young people and those with low incomes the same choices as those who are able to pay for their preferred method of contraception.
“Not all contraception works for everyone,” said Dr. Teale Phelps Bondaroff, committee chair and co-founder of the AccessBC campaign. “Money shouldn’t be a factor in deciding on the best option.”
The most effective contraception is often the most expensive up front: An intrauterine device, or IUD, can cost between $75 and $380, while oral contraceptive pills can cost $20 a month, and hormone injections can cost as much as $180 a year.
But that’s a small amount compared to an unplanned pregnancy, which can have a “huge ripple effect” on a woman’s life, particularly if she is already struggling to get by, said Patti MacAhonic, executive director of the Ann Davis Transition Society in Chilliwack.
“I think it’s a gender equity issue. Contraception costs usually fall on women, and if they become pregnant that often falls on them as well.”
MacAhonic said providing free prescription contraception would also reduce some of the stigma that still exists around birth control. School-age girls trying to get a prescription without their parents’ knowledge may be prevented by a lack of money.
In May, the Canadian Paediatric Society released a position statement identifying cost as a “significant barrier” to using contraception for youth.
“Many must pay out-of-pocket because they have no pharmaceutical insurance, their insurance does not cover the contraceptives they desire, or they wish to obtain contraceptives without their parents’ knowledge,” said the statement.
The society recommended all youth should have confidential access to contraception at no cost until age 25.
But B.C. advocates want the government to go further.
AccessBC pointed to several European countries that subsidize universal access to contraception in some way, including the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy and Germany. Many programs are revenue-neutral when the cost of an unintended pregnancy is considered.
In 2015, a study in the Canadian Association Medical Journal estimated the cost of universal contraception in Canada would be $157 million, but the savings, in the form of the direct medical costs of unintended pregnancy, would be $320 million.
Options for Sexual Health executive director Michelle Fortin said that while the birth control pill remains relatively cheap, women might choose another method if the cost was the same.
“If you’re a student you may have to choose between a month of food or an IUD,” she said. “Finances continue to be a barrier.”
Fortin said a petition circulated at Options clinics across the province will be presented to the health minister in advance of the budget.
As the overall area of cannabis production increases, so do the problems and their chances of spreading. Growers across North America are currently facing a root aphid outbreak that appears to have started in Colorado.
Punja said the appearance of some pests was predictable as Canada moved to a regulated industry. Spider mites, for example, are an issue for growers of almost every crop in B.C.
“It’s certainly not unexpected to see them,” said Brown, who works for Biobest Canada.
But other pests are less common.
“Pests that only target cannabis are more difficult to treat. We’ve had less time to study what works,” she said.
Bugs like cannabis aphids aren’t new, but in the previously illegal industry, growers weren’t limited by regulations.
“If they came upon these tricky pests, they could spray something and nobody would know,” she said.
Health Canada regulations forbid the use of chemical pesticides, including some that have been deemed safe for use in food production, meaning growers must depend on an arsenal of organic and biological products, including beneficial insects.
“It’s not as simple as replacing Chemical X with Bug Y,” said Brown.
The specialist helps growers develop pest-control programs that are tailored to their crops, growing style and pest problems. She believes that in time cannabis production and pest-management strategies will become more standardized across Canada.
Punja, too, is at the forefront of disease-management practices. His focus is on identifying the problem and how it arrived at a specific facility, whether it was through movement of plant material or on a worker’s clothing.
Prevention and management often involve cleanliness, as well as the quarantine of infected plants.
The scientist believes Health Canada may eventually approve more products for pest management, but research is needed to make the case to the federal Health Ministry. The companies that produce chemical pesticides may be reluctant to undertake the research or make the application since many of them are based in the U.S. where cannabis is still illegal under federal law.
A limited number of products approved for cannabis — about 21 non-chemical approaches, compared with almost 100 chemical and non-chemical approaches for tomatoes — means Canadian cannabis growers must be innovative to deal with pests.
“In talking to producers, they seem very keen to try new things,” said Punja. “I don’t see this hindering them.”
Dr. Jonathan Little, associate professor at UBC Okanagan’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences, is the lead researcher of a new study that looks at how ketone supplements affect blood sugar. UBC handout / PNG
Ketone monoester drinks, which have become a popular supplement with the low-carbohydrate, ketogenic-diet crowd, may help people with diabetes, suggests new research from UBC Okanagan.
The study’s lead author Dr. Jonathan Little, associate professor at UBC Okanagan’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences, says while ketone supplements are not a magic bullet in managing the disease, they may be another tool to help control blood sugar.
Ketones are molecules produced by the liver from fatty acids during periods of low food intake, carbohydrate restrictive diets, starvation, and prolonged intense exercise.
