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LIVE: BC announces 12 new virus cases, 4 deaths

12 new cases, 4 deaths

The provincial government have announced Monday 12 new coronavirus cases and four deaths in the past 48 hours. 

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said five of those cases came Saturday/Sunday while seven more were confirmed Sunday and today.

There has now been a total of 2,530 COVID-19 cases in B.C. No new cases have been confirmed in the Interior Health region, where a total of 194 people have tested positive. 

There are 267 active coronavirus cases in B.C., with 37 people in the hospital. 

“The key to our success in this phase and in the future is all of us working together,” Dr. Bonnie Henry said, as the province enters its second week of reopening. 

She said British Columbians have in general heeded the advice of healthcare officials, which she finds “heartening.”

With the four deaths announced Monday, a total of 161 people have now been killed by the virus in B.C. All of Monday's death occurred at a seniors care home in Langley. 



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Why BC will have trouble putting the genie back in the beer bottle

Changes will likely stay

Ken Beattie is old enough to recall when B.C. pubs had to keep their doors closed to anyone looking for a cold one on a Sunday.

“Then Expo [86] came, they allowed it, and they realized, ‘Hey, it wasn’t mayhem,’” said the executive director of the BC Craft Brewers Guild.

The province planned to loosen those Sunday restrictions for only five months during the world’s fair, but the changes proved popular and were never rolled back.

Now as the hospitality sector grapples with cratering revenue as a result of the pandemic, the province and City of Vancouver have embarked on loosening restrictions on serving liquor.

Beattie said it will be difficult for different levels of government to put the genie back in the bottle after the pandemic subsides and consumers get used to the new normal.

In March the province began allowing restaurants to deliver liquor with takeout orders – a first for B.C.

The province is also working with industry to allow restaurants to buy alcohol at wholesale prices, potentially boosting the margins for those establishments.

And on May 22 the B.C. government announced plans for an "expedited approval process for faster processing times" for licensed patios.

This month Vancouver city council and city staff began work on allowing pubs and restaurants to have access to more patio space than what was previously granted.

Breweries with tasting rooms are also in line to get patio space for the first time.

Beattie’s industry group had been working with city council on the issue prior to the pandemic as a means of boosting revenue while breweries contend with mounting costs associated with property assessments.

He said patios will be a good test of whether bureaucracy can take a backseat to economic recovery.

“They’ll like the tax revenue,” Beattie said.

Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the BC Restaurant and Food Services Association, anticipates permanent changes following the pandemic.

“The public won’t want this to go away,” he said. “The business side will say, ‘These are necessary components for our future survival.’ Because we’re talking years here, we’re not talking months to fix this.”

David Hardisty, an assistant professor specializing in consumer behaviour at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, said it will be difficult for government to roll back the new rules.

“People are going to get used to the new normal, and they’ll see the world’s not falling apart,” he said, adding restrictions would likely only return if a compelling argument could be made for health reasons.

In 2014 B.C. became the last province to allow happy hour specials, relaxing rules but requiring all establishments to charge minimum prices.

At the time, BC Liberal justice minister Suzanne Anton said minimum pricing was needed due to health concerns.

Hardisty said, “Alcohol can lead to problems, but I don’t think you’re going to get any more problems if you’re drinking on a patio versus inside a restaurant or you’re buying it at the store versus delivering it to your home.

“People in general are more sensitive to losses than gains.… If you’re going to take away a freedom from people, then you’re going to have to have a good reason.”



BC Discover Camping portal crushed under heavy traffic

Not so happy campers

UPDATE: 1:45 p.m.

Many not so happy campers took to social media to voice their frustration Monday morning.

Some suggested Discover Camping should be renamed Discover Frustration, and others asking why this volume of web traffic was not anticipated. 

"I’m hearing no Covid update today from Dr Bonnie Henry... ...she’s still trying to book a campsite on #discoverCamping #BCproblems," wrote one Twitter user.

"Maybe the #DiscoverCamping team is out Discovering Camping and that's why we can't reach them?" wrote another.

Kelowna resident Jennifer Buskermolen spent three hours from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. trying to secure a campsite at Mabel Lake Provincial Park after missing out on her first choice of location at Kettle River.

