Arson trial witness recalls escaping deadly motel fire

Deadly fire now at trial

A man can thank his dog and a quick-acting CBC reporter for escaping a deadly fire that struck a Prince George motel.

David Klein testified Wednesday during a trial for Justin Kyle Aster, accused of setting a blaze on the morning of July 8, 2020 that killed three people staying at the Econo Lodge Motel at the corner of Victoria Street and Ninth Avenue.

Appearing via a video link, the Lethbridge, Alta. resident said he was staying overnight in a ground-level room in the motel's east end. He was asleep when at about 8:45 a.m. he heard a loud bang that woke up both him and his dog.

Klein "just sat there for a minute," but because it was quiet again, he went back to sleep.

About 15 minutes later, Klein's dog was on high alert.

"My dog was on the bed, scratching at me and kind of freaking out," he told the court. "That wasn't normal behaviour for the dog and then I heard glass breaking and a bunch of noise - I actually thought there was a fight or something going on outside."

He opened the curtains to the room's window, which faced west and into a courtyard, and encountered a "solid wall of fire."

Knowing he had to get out, Klein gathered his dog and grabbed his two bags. An amputee - he is missing the lower portion of one leg - Klein relies on crutches to get around.

He stuck to the right and hugged the wall to skirt around the worst of the flames and progressed about 10 metres before he tripped and fell. Klein rolled against the wall and yelled for help.

About a minute later, "somebody grabbed me by my arms and drug me through the flames, out into the open where the fire department was showing up."

That someone turned out to be Faith Fundal. Now the host of CBC Manitoba's afternoon show, at the time of the fire Fundal was a reporter at the CBC station across the street. 

According to an agreed statement of facts read into the court record on Wednesday, Fundal had just finished the morning show when they heard someone yelling fire. Fundal ran across the street and started banging on doors, then came across Klein, who appeared confused and trying to go back into the fire in search of his dog.

As it turned out, his dog was found next to Klein's car across the street.

Klein could not say for certain where the fire had started but upon arriving the day before, he noticed a "large pile of debris, made up of carpet, underlay and all the wood packing that fastens carpets down," underneath the stairwell immediately in front of his room. Klein said it stuck out for him because he does renovations for a living.

The pile was "just all flames," the next morning.

Klein suffered "quite painful" second and third degree burns to various spots on his body with his left hand and wrist getting the worst of it. Klein was taken to hospital in Prince George where he stayed for the next day-and-a-half while a member of Prince George Fire Rescue took care of Klein's dog. Klein also attended the burn units in Calgary and Lethbridge over the following eight weeks.

While they're now subsiding, Klein said he has suffered ongoing nightmares.

"When I fell and I was laying on the ground, I could hear the scream coming from what seemed to be above me, and that's been kind of an ongoing thing," he said, and added he's been seeing a counsellor and "doing my part to get through this."

Klein did not hear any smoke alarms or fire alarms. 

"There was just the noise of the fire," he said. "There was definitely no smoke alarms going off."

In a summary of statements to police, others who were at the motel also did not hear any alarms that morning, although one couple noted that the day before they had to stop cooking on a hotplate because it was setting off the room's smoke detector.

Others also noted the pile of debris beneath the stairs.

Aster faces counts three counts of criminal negligence causing death, one count of arson in relation to an inhabited property and one count of arson damaging property.

The trial and a series of voir dires, or trials within the trial on the admissibility of statements Aster provided to police, continues at the Prince George courthouse.



$7,000 settlement for non-binary B.C. person scolded for using 'wrong' washroom ruled reasonable

Settlement ruled reasonable

The BC Human Rights Tribunal has ruled a $7,000 settlement offered by a casino to a non-binary person who was scolded by staff for using the "wrong" washroom was reasonable.

Christopher Iversen filed a complaint in March 2020 against Gateway Casinos, which operates 23 locations in Canada, alleging discrimination related to sex after an incident one year prior.