Little and his team asked 15 people, who were not following a veto or other restrictive diet, to consume a ketone drink, made with medical ester supplied by the University of Oxford, after fasting overnight.
Many of the subjects were candidates for diabetes, or had higher blood sugar levels than normal.
After 30 minutes, the subjects were asked to drink a fluid containing 75 grams of sugar while blood samples were taken.
“It turns out that the ketone drink seemed to launch participants into a sort of pseudo-ketogenic state where they were better able to control their blood sugar levels with no changes to their insulin,” he said.
The product used in the testing is now sold commercially as Hvmn Ketone Ester, he said. There are also other ketone supplements on the market called BHB, which he said can be less potent and may have a high sodium content.
These are considered dietary supplement and not necessarily something that a doctor would prescribe, he said.
Ketone supplements are being used for sport endurance because they are a new fuel. Usually your body can only make ketones when you are starving or severely restrict carbohydrate intake like on a ketogenic diet, said Little.
“So the concept is that you are providing a new fuel or a fourth macronutrient along with carbs, fat and protein that you can drink that can fuel your heart, muscles or brain for exercise,” he said.
Those who follow the keto or intermittent fasting lifestyles may be using these supplements to maintain a state of ketosis.
“Because they’re so new, there’s very little research on how they can influence metabolism and we’re among the first to look at their use in non-athletes,” said Little.
He added that researchers don’t know the effect of long-term use of ketone supplements, and said further study is needed to determine safety.
“When you take them your blood sugar goes down and this may be a good thing, but we don’t know for sure yet. But it’s intriguing.” he said.
Type 2 diabetes is a disease whereby the body is unable to control the level of sugar in the blood because of defects in the functioning of a hormone called insulin.
He said there is mounting evidence that a low-carb keto diet is very effective in controlling blood sugar and even reversing Type 2 diabetes, and that there are doctors who support this diet for patients with this disease.
He cautioned that if someone with diabetes wants to follow a ketogenic diet, it should be done under the direction of a health care provider because it may conflict with some medication.
Little said the research could be a step toward treating diabetes with diet instead of medication.
“There are more anecdotes on the Internet than there are research studies on this, so it is early days and we definitely need more research to back up those anecdotes.”
The study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition with funding from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.
The popularity of farmers markets contributed to a record year for B.C. food sales. In this file photo, shoppers browse the Tomato Festival at the Trout Lake Farmers Market at John Hendry Park on Saturday, August 26, 2017. Jason Payne / PNG
British Columbians helped make 2018 a record year for farmers, eating — and drinking — $6.4 billion-worth of local food.
The Ministry of Agriculture recently reported record-setting revenue for the B.C. agriculture industry — which includes farms, ranches, seafood and food-processing operations — as new data shows the sale of local food generated $15 billion for the first time last year.
Agriculture Minister Lana Popham credited farmers for helping the industry reach “new heights.”
While the data shows revenue from provincial agriculture exports rose 10 per cent in 2018, the biggest consumers of B.C. products were British Columbians.
In 2017, the Ministry of Agriculture began work on a three-pronged approach to increasing local consumption of local food. Grow B.C. supports entrepreneurs and new farmers, while Buy B.C. helps B.C. companies promote their products at home, and Feed B.C. encourages the use of B.C. products in government-operated institutions and facilities.
“It’s food as medicine,” Popham said at a press conference announcing a new partnership with the Interior Health Authority in March. “Feed B.C. is a game changer. It’s about working collaboratively to encourage, inspire and support a shift to more B.C. foods in health-care and other government facilities.”
Since then, Interior Health has been working to increase the B.C.-grown foods on the menu at its 55 hospitals, care homes and adult day programs.
“We’re regularly looking for opportunities to incorporate B.C. products,” Interior Health director of support services Andrew Pattison said Friday.
Some of the challenges associated with sourcing local food have become opportunities, such as the seasonality of B.C. produce.
“Because of our growing season, it’s not always possible to get a year-round supply of certain produce,” said Pattison. That’s forced the authority to offer a more seasonal menu.
B.C. produce, sourced from a farm in Oliver, as well as B.C. eggs, ground beef and milk are among the local food served in institutions run by the health authority.
Regional production kitchens at Penticton Regional Hospital and Vernon Jubilee Hospital transform local ingredients into meals and food items that can be served in all Interior Health facilities, as opposed to buying packaged food.
“This is a foundational program,” said Pattison. “We want to do right by the population we serve.”
With 2019’s imminent demise, we’ll check off another box among the 6,000 or so that constitute recorded history. The year’s delights, disasters, encouragements and letdowns will be remembered and possibly surpassed. From our own community, this column recalls some who contributed to it or otherwise sustained the character of the place we call home and that, troubled aspects notwithstanding, few would wish to forget.