"At first I thought ok, I get it, I get it being really busy, I do. I completely understand it being very busy at 7 a.m. and I was willing to accept that, but here we are now 10 o’clock in the morning and I haven’t even made it past the reserve unit.

"If they were having some kind of technical issues they should have let people know, like the media. They should have said, "not only are we experiencing high volume but we are also experiencing some technical issues, please bear with us, we’re resolving the issue," because now they’ve got a lot of pissed off people."

She says because the Discover Camping portal doesn’t hold your spot in the campground during the reservation process, when the system crashes you also lose your camping spot.

"I promised my children camping this year because we didn't go last year, and I'm just - three hours, I mean, how long am I willing to sit here? ... I'm in tears right now."

The Ministry of Environment said in a statement that the last time the site was busy there were 1,100 reservations in one day, but in the first half hour of opening Monday about 800 reservations were booked.

It says 50,000 people were online at opening trying to access the system.

While government staff made efforts to be ready for additional demands, it says the 35,000 reservations made before lunch exceeded expectations.

The ministry thanks all those who tried to book a site for their patience and apologizes to those who were unable to access the system.

with files from the Canadian Press


UPDATE 11:30 a.m.

The provincial government’s Discover Camping reservation system is more stable after a crush of web traffic brought it down Monday morning. 

Minister of Environment George Heyman says more than 7,000 reservations were made this morning, when the province opened reservations in advance of campgrounds opening on June 1. 

“There is lots of inventory remaining and we are working hard to ensure BC residents can book as quickly as possible,” Heyman said.

“I appreciate people's patience, and am glad to see so many people excited to enjoy BC Parks this summer. Our plan is to safely open as many parks as possible so that BC campers and day visitors can rediscover the wilderness beauty close to home.”


UPDATE 8:20 a.m.

While BC Parks opened its camping reservations site Monday morning, few people have been actually able to book a site. 

A Castanet reporter has tried, and failed, to book a site for the past 90 minutes, but the Discover Camping portal is crashing repeatedly. Numerous other Castanet readers have reached out to say they have been unable to get through.

"Annoying experience and so disappointing that a government website is so useless!" said one reader.

Social media is also full of B.C. residents frustrated with the situation, likely caused by heavy web traffic.


ORIGINAL 7:20 a.m.

There should be some happy campers in B.C. today as many campgrounds across the province are prepared to open June 1, reservations open on the Discover Camping website today at 7 a.m. Bookings can be made on a rolling two-month period, so as of Monday, reservations can be made up to July 25.

B.C.'s provincial parks were temporarily closed because of a lack of physical distancing during the pandemic, but many have reopened.

BC Parks website says, "to ensure physical distancing, you may notice some changes in campgrounds, including additional spacing between campsites and limitations on the number of guests in campgrounds."

Access to campsites is limited to B.C. residents for the entire 2020 season but not all sites will open and some will open with reduced capacity.

Non-B.C. residents with a previous reservation can contact the BC Parks call centre for a refund before June 15. Non-B.C. residents who try to make a reservation after May 25 will have their booking cancelled.





BC Hydro orders producers to curtail production

BC Hydro orders curtailments

At least one independent power producer in B.C. has been told by BC Hydro to stop producing power, as a result of plummeting demand during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Innergex Renewable Energy Inc. (TSX:INE)  says BC Hydro has informed the company that it will not accept or pay for power that Innergex produces at six of its 21 run-of-river power generating facilities in B.C. from May 22 to July 20.

Clean Cnergy BC confirms that other independent power producers in B.C. have also been notified that they will be expected to curtail power production.

Innergex says it stands to lose $20 million in revenue as a result of the curtailment order.

Innergex says BC Hydro is claiming a "force majeure" event as a result of the pandemic's impact on power demand in B.C. 

While it acknowledges that BC Hydro has “turn-down” rights, it insists that the power utility is obliged to pay Innergex not to produce power – something BC Hydro appears inclined not to do -- under electricity purchase agreements (EPAs).

“Innergex disputes that the current pandemic and related governmental measures in any way prevent BC Hydro from fulfilling its obligations to accept and purchase energy under the EPAs or enable it to invoke "force majeure" provisions under the EPAs to suspend these obligations," Innergex says in a news release.