The city the incident occurred in was not revealed in the tribunal decision, which states Iversen was playing the slots at around 5:30 a.m. when they went to use the washroom.

The men’s was closed, so Iversen used the women’s washroom.

When Iversen returned to the slot machine, casino security approached and requested ID, which indicated a male sex.

That is where the stories of the casino and Iversen diverge.

Iversen claims the casino manager “ridiculed” them in a non-discreet manner and said it was against casino policy to have people using the “wrong” washroom. Iversen alleged the casino staff said transgendered people must “check in” at the casino entrance to use the “other” washroom. Iversen alleges he was asked to leave the casino.

The casino's version of events says security received a complaint that a man may have used the women’s washroom. Staff then approached Iversen, checked ID, and told them about a single, non-gendered washroom that was available. The casino claims Iversen said they had “the right” to use the women’s washroom.

Gateway says they asked to move the conversation to the casino lobby, where Iversen became “angry and agitated” and threatened to sue the casino and return with the media. The casino manager then ended the conversation, and Iversen stayed in the lobby for another 10-15 minutes taking notes and photos and asking for names, the casino alleges.

Gateway denies they ever asked Iversen to leave the casino and denies they ever said transgendered people must “check in” to use the washroom.

Iversen sent a complaint letter to the casino 11 months after the incident, and the casino manager responded they would never condone any of the staff behavior alleged and apologized for any “frustration or distress.”

After a complaint was formally filed at the tribunal, a settlement offer was presented to Iversen that included $7,000, a letter of apology, a review of Gateway’s policies and updated training for security staff.

When Iversen rejected the settlement, Gateway applied to have the human rights complaint tossed on the grounds that it made a reasonable attempt to settle.

The tribunal ruled that Gateway’s offer intended to “fully address the allegations in the complaint" through policy review and an offer for Iversen to provide feedback as a part of the review.

Iversen was pushing for a hearing and declaration that Gateway’s employees violated the BC Human Rights Code in what they described as a “ground-breaking” case.

The tribunal disagreed and ruled the case is not unique enough to use the tribunal’s scarce resources on when a reasonable settlement offer was made.

“The non-monetary remedies demonstrate that Gateway took the complainants allegations seriously and reflect an intention to avoid future events,” wrote tribunal member Beverly Frose in dismissing the complaint.

Iversen also argued that $7,000 was not adequate compensation, but the tribunal disagreed and said that figure is within the range it could award after a hearing.

Gateway’s settlement offer remained open to Iversen throughout the complaint process and for two weeks after the complaint was dismissed.

This B.C. farm has diverted millions of kilograms of food waste from landfills

Farm diverting food waste

Langley-based food waste processor ReFeed Farms says it’s hauled in roughly 4.5 million kilograms of produce that would have otherwise gone to landfills or industrial composters over the past year and turned it into edible food for people, livestock feed and soil.

Of those 4.5 million kilograms of produce, considered unsellable by grocers and warehouse suppliers, 2.8 million was sold back to local livestock farms, 1.36 million went to anaerobic digestion, or soil production, and 346,000 kilograms was sent to the Vancouver Food Bank and other small, local food charities.

The farm recently partnered with the food bank and film producers Rich&Jay Creative to create a nine-minute documentary on the evolution of the business.

ReFeed founder and CEO Stuart Lilley says the business model can reduce food waste, feed people in need and contribute to what’s called regenerative farming, a practice intended to rebuild organic and diverse soil matter.

“As someone who grew up in a family that knew the value of food, I decided to dedicate myself to finding ways to fix our food waste problem. Along the way, I realized that the problems started with our agri-food system, and the ReFeed mission and model grew to encompass that as well,” said Lilley in a statement for the film’s launch online.

Dr. Laila Benkrima at the B.C Centre for Agritech Innovation lends a voice at the introduction of the film.

“Conventional agriculture is what supports billions of people on this Earth and it’s not sustainable,” said Benkrima, who is among a scientific community concerned about soil degradation due to fertilizers, which create a short-term abundance of food.