Thoroughly vice-regal in red, B.C. Lieutenant Governor Janet Austin attended a B.C. Women’s Hospital Foundation benefit accompanied by ceremonial aide de camp and former Vancouver police inspector Bob Usui.
Malcolm Parry /
B.C.-native tenor Ben Heppner hosted the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s 100th anniversary concert at which an Orpheum theatre audience got the measure of Netherlands-born, nine-month music director Otto Tausk.
Malcolm Parry /
Actor-director Jason Priestley appraised a Jane Austen-style dress named Lovey when South Granville retailer and friend Julia Molnar launched a first-in-Canada satellite of the Paris-based La Maison Bonpoint store.
Malcolm Parry /
In the Macaulay Fine Art gallery, Cowichan/Syilx artist Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun exhibited a $45,000 sculpture titled Opioid Ovoid Humanoid that seemed to move every time viewers briefly looked away.
Malcolm Parry /
Actress Pamela Anderson struck a characteristic pose in the Vancouver Club where an art auction, including this $30,000 work by global photographer Raphael Mazzucco, benefited her self-named foundation.
Malcolm Parry /
At Manuel Bernaschek’s Stefano Ricci store, the designer’s son, Niccolo, showed a gold-buckled crocodile belt with 13.8 carats of diamonds that would hold a dapper chap’s pants up and maybe get him held up, too.
Malcolm Parry /
Returning to her Emily Carr University job after experiencing a tsunami in her native Indonesia, Diyan Achjadi wrapped an articulated city bus with artwork representing Dutch settlers’ fantasy views of that nation.
Malcolm Parry /
While the For Children We Care gala raised $4.1 million for B.C. Children’s Hospital, third-time presenter Ben Yeung checked out a $500,000 Roll-Royce Cullinan that Open Road dealer Christian Chia brought along.
Malcolm Parry /
Helping fund her Obakki Foundation’s sustainable projects in South Sudan, Cameroon and Uganda, Treana Peake welcomed former child soldier Emmanuel Jal to the White Envelope benefit at her Gleneagles home.
Malcolm Parry /
Toting an ultra-thick milkshake, chef Dawn Doucette opened North Vancouver’s 1950s-style Douce Diner in premises that husband Nino Giangrande built around Doucette’s sister Timi Fuller’s mosaic floor.
Malcolm Parry /
Sharing haircuts at a Canada Walk of Fame ceremony, mega-entrepreneur Jimmy Pattison may have appraised B.C. Premier John Horgan as a future employee as he did his NDP predecessor, Glen Clark.
Malcolm Parry /
With a poster of the Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows aerobatic team behind them, U.K. High Commissioner Susan le Jeune d’Allegeershecque and Consul General Nicole Davison had just seen the real aircraft speed past them.
Malcolm Parry /
Polygon Homes chair Michael Audain accompanied wife Yoshi Karasawa at a Whistler gala that raised $450,000 for education, events and exhibitions at the $43-million Audain Museum he’d built and endowed nearby.
Malcolm Parry /
Cited for addiction recovery at the annual Courage To Come Back ceremony, Blackfoot Geri Bemister was accompanied by Ravenswood Consulting partner, spouse and Coast Salish member Celina Williams.
Malcolm Parry /
Having fought with other Canadian troops in the June 6, 1944, Normandy landings and the liberation of Holland, Master Warrant Officer George Chow was congratulated by China’s consul general, Tong Xiaoling.
Malcolm Parry /
Everything came up roses for Isabella McKinnon at the 11th annual Night of Miracles gala where she greeted South Asian community members who raised $742,495 for B.C. Children’s Hospital Foundation.
Malcolm Parry /
Lotte and John Davis fronted their fifth One Girl Can event to fund education for East African women and projects such as the rebuilding of Nairobi’s Ushirika School that collapsed, killing 11 of its 615 students.
After a few minutes on the hiking trail, Dr. Duna Goswami felt her stress lessen.
“It was like I was in a green tunnel. I could smell the fresh air. I could hear the water dripping from the trees,” she said.
The Abbotsford physician was one of nine cancer survivors who participated in a program designed by a University of the Fraser Valley kinesiology professor to see if nature has the ability to reduce anxiety levels.
Over eight weeks in September and October, the group met twice a week to hike in the Cultus Lake area.
Early results, based on interviews with the participants, seem to prove the oft-touted notion that nature really does soothe the soul.
“A number of them said it helped them realize how strong they were,” said lead researcher Dr. Iris Lesser. “When asked to rank their anxiety before and after the hike, we saw a drop in stress.”
There are likely several causes for that, not least of which is the experience of being in nature itself.
Lesser and her associates purposefully selected hikes that were not too difficult, but still lush and green.