“Where BC Hydro exercises this right, it is required under the EPAs to compensate Innergex for energy that would have been produced at the facilities in the absence of the curtailment."

The demand for power has fallen in B.C. as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In April, BC Hydro confirmed that, since COVID-19 measures went into effect on March 16, commercial electricity load was down 10% compared to previous years. The demand from restaurants decreased 29% and hotels 27%. Demand from offices decreased 16%.

Demand on the residential side increased 8%, as more people worked from home.

At the same time BC Hydro is ordering Innergex to cut power production, B.C. has recently seen an increase in power imports from the U.S., and sales to Alberta.

North America may see some frenzied power trading, as utilities everywhere suddenly find themselves with surpluses and scramble to trade it. Lockdowns as a result of pandemic containment measures have reduced power demand the world over.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates global electricity demand to have dropped 20% during the pandemic, and expects a 1.5% on an annual basis for 2020.



Online games could be source of money laundering, inquiry hears

Money laundering in games

UPDATE 12:35 p.m.

A public inquiry into money laundering in British Columbia has heard that cash is still king but cryptocurrencies and other virtual trade could rise as a trend.

Criminology professor Stephen Schneider of St. Mary's University in Halifax says games and other online platforms with many players are creating their own forms of currency with real value attached.

He says in games like "Second Life," the currency can be used to purchase virtual products or advance to the next level, but he warns that it can also be used to launder the proceeds of criminal activity.

At the same time, Schneider says that while there have been a small number of cases of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin being used in the drug trade, cash remains the preferred payment.

He says smaller denominations of $20 and $50 bills are most common, even in very large transactions.

Schneider is the first expert witness to give testimony before commissioner Austin Cullen in the portion of the public inquiry that will get an overview of money laundering and regulatory models over the next 3 1/2 weeks.

"It's not unusual to have multi-kilos of cocaine or marijuana being purchased with stacks of $20 bills," Schneider says.

Criminal entrepreneurs, drug traffickers and organized crime have developed money laundering as a "tactical imperative" to avoid suspicion, he says.

"In order to enjoy the fruits of their labour they need to be able to take that cash and try to convert it into more of an asset that's less suspicious all the while trying to hide the illegal source."

The inquiry heard opening arguments in February and will focus on specific industries at hearings beginning in September.


ORGINAL 6:30 a.m.

Money laundering in British Columbia will be under scrutiny again this week when a public inquiry resumes today.

Over the next 3 1/2 weeks, expert witnesses ranging from academics to police officers are expected to shed light on how dirty money is quantified and the regulatory models that are being used to fight it around the globe.

The B.C. government called the inquiry amid growing concern that illegal cash was helping fuel its real estate, luxury car and gambling sectors.

Opening arguments were held in February and the main hearings scheduled to begin in September will delve into specific industries.

Commission lawyer Brock Martland says the goal of this part of the inquiry is to create an understanding of what money laundering is and the strategies other countries have used to get a grip on it.

The hearings are being streamed online.

Expert witnesses will include Simon Lord of the United Kingdom's National Crime Agency, RCMP Chief Supt. Robert Gilchrist of the Criminal Intelligence Service of Canada and Oliver Bullough, author of "Moneyland: The Inside Story of the Crooks and Kleptocrats Who Rule the World."

"The sort of game plan is to have the view from 30,000 feet," Martland said.

The inquiry is being led by commissioner Austin Cullen. Attorney General David Eby has said he hopes it will answer lingering questions about how the criminal activity has flourished in the province.

B.C. also commissioned three reports that revealed B.C.'s gambling, real estate and luxury car industries were hotbeds for dirty money, but Eby said an inquiry will be able to dig deeper because it can compel witnesses to speak.

In February, the B.C. Real Estate Association told the inquiry that it supported the creation of a provincial land registry that identifies those buying property. It has also struck a working group to make anti-money laundering recommendations.

The B.C. Lottery Corp. said it has consistently reported suspicious transactions to Fintrac and pointed out unusual conduct to the gaming policy enforcement branch.