Lilley and ReFeed are attempting to build not just a sustainable product, but a sustainable business model. The company is paid to take food from grocers and warehouses that would otherwise be taken to a landfill or composter (for a fee).

Put simply, the food is sorted by ReFeed workers into three piles: food that can still be eaten (less than 10 per cent); food that can be fed to local livestock (about two-thirds); and food that’s good enough for worms.

The food bank and other charities pay ReFeed some money for the re-purposed edible food; the livestock farmers pay for the feed; and ReFeed is developing a line of retail products for soil made of worm castings from the company’s vertical worm farm. ReFeed also takes manure back from livestock farms, for its worm casting production.

The produce provided to local livestock helps lessen the need for farmers to grow or buy feed, saving and sequestering carbon emissions and improving land use.

“Our focus is really getting back to healing soil, getting life back into soil and then growing food that is healthy for future generations,” Lilley explains in the film.

Lilley hopes to expand the business to multiple locations across Canada. Unless Canadian grocers and consumers can lessen food waste at the outset, ReFeed’s growth potential seems nearly endless since the 4.5 million kilograms of food waste it takes in represents just 0.04 per cent of the estimated 11.4 million metric tonnes of avoidable food waste across Canada’s food supply chain, according to the food bank.

“Every year, the demand on food banks increases, and every year we work even harder to raise more money, feed more people. It’s still never enough,” said David Long, CEO of the Greater Vancouver Food Bank, in a statement.

“That’s why we’re working with ReFeed. They help us address our immediate issues while developing a food system solution that’s scalable, sustainable, and exportable around the world,” said Long.

The company got its 3,000-square-foot custom facility off the ground with the help of a $390,000 federal government loan (Farm Credit Canada) and a $250,000 provincial grant.


Chan inquest jury urges Vancouver Police, VGH to improve their ways

Jury urges police to improve

Eight of the 12 recommendations made Wednesday by a jury after the inquest into the 2019 suicide of Const. Nicole Chan were directed to the Vancouver Police Department (VPD).

The five jurors heard evidence in Burnaby Coroners Court over seven days, beginning Jan. 23, into what led to the 30-year-old’s death. They spent a day deliberating on the verdict and recommendations.

To no surprise, they officially classified Chan’s death a suicide by loss of oxygen to the brain due to strangulation, sometime between midnight and 7:45 a.m. on Jan. 27, 2019 at her apartment in the Olympic Village area.

The jury’s mission was to find facts, not fault, and recommend ways to prevent a similar tragedy. To that end, the majority of recommendations stemmed from evidence of Chan’s decline in a toxic work environment at the VPD, where she complained to Chief Adam Palmer that two senior officers had exploited her sexually. One of them blackmailed her to have sex.

The rest of the recommendations were related to the lack of treatment from a specialized mental health unit at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) on the final night of Chan’s life.

The jury suggested that everyone seeking a job as an officer undergo a mandatory psychological interview and that there be mandatory annual check-ins with a psychologist. That was based on evidence from VPD psychologist Dr. Randy Mackoff, who testified that he had reviewed Chan’s original psychological assessment during her application to become an officer, and that it “expressed 14 concerns where the average concerns would be five.” Among those concerns was a history of suicidal thoughts.

The jury cited the testimony of VPD labour and employee relations director Christine McLean, who stated that major crime units and forensic units get regular check-ins, but others do not.

“It is believed that such check-ins should be made available to all officers, all ranks and all sections,” said the jury’s statement, read by one of the jurors.

The VPD should also have a human resource or peer-support case representative assigned to regularly contact each employee suffering from mental health issues and, if permitted by the employee, the employee’s family and-or support circle could also be contacted.

Jurors recommended the VPD “ensure respectful workplace training is mandatory, rigorous, in-person and on a regular basis for all ranks of police officers” and that the force’s policies formally recognize rumours and gossip as unprofessional behaviour.

The jury also pointed to the dearth of training for officers in specialized roles, such that the VPD institute promotions-related administrative and management training, and specific training to officers in the human resources department.