“We asked participants if they thought it would be the same if they were doing a walk in the city, and they thought it wouldn’t be,” she said.
For Goswami, who finished treatments for breast cancer about a year ago, the setting made her feel peaceful.
“I might have gone hiking in the summer before, but not in the fall. It changed my view. I realized I could get outside even in the rain,” she said.
Goswami also reported several other benefits that proved common among participants. Hiking with a group of fellow cancer survivors provided support.
“Having cancer is isolating,” she said. “Even though you’re surrounded by people who want to help, it is nice to be with those who know what it is like, who understand.”
The physical exercise also brought benefits. During her treatment, which included chemotherapy, surgery and radiation, the physician felt ill and was unable to be active. For almost a year after, she still felt tired.
“I was working, but I was very tired,” she said.
Lesser said the benefits of exercise for stroke and cardiac patients are well known, but using exercise in cancer treatment is still a new field.
“We knew going in there might be several different factors at work in our results,” she said. “In an effort to untangle them, we tried to ask questions that were specific to each component.”
It appears clear that participants benefited from being in nature, as well as the social support and physical activity that hiking entailed.
The researcher was encouraged in her study by local oncologists who identified a gap in survivor care.
“They felt like patients should be better supported after treatment, but they didn’t have the time to help them navigate that part,” she said.
Lesser would eventually like to see a program for cancer survivors in the model of a support group that incorporates nature and physical activity.
In the meantime, she hopes to run another session in the spring to provide her with more data. The hikes will take place in the Chilliwack area. People can email email@example.com for more information.
Reporters for The Vancouver Sun and The Province share their most fondly, or sadly, or humorously remembered stories of 2019. Here, in alphabetical order, are their reflections on the stories and people that stuck with them the most this year.
An end to the long-running story of the Bountiful polygamy sect
Fifteen years and 362 columns later, it was a final punctuation point to the long-running and fraught story of British Columbia’s polygamous community in Bountiful.
After more than two decades of legal wrangling, I was finally able to write that a former bishop of the fundamentalist Mormon sect was going to jail. In August, James Marion Oler was sentenced to a year in prison and 18 months’ probation.
But in many ways, it was a pyrrhic victory.
Oler no longer belongs to the church — he was cast out nearly a decade ago.
It was 15 years ago that he trafficked his 15-year-old daughter into a coerced marriage in exchange for a fifth wife who was the same age as his daughter.
Oler was never charged with sexual misconduct, nor was Winston Blackmore. Blackmore, Canada’s most notorious polygamous, has sired 150 children and has admitted that half of his 26 wives were under 18.
There are unlikely to be more prosecutions anytime soon. It’s partly because all of the attention that has been focused here and in the United States on the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints for two decades or more has forced it to change. But mostly, as was the case 15 years ago, there’s little political will.
Beyond that, the conditions that allowed the community to flourish have never been fully addressed. No changes have ever been made to improve the regulation and oversight of independent schools or homeschoolers.
And, while Canada’s polygamy law was upheld in a constitutional reference case in the B.C. Supreme Court and again at the trials of Oler and Blackmore, it remains untested in an appellate court.
I feel lucky, as a journalist, that I get to meet so many people, although some interviews are easier than others. When I was asked to write a story about a former medal-winning national gymnast who was fighting terminal cancer at age 22, I was nervous: How do I approach such a difficult subject with someone so young?
But when I met Tamara O’Brien, I encountered a thoughtful, confident young woman who unreservedly wanted to speak about her diagnosis in the hope it would help other youth facing a similar battle.
“I think that is a huge purpose in my life, just being able to share and help, in whatever people decide to take out of my story,” she told me in April.
She wanted people to know that the cancer diagnosis had not left her mired in sadness, but taught her to appreciate what was important. “Your whole perspective changes when death sits right at your door. As morbid as it sounds, that’s true.”
O’Brien made the national team at age 11. At 12, she won an unprecedented seven medals at the Canadian nationals. She took silver at the 2017 World Games in Poland, but was forced to quit the sport after her melanoma was discovered that year.
O’Brien also kept a blog, where she chronicled her medical journey with raw, honest writing. In June, I was heartbroken to read that the cancer had spread to her brain.
“There is no handbook when life hands you a hurricane,” she wrote on her blog. “Sometimes I think the universe tests us just to make sure we are committed. I’m here to say I’m f—ing committed. Committed to living my life the best way I can with any cards I’m given.”
September was the last time I heard from O’Brien, who sent me an enthusiastic email asking for advice about how to write a book.
A month later, on Oct. 15, Gymnastics Canada reported that O’Brien had died. “Tamara was such a bright light in our community and she will be sorely missed,” said CEO Ian Moss.
Indeed, I remember her with fondness and gratitude.