The corporation has also brought in measures to control or prevent the flow of dirty money since 2012, including creating an anti-money laundering unit made up of certified investigators and intelligence analysts.



Charges laid in pipeline protest outside Premier Horgan's home

Charges for pipeline protest

The BC Prosecution Service says it has appointed a special prosecutor to oversee charges against three people in relation to allegations of mischief and trespass at the home of Premier John Horgan.

The service says in a news release that Victoria lawyer Dirk Ryneveld was appointed to avoid any potential for real or perceived improper influence in the administration of justice.

Ryneveld has approved criminal charges of mischief against Howard Breen, Regine Klein and Mark Nykanen.

Anti-pipeline protesters were arrested in February outside the premier's home in Langford in the hours before the government would present its budget.

The members of the group Extinction Rebellion Vancouver Island said they planned to attempt a "citizen's arrest" of the premier to show support for Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs who oppose a natural gas pipeline going through their territory.

The three accused are scheduled to appear in a provincial court on July 15.



Horgan welcomes news Ottawa will be pursuing paid sick leave

Horgan cheers sick leave

B.C. Premier John Horgan is applauding news that the federal government is looking at offering 10 days of paid sick leave for workers.

The premier has been advocating for a national sick leave program and had said the province would implement its own program if Ottawa did not take the lead on the issue.

“I look forward to continuing our work with the prime minister to deliver sick leave in order to protect British Columbians during this pandemic,” Horgan said in a statement.

Public health officers recommend that people stay home if they have cold or flu-like symptoms.

During his daily briefing this morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said no one should have to choose between taking a day off work due to illness or being able to pay their bills or being able to afford rent or groceries.

“That is why the government will continue discussions with the provinces, without delay, on ensuring that as we enter the recovery phase of the pandemic, every worker in Canada who needs it has access to 10 days of paid sick leave a year,” Trudeau said.

“And we will also consider other mechanisms for the longer term to support workers with sick leave.”

Trudeau said there are many questions to be discussed with the provinces about how the program will work.

“We recognize we are in a situation of crisis, where companies and enterprises don’t have much flexibility on the financial level, so we expect during the crisis, it will be governments that will have to take a large part of the weight,” he said.

The federal NDP demanded two weeks of paid sick leave for all workers in exchange for supporting the federal Liberal government’s desire to extend the suspension of the House of Commons during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have been clear from the beginning that the government should make sure every worker has access to paid sick leave,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said in a statement.

Singh said the party will continue to push the government “to make sure they deliver on this commitment and that they will work with provinces to make sick leave for workers permanent going forward.”

Horgan has been advocating for the federal government fund the sick days through the Employment Insurance program as part of a national health emergency.

“We’re pleased that the federal government is responding to our call for a fair and equitable paid sick leave program that protects people and businesses,” the premier said Monday.

“Each and every part of our country is affected by COVID-19, so we’re glad to see the federal government has committed to working with the provinces to provide a national response.”



B.C. needs change to keep cyber threats out of its election process

Disinformation and elections

British Columbia's chief electoral officer is recommending the government make several changes to protect the provincial electoral process from foreign interference, misleading advertising and impersonation.

A report submitted to the legislature from Anton Boegman says cyber threats have jeopardized the integrity of free and fair elections around the world.

An election in B.C. is scheduled for 2021 and the report says that while such threats haven't been widely seen in the province, the risks they represent to the electoral process are real.

Disinformation campaigns and election interference have been well documented during the 2016 Brexit vote in the United Kingdom and the U.S. election in 2016.

Boegman's report says cyber threats operate in a space that hasn't been contemplated by current legislation and they compromise provisions intended for a fair, transparent and accountable election process.

If adopted by members of the legislature, the report says the recommendations would give Elections BC tools regulate digital campaigning and mitigate the risks of the threats to electoral integrity.

"These recommendations will ensure our electoral legislation is fit-for-purpose in the 21st century," Boegman says in a news release. "While many provisions in current legislation are equally effective regardless of whether campaigning is analog or digital, certain aspects should be changed to ensure our regulatory framework is effective in today's digital environment."



Port Moody seeks demolition of house where woman died in fire

Tragedy house left gutted

A house that was heavily damaged by a 2016 fire that killed a woman and left her six children homeless needs to be fixed up or the city of Port Moody could have it torn down.