The latter recommendation was sparked by the testimony of the two officers who drove Chan home from VGH on the last night of her life.

“Supt. Shelley Horne and Insp. Novi Jette, the HR officers, indicated they did not have any education in human resources management while being assigned to that section,” said the jury’s statement.

The jury also recommended that each section within the human resources department should work “interdependently rather than independently of each other.”

Three recommendations were directed to the access and assessment care centre (ACC) at VGH, where paramedics took Chan on Jan. 26, 2019 after a suicide attempt at her apartment. Despite the concerns of police officers and information gleaned from her by a paramedic, a psychiatrist at the unit declined to admit Chan to hospital under the Mental Health Act.

The jury recommended the attending doctor at ACC be in direct communication with paramedics, police officers and-or friends and family members in attendance. Both Jette and Const. Warren Head said that they unsuccessfully asked to speak to the psychiatrist, Dr. Kiran Sayyaparaju.

“At one point Insp. Jette and Dr. Mackoff were on the phone together and the phone could have been passed to that doctor, but communications did not occur between them,” said the jury’s statement.

The jury also recommended the ACC review the ability of physicians to access a patient’s history from all sources and that the ACC needs to ensure the attending doctor can take phone calls from community health-care providers.

“Dr. Sayyaparaju gave evidence that having more information regarding Ms. Chan's medical health history would have been beneficial for the assessment,” said the jury.

“We heard from both Dr. Mackoff and Dr. [Diane] McIntosh, that it is difficult for them to reach the attending physicians via phone.”

Finally, the jury wants Health Minister Adrian Dix to consider integrating a specific database containing medical records of patients who have had suicidal thoughts to be accessible across all health authorities. Sayyaparaju and social worker Monika Dewan testified they had access to two systems, but more systems would have been beneficial in Chan’s case.

Presiding coroner Susan Barth, in her charge to the jury on Tuesday, said the non-binding recommendations would be forwarded to Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe for her to bring to the attention of those officials or entities named in the recommendations.

There was no immediate response from the VPD. Palmer did not testify, but sent two lawyers to the inquest on his behalf. Former sergeants Dave Van Patten and Greg McCullough, the two subjects of Chan’s complaints, were not called to testify.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, call 1-800-784-2433 (1-800-SUICIDE), or call your local crisis centre.

Over 1,000 B.C. family doctors have signed up for the new payment model, says minister

Over 1,000 doctors sign up

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix announced Tuesday 1,043 family doctors have signed up for a new payment model that aims to retain and attract more of them to address a significant shortage.

“This starts to address the crisis in family medicine,” Dix told media in Vancouver.

The Longitudinal Family Physician Payment Model (LFP), which came into effect Wednesday, partially replaces the fee-for-service model. So whereas doctors once could only bill the government on a per-visit basis, the LFP allows them to bill for matters such as time spent with a patient, diagnostic assistance and research into a patient’s health matter.

The new model also reduces administrative work for doctors, according to Dix, who was joined in support by Dr. Joshua Greggain, president of Doctors of BC, the province’s chief professional association for physicians.

Despite questions as to whether that level of enrolment is enough on the first day, considering the BC College of Physicians and Surgeons reports 7,229 family practitioners, Dix expressed satisfaction that more doctors will come on board.

“The exact number isn’t important but the direction is,” said Dix, adding that he will update the uptake numbers over the course of the next year.

Greggain said the model will remain a “work in progress” as some billing matters are still not streamlined with the system.

“It’s going to increase family doctors in B.C.,” said Dix, adding, “This is a model that will attract people to family practice.”

Dix announced the new model last October, as Doctors of BC expressed support.

“A significant number of doctors were considering closing their offices before this announcement. We are now hearing from many who are telling us that, as a result of the new payment model, they will stay in practice and continue to see patients,” stated Doctors of BC on Nov. 10, 2022.

“The new model will help us to recruit doctors into longitudinal practice. Over time, this means more patients will be able to have their own family doctor,” added the group.