There’s been no shortage of material to write about during the colourful first year of Vancouver’s new mayor and council. But with our coverage of urban issues, we also try, when possible, to get away from the corridors of power at 12th and Cambie.
Considering how debates around housing have dominated local political discourse recently, we wanted to hear from some of those most profoundly affected by this issue, but whose voices aren’t always most prominent — our neighbours who have no housing.
There was no scoop in the story I filed March 13. Just an on-the-ground look at the city’s annual homeless count early that morning. This wasn’t an orchestrated photo op — the city employees with whom I tagged along didn’t know what or who we’d find that morning, in the alleys, parks, nooks and crannies of a downtown neighbourhood. Most homeless people we encountered that morning were friendly and candid. But some didn’t want to talk, and others were sharply critical of the civic government’s inability to fix the homeless problem.
The count ended up setting a sad record, finding 2,223 homeless Vancouverites. As a simple walk and a few early-morning conversations underlined for me — and hopefully for readers — those are 2,223 perspectives worth keeping in mind.
Growing calls to put teeth into health-care coverage
When we talk about affordability in B.C., we often focus on the housing crisis. There are so many more ways people are suffering here.
In late 2018, Gabrielle Peters, a disabled Vancouver writer living in poverty, had the last of her teeth pulled. While recovering and in pain, she started a frank discussion on Twitter about why dental care should be part of our health-care coverage.
In a private message, she urged me to write about dental care. I’m glad I listened to her. So many readers shared and commented on the article, telling their own stories about not being able to afford to fix their teeth. I learned so much. It was devastating.
For our story, I interviewed NDP health critic Don Davies, who had been working on dental coverage for years and told me he wanted to make it a federal election issue (he managed to do that). Health Minister Adrian Dix told me the B.C. government was “already moving in that direction.”
Months later, interviewee Anita Simon, who removed her temporary top dentures for a front-page photo, found a denturist in Abbotsford to replace those dentures and install new bottom ones, charging only the small amount the ministry covered. Her self-esteem soared, she told me earlier this month.
But it will still cost her much more for a permanent solution. She wants the province to move faster toward dental coverage.
“There are people walking around in pain,” Simon said.
“They need to get it together and they need to hear the people of this province, and listen to them and realize that by not taking care of the people dealing with this, they’re going to deal with way more financial burden.”
Man acquitted of shooting pregnant former girlfriend
One of the most surprising verdicts at the Vancouver Law Courts this year had to be the decision by a judge to acquit a man in the shooting of his pregnant former girlfriend.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Duncan found that Carleton Stevens had shot his former girlfriend, identified only by the initials J.Y., causing her to lose her 6-1/2 month unborn child.
But the judge ruled that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove Stevens intended to kill J.Y. and therefore he was not guilty of attempted murder, the only charge on the indictment.
She concluded that the bullet fired by Stevens had first passed through the arm of J.Y.’s friend, Taj Lovett, before hitting J.Y., and that there was a struggle preceding the shooting.
While there were threats by Stevens to kill J.Y. in the weeks preceding the incident, there were also threats against Lovett and it was a “reasonable” scenario that Lovett, and not J.Y., was the intended target, said the judge. No charges were laid in the shooting of Lovett after he did not co-operate with police. He did not testify at trial either.
Observers of the case were left wondering how a man who was found to have shot two people could be acquitted.
Asked whether there will be an appeal, a spokesman for the Crown said the decision is being carefully reviewed and had no other comment.
Writing about Yucho Chow was remarkable in many ways. I found out that he was unique in the first half of the 20th century for operating a photo studio that was the go-to place for Chinese-Canadians and many of the city’s minorities and marginalized groups. His incredible visual record was mostly lost until curator Catherine Clement set out on a mission to find as many of his photographs as possible for an exhibition in Chinatown.
At the opening, I met both Eleanor Collins, the legendary jazz singer, and her daughter Judith Collins Maxie, who contributed a Chow photograph of her grandmother and her five mixed-race grandchildren and helped the exhibition include the historical presence of black Canadians.
After the initial story appeared in The Vancouver Sun and The Province, a number of people realized they had Yucho Chow photographs of family members and were able to add to Clement’s archive. Plus, a family member who saw one of the family portraits published with no names was able to identify her grandparents, father and uncle.
A “silent” photo was able to tell its story again — much like the saga of Yucho Chow.
We reporters were sent to the neighbourhood to see if we could find out details and likely not one of us relished the assignment.
Burnaby RCMP Chief Supt. Deanne Burleigh held a press conference at the Burnaby RCMP headquarters, a task usually handled by a less senior media officer, which indicated to reporters the gravity of the announcement to come.
“It’s absolutely heartbreaking,” she said. “It’s a tragedy and it has ripple effects throughout the community.”