Council will consider whether to initiate a formal remedial action order against the owner, Morgan Crest Development Corp. of Surrey. The company would then have 30 days to comply with the order, or 14 days to request a hearing for the order to be reconsidered. If either deadline isn’t met, the city could tear down the house with the owner being sent the bill.

In a report to council, Port Moody’s senior bylaw enforcement officer, Patrik Kolby, said the city has made repeated attempts to request the owner repair the damaged home that was boarded up immediately after the fire. It also issued two fines under the city’s unsightly premise bylaw, one in January 2018, and another in March 2019. Neither has been paid.

Kolby said the city did receive an application for a building permit last August to restore the home, but it remains pending because of several issues in the application. He said there was also a complaint last November that people or animals had entered the home, as well as an odour of natural gas in the area. The meter was immediately inspected by Fortis BC, and three days later the owner installed more boards to secure the premises.

But other than that, Kolby said, the home has remained untouched, with broken windows, burned siding and missing exterior doors.

Despite repeated assurance from the director of Morgan Crest, no repairs have been made, Kolby’s report said.

In July 2016, police responding to a domestic dispute at the home found it engulfed in flames, with two adults still inside. Officers discovered the woman with extensive burns to her body, and she succumbed to her injuries later that day in hospital. An adult male, believed to be her husband, was arrested at the scene and later charged with second-degree murder. He pleaded guilty in 2018 and was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Five of the couple’s six children were home at the time of the fire. They ranged in age from five to 18-years-old, and all escaped. One, who had made the initial call to 911, got out from the home’s top floor.



Conservation officers rescue abandoned moose calf

Moose calf rescued

Conservations officers recently rescued a moose calf in Prince George that was separated from its mother.

In a Facebook post, the B.C. Conservation Officer Service explains that a moose cow mistakenly led the calf into a rural acreage yard, where it was spooked off by dogs.

Despite the calf being left alone overnight in hopes of a reunion with the mother, the cow never returned.

The Conservation Officers then helped safely capture the calf and ensure it was fed, as it awaited volunteer transport to a wildlife rescue facility.



Massey Tunnel replacement could help B.C.’s economic recovery

Tunnel could lift economy

Replacement of the Massey Tunnel won’t be affected by the pandemic, according to Delta North MLA Ravi Kahlon, who says the timeline for the project remains the same.

“The minister made a commitment that the (business) plan would be made public in the fall, and the timeline remains the same,” Kahlon says.

And as the province continues to reopen, the project – along with the provincial government’s other infrastructure plans – could play an important role in B.C.’s economic recovery, said Kahlon.

“I think (these projects) are a real opportunity for us to use those dollars to make sure people are getting back to work, but also to build the infrastructure that is very much needed in B.C.,” said Kahlon.

The province already had “the most aggressive capital infrastructure plan” in Canada, he said.

“Richmond Hospital is getting a new tower, and we are looking to take the next steps on the Surrey Hospital, (which was announced) last year. And so, we have a very aggressive plan, and I think this is going to play a very important role in our economic recovery.”

The province will also need additional investments, said Kahlon, such as in “potential green infrastructure," adding that he hopes to see more investments into recreational and public facilities, in addition to more capital projects.

While the province has set aside $1.5 billion to help with economic recovery, Kahlon said the premier has also set up an economic advisory group to look at potential impacts from COVID-19.

When it comes to next steps for the Massey Tunnel, the province will look at two shortlisted options for the business plan – either an eight-lane tunnel or an eight-lane bridge – said Kahlon.

“In the fall, we’ll be able to narrow it down to the preferred option and the business plan that goes with it,” he said.



Deadly crash closes westbound lanes of Hwy 1 near Abbotsford

Fatal crash on Trans-Canada

A driver was killed in a crash on the Trans-Canada Highway early Monday between Langley and Abbotsford.

A pickup truck went into a ditch near the 264th Street exit in the single-vehicle crash, CTV News reports.

DriveBC first tweeted about the incident about 4:30 a.m.

Westbound traffic was being detoured as of 6:30 a.m.

– with files from CTV Vancouver

 



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