Province offers rebates to get more accessible taxis on road

Funding for accessible taxis

The provincial government is providing $3 million to get more accessible taxis on B.C.’s roads.

The funding announced Wednesday will provide rebates to taxi operators for costs associated with maintaining their wheelchair-accessible taxis.

"Promoting equity in passenger transportation is an important way that we're working to build a better, stronger future for all British Columbians," said Rob Fleming, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure.

"By investing in a more inclusive transportation network we're helping people participate more fully in their communities by connecting with friends, attending appointments and getting to work."

The province says people who depend on wheelchair-accessible taxis often experience longer wait times or lack of service, something this program will hopefully address.

Over the next two years, the ministry says it will launch three additional funding streams that will focus on reducing the cost of operating, purchasing and converting wheelchair-accessible taxis, and providing training to better support the passengers who rely on them.

Battery pack ejects in vehicle crash in Richmond

Battery pack ejects in crash

A section of Garden City Road was closed off for the better part of Tuesday evening after two cars collided near Walmart.

Videos posted on social media show a black sedan crashing into an Audi at an intersection before flipping over and severing a nearby power line pole.

Cpl. Dennis Hwang, Richmond RCMP spokesperson, told the Richmond News that the crash happened between a "late model Audi SUV" and a "late model Toyota sedan."

"The battery pack of the Audi, an EV, was ejected from the vehicle and combusted," said Hwang.

"The inherent safety concerns from the downed power line pole and the battery pack fire required the area to be cordoned-off until safety and proper repairs could be met."

The Audi driver, a 31-year-old man, was not seriously injured while the 49-year-old Toyota driver was sent to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. Both drivers were from Richmond.

“We are actively investigating this collision and are in the preliminary stages. What we can say is that speed was a factor," said Hwang.

“The safety of our community during the entire incident remained at the forefront. To our knowledge, this is the first such instance of an EV battery pack being ejected post collision."

Those with any information or dash cam footage are asked to contact Richmond RCMP and quote file: #2023-3281.

Kootenay senior tries to check adult daughter into police drunk tank

Drop-off service not offered

While RCMP detachments may include holding cells, you can't check your family and friends in.

That is more-or-less the message accompanying a news release from the Trail and Greater District RCMP on Wednesday.

Police say a 66-year-old Fruitvale, B.C. woman and her 37-year-old daughter attended the Trail RCMP detachment on Jan. 27 at 11:45 p.m.

A Mountie observed that the daughter appeared to be drunk.

The officer learned the woman was being disruptive at the family home before attending the detachment with her mother. The mother and others in the family “did not want to manage her” while she was under the influence of alcohol, police said.

The officer had a discussion with the pair and explained that he could not take the daughter into police custody, nor assist further in the matter.

“I understand the urge for parents to drop badly behaved kids off at our detachment sometimes but we can’t take them due to the potentially astronomical daily demand for this desired service,” said Sgt. Mike Wicentowich.

Drug users say B.C. 'fight continues' during decriminalization amid safe supply calls

Drug users: 'fight continues'

Members of an advocacy group for drug users have gathered to celebrate the start of decriminalization in British Columbia and discuss how they will "fight back" against any efforts to seize illicit substances that meet the 2.5-gram threshold allowed under the first such policy in Canada.

The meeting at the office of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) on the first day of the new policy began with a man handing out "know your rights" cards.

They say people aged 18 and over carrying up to 2.5 grams of opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA, or ecstasy, for their own use will not have those drugs confiscated. There's also a list of reasons why someone would not be protected, including possessing any amount of any other substance, trafficking or selling drugs.

Decriminalization began in B.C. on Tuesday after the federal government granted the province's request for an exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act as part of a plan to combat an overdose crisis that has claimed over 11,000 lives there since 2016. The pilot project is slated to continue for three years.

People who carry the permitted amount of drugs will not be arrested or charged, and police can no longer seize their substances. The B.C. government says the aim of decriminalization is to reduce stigma so people struggling with addiction are more likely to reach out for help.