Police said at the time they were interviewing family members, witnesses, pedestrians and people in the area but couldn’t release many details.
All Burleigh could confirm was that RCMP received a 911 call at 5:45 p.m. on May 9.
The baby boy was unconscious and was declared dead in hospital. The baby’s father was at the scene and both parents were co-operating.
Burleigh called the death “extremely tragic” and said it was too early to discuss the possibility of charges but they weren’t being ruled out.
The B.C. Coroners Service said it was the first time such a death had been recorded in B.C. and couldn’t confirm if it would investigate.
Seven and a half months later, the RCMP’s cryptic response to a request for an update offers no clues to what might have happened or how the RCMP will respond.
“The investigation has not yet been concluded and therefore I am unable to provide an update at this time,” media relations officer Cpl. Daniela Panesar said in an email this month.
And from coroner media spokesman Andy Watson: “Our investigation to determine how, where, when and by what means he came to his death remains open.”
Reporters at the time of the death were left to interview people in the neighbourhood, including workers at a daycare on the street, and later to write followup stories to try to put the tragedy into context.
We wrote that there are an average of 38 deaths every year of children in hot cars in the U.S. (Canadian statistics aren’t available but likely fewer than 10, so not many precedents for RCMP to follow.)
In the U.S., 40 per cent of the deaths were deemed accidental with no criminal intent to justify charges and 60 per cent did face some sort of criminal-negligence charges. It’s not known how many were found guilty.
In Canada in 2003, a Quebec father was charged with involuntary manslaughter in a similar case but the Crown later dropped the charges, calling it a tragic accident.
While reporters wait for official word on how the baby died to update our readers and viewers, we are left with psychologists explaining what is called “forgotten baby syndrome,” a tragic outcome of a flawed memory: The part of the brain that deals with routine matters can be overwritten by the part of the brain that is consciously dealing with other matters.
Impact of Hong Kong protests hit close to home
I was nowhere near the Hong Kong protests of 2019, but their reverberations in Vancouver make up the story that moved me the most this year.
The protests swelled in size and intensity as demonstrators — who initially took the streets over a piece of legislation allowing crimes committed in Hong Kong to be tried in China — focused their fight on wider freedoms and the city’s independent identity.
I had travelled often to Hong Kong and spent my early days as a reporter there, arriving in 1997 as the former British colonial city returned to Chinese rule. In more recent times, I also lived there with my young family for four years, returning to Vancouver in the fall of 2014.
Now, I was talking to students at B.C. universities setting up and protecting their own Lennon Walls in solidarity with protesters in Hong Kong. There were small but ugly clashes that gave Vancouver a place in the battle over Hong Kong. I wrote about travel advisories, contingency plans and inconveniences as chaos and violence gripped and changed the nature of the protests, as well as the emotions being felt by students and professors at campuses here.
And all while I was seeking sources to interview and moments to chronicle, I felt like I would never adequately capture the situation. Over face-to-face, but also long and nuanced, text message conversations, it seemed impossible to reconcile the experiences and views of so many family members and close friends in Vancouver, who span the spectrum in their connections to Hong Kong and China, as they argued both sides of this most dramatic and complex story.
When I first met Charlie in the summer of 2018, I was taken with the feisty toddler, who is the same age as my son.
Is it a cliché to say she was like a ray of sunshine?
Happy and a little shy, Charlie was determined to make photographer Nick Procaylo’s camera her new toy. Her world, by necessity, was small and dark, but thanks to her remarkable parents, it was filled with love.
The windows of the Lock’s home were coated with UV-blocking film. Even small amounts of ultraviolet light caused Charlie’s skin to painfully burn, blister and swell.
“She’ll stare out the windows and point at the leaves in the trees,” Charlie’s mom, Bekah, told me. “She knows what’s out there, but she’s never fully experienced it.”
Last fall, that painful reality, coupled with life-threatening liver failure, sent the family to Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, where, in a darkened operating room, surgeons gave Charlie a piece of her dad Kelsey’s liver.
In February, Charlie had chemotherapy to destroy her bone marrow and then received another transplant — this time her dad’s bone marrow. Doctors hoped it would give the toddler’s body the ability to create the enzyme that breaks down porphyrins, which caused both her liver problems and sun allergy.
The surgery was successful.
In June, I interviewed the Lock family again as Charlie spent some of her first hours outside.
Kelsey was looking forward to his perfect Father’s Day: A few hours in the park with his family. Something so common, it’s an understatement to say I take it for granted.
Since then, in the aftermath of two transplants, Charlie has been in and out of hospital. The family was able to return to B.C. in late October. Still, Bekah’s Facebook page is a record of various medical procedures.
But for every picture of Charlie in a hospital gown is one of a little girl doing ordinary things — dressed up for Halloween, jumping in puddles and, last week, after being released from hospital in time for Christmas, fast asleep in her own bed.
Three lives that reflect profound changes in Canadian culture
My favourite stories are about people. And this year I had the good fortune of interviewing three amazing men whose stories reflect the profound cultural changes in Vancouver, and Canada, over the last century.
The 97-year-old Kaminishi and 88-year-old Horii are Japanese-Canadians who were forced to leave the west coast for a camp near Lillooet during the Second World War.
Ninety-four-year-old Chung is a Chinese-Canadian who was the only Chinese person in his medical class at McGill University in the early 1950s.
Chung went on to become a surgeon and professor at UBC and assembled one of the great collections of historical items in Canadian history. My jaw dropped when I visited his condo and saw his library and some of his treasures.
I live in Strathcona, near Japantown, and it was a revelation talking to Horii and Kaminishi about their lost neighbourhood.
As a baseball guy, it was wild talking to Kaminishi about his playing days with Japantown’s legendary baseball team, the Asahi. As a Canadian it was heartbreaking to hear Horii recount how Japanese-Canadians were branded aliens after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
All three men persevered in the face of adversity and prospered. They’re an inspiration to us all.
We get into this job, many of us anyway, to try to make a difference. So my favourite story of 2019 was writing about a new and costly life-saving device in ambulances that keeps heart-attack patients alive until they can get to hospital. Upon reading it, one anonymous philanthropist donated $1 million to purchase more of the gadgets.
And there was hope: Speaking with Rumana Monzur, who, after her husband gouged her eyes out with his bare hands when she asked for a divorce, went on to become a lawyer, and became the focus of a documentary on violence against women. Monzur asks not to be thought of as a victim, but as a symbol of hope.
B.C.’s crisis in forestry
“In the worst-case scenario, 13 (sawmills) will close,” was the succinct, grim summation that forest industry analyst Jim Girvan read off to me during an interview last May.
The frankness of it seemed shocking, audacious even, but after decades of the mountain pine beetle ravaging Interior forests, two successive years of record wildfires, and increasing needs to set aside land for the conservation of threatened mountain caribou, there simply wouldn’t be enough timber to go around.
That stark assessment was already coming true as Girvan was recounting it to me — venerable sawmiller Tolko Industries had already announced the closure of its Quest mill in Quesnel the previous week, followed in short order by Canfor, which announced closure of its Vavenby mill, West Fraser Timber said it was shuttering its Chasm mill, and Conifex its Fort. St. James facility.
By Nov. 11, when Tolko announced that it would end operations at a second sawmill in Kelowna, companies had already listed six mills for permanent closure of the 13 Girvan said would go.
I had reported on looming difficulties for logging and sawmilling due to the coming timber shortage before, but 2019 saw a crash in American lumber markets that touched off in earnest a sudden and painful transition for many Interior forestry towns.
The stories resonated with readers who shared their experiences of paying high rates week after week to visit those suffering or dying, or of being ticketed after forgetting to plug their meters while in states of distress.
This summer a close family member had a heart attack and was rushed to the hospital. Their surgical procedure the next morning took much longer than expected and by the time they were wheeled back into their room alive and recovering, there was a ticket waiting on our windshield.
Suddenly those stories resonated and stuck with me too.
My most memorable stories of 2019 were the love stories — quiet stories of ordinary people such as June Walmsley, who passed away at the age of 99 in the same east Vancouver house where she had made a home for 200 foster kids over the years. Walmsley always said she loved them all like they were her own and that she never forgot any of their names. Her life was a love story.
A story of forgetting became unforgettable when I met Tony Wanless and his wife June Hutton. Wanless shared his journey with Alzheimer’s disease. He told of losing his thoughts and his words, but not his way, while Hutton helped him write the book they hope will help others. This too was a love story.
The story of a refuge for the dying pitted against a developer brought me to the Vancouver hospice where I met staff and volunteers who cook favourite meals, tend their tranquil gardens, and stand in respectful silence with families as loved ones make their final journeys out the back door. Their work is a love story.
A meeting with Darrel McLeod and Terese Mailhot, two Indigenous authors who opened their hearts in memoirs that detailed the effects of growing up under the cloud of Canada’s Indian Act, its residential schools and reservation system was particularly meaningful. Their work is a love letter to their families, and ours.
As a transportation and regional government reporter, I have seen Jonathan Coté wrestle with serious policy issues, but I had never seen the mild-mannered mayor of New Westminster jump into the ring and physically wrestle an opponent to the mat.
So, when I was given the opportunity to see Coté suit up in gold lamé pants and practise his routine before wrestling in a tag-team match at the Royal City Rumble — becoming the first sitting mayor in Canada (that we know of) to participate in a professional wrestling match — I couldn’t pass it up.
Coté had attended the rumble before, and even refereed, but he decided to assume his alter ego, Johnny X, and team up with Mr. India in a tag-team match when he saw how the free event brought out residents and delighted hundreds of children.
I spent a few hours on a Sunday evening watching Coté practise his signature move, the stunner, along with a few others, and it was enlightening to see him out of his element and away from the usual meeting rooms. Plus, it was a heck of a fun story to write. firstname.lastname@example.org
Tools and non-motorized building equipment were either stored or in use everywhere.
A large retaining wall built of recycled tires stretched up the hillside, and nestled in the middle of this cacophony of human energy was the structure I had come to see.
Their 600-square-foot cob studio, made of straw, sand and mud, was constructed by Chris, Amanda-Rae and her crew from the Mudgirls Collective. It is a beautiful structure built literally with hands and feet from mostly found materials.
What impresses the most is their utter disinterest in wealth — although armed with a PhD, Chris has earning power. They pledged to one another early in their relationship to live their lives authentically and do only what feels right. Often that means making do with less in material terms, but the payoff is music, joy and love.
Since our meeting, they have packed up, pulled their kids out of school, and gone to pursue projects in rural Africa.
Enjoying the right to roam on billionaire’s B.C. ranch
What’s not to like about driving out of traffic-congested Metro Vancouver? And what destination could surpass the rolling grasslands of the Nicola Valley?
After cruising 270 kilometres northwest of Vancouver, I almost immediately understood why the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club has been fighting for more than a decade for the “freedom to roam” in this stunning, open land. The club recently won a B.C. Supreme Court decision that gives the public the right to access two peaceful fishing lakes, owned by the Crown, that have been blocked off by U.S. billionaire Stan Kroenke’s giant Douglas Lake Ranch. It’s one of many battlefronts in the war against B.C.’s dubious “No Trespassing” signs.
Rick McGowan and Harry Little took me out on the range in a Dodge Ram truck, where we saw geese, heron and ducks, not to mention horses and cattle. It was useful to legally go onto Kroenke’s B.C. land holdings, which together cover almost twice as much terrain as Metro Vancouver. Talk about the majesty of nature.
Call me shallow, but it was extra fun at the end of the afternoon, after we left the ranch, when cheerful McGowan asked this city boy if he wanted to fire his 7mm Remington Magnum rifle, which he uses to hunt deer. That was the first time I’d shot a gun in more than four decades. The innocent boulder, nestled 100 metres away in the tall grass, didn’t know what had hit it.
B.C. Children’s Hospital is reminding parents that they can avoid long and unnecessary waits at its emergency department over the holidays by choosing from several other options to treat children with non-emergent illnesses and injuries. Jason Payne / Vancouver Sun
B.C. Children’s Hospital wants your little loved ones to stay out of the waiting room and get promptly treated this holiday season.
The Vancouver hospital is reminding parents that they can avoid long and unnecessary waits at its emergency department over the holidays by choosing from several other options to treat children with non-emergent illnesses and injuries.
Dr. Benetta Chin, an emergency physician at B.C. Children’s Hospital, said doctors and nurses know that the holidays are a stressful time to be caring for a sick child, with many clinics and doctors’ offices closed and emergency rooms so busy.
“Of course, if you come, we are happy to see you and will give you the best care possible,” Chin said.
“But we also feel frustrated for families when we see that they’ve been waiting six hours for a sore throat or even earache that could be dealt with at a walk-in setting or even at the urgent and primary care centre.”
Chin said that while many illnesses and injuries can be treated at a family doctor’s office or walk-in clinic, families are also encouraged to bring sick children to new urgent and primary care centres open in Vancouver, North Vancouver, Burnaby, Surrey, Ridge Meadows and elsewhere across B.C.
If a child isn’t seriously ill, parents can phone HealthLinkBC at 811, where they can speak with a nurse for health advice any time of day or night, free of charge.
But the hospital says you should take your child to the emergency department if they have:
• A persistent high fever for more than four days
• Excessive coughing, especially with a fever
• An injured limb that looks swollen or crooked
• Not urinated within 12 hours and have stopped drinking fluids
• Blue lips and skin that appears pale
• Trouble breathing, especially with rapid or laboured breathing patterns
• Excessive vomiting, particularly if it is bright green or there is blood in the vomit
• Ingested a toxic chemical, including a suspected drug or alcohol overdose
Watch out for head injuries and bring your child to emergency if they have:
• Fallen more than five feet or 1.5 metres
• Started vomiting after a head injury
• A visible bump after a head injury and the child is less than three months old
• Lost consciousness
Mental health emergency:
• If your child is thinking about or trying to end their life, get urgent help by calling 911 or 1-800-SUICIDE.
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