Vincent Tao, a community organizer with VANDU, told about 30 people packed into a room that the pilot is "just a foot in the door" for the group, which has been advocating for decriminalization for its entire 25-year history.

It was also involved in a legal battle against the former Conservative government to keep open Insite, North America's first supervised consumption site, and celebrated that victory following a Supreme Court of Canada ruling in 2011.

"The fight continues," Tao told the gathering of former and current drug users.

"But ultimately, the power and the discretion still lies in the hands of the cops. So, we've got to keep an eye on these things. Report back, right to this room," he said of the group's efforts to compile a database of people's experiences.

"We will, with the support of our partners, friends and allies, keep track of this experiment in our lives for the next three years."

Members of VANDU, who were at the "core planning table" of meetings on decriminalization for about a year with others including Moms Stop the Harm, police and the B.C. government, suggested 18 grams as a threshold.

The B.C. government applied for 4.5 grams, but as a cumulative amount for all the permitted drugs, while police wanted a total of one gram.

Tao called for drug users to be "armed" with their rights cards during any police interactions, noting officers will not be carrying scales and only "eyeballing" substances they believe could be over the threshold.

Fiona Wilson, vice-president of the British Columbia Association of Chiefs of Police, which represents 9,200 members, said Monday that the province's death toll from illicit, toxic drugs, many cut with the opioid fentanyl, is double the national average.

"Destigmatization is a significant step toward making our drug policies more progressive. And it recognizes that substance use is a health and not a police matter. Police can now focus on those doing the most harm in this crisis — persons and organized crime groups who import, manufacture and distribute these toxic substances."

Mental Health and Addictions Minister Jennifer Whiteside has said the province is working toward providing more treatment and harm-reduction services after expanding programs to offer a safer supply of alternative drugs.

Caitlin Shane, a staff lawyer with the Pivot Legal Society, which has also called for a higher threshold, told those assembled at VANDU she was concerned that a benchmark for evaluating the success of decriminalization may be a marked reduction in overdose deaths. Shane also worried about the need for adequate supports for those who need them.

Ottawa and B.C. are still trying to work out which indicators will be used to evaluate the policy, but publicly available data are expected to be updated online every three months.

"We can't measure the success of (decriminalization) by lives being saved or not because the fact is that decriminalization today does not mean that we can walk out tomorrow and have access to a regulated drug supply. It does nothing for the drug supply," Shane said.

"So, we need to be clear that what we're measuring here is incarceration rates, cops in people's lives, reducing stigma."

Garth Mullins, a board member of VANDU, has criticized both levels of government for relying on police to hand out information cards that would refer people who use drugs to voluntary health services.

Mullins told the group that a measure of decriminalization's success would be less police intervention.

"We gotta fight for how this thing is measured. Luckily, we've had 25 years of fighting," he says of VANDU's efforts to open Insite, which received a federal exemption in 2003. The facility, which is about six blocks away in the Downtown Eastside, allows people to shoot up their own drugs under medical supervision.

Members of VANDU were also instrumental in opening unsanctioned overdose prevention sites before the B.C. government allowed them to operate as the death toll from toxic drugs rose, forcing the province to declare a public health emergency in 2016.

Now, Mullins says he's concerned about Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre's stance against decriminalization. He reminded the group that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also vowed not to introduce the policy before reversing course last May with an approval of B.C.'s application.

After celebrating the start of decriminalization, members of VANDU bowed their heads in a moment of silence to remember those who have fatally overdosed and to acknowledge the latest grim statistics released hours earlier by the B.C. Coroners Service. They showed 2,272 people died last year, the second-highest annual number after the previous year, when 34 more people lost their lives.

Eris Nyx, co-founder the Drug User Liberation Front (DULF), told the gathering she would continue her tradition of handing out free, tested heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine as she does every time the overdose numbers are updated.

Tuesday marked the 13th "Dope on Arrival" giveaway, Nyx said as people walked up to a table one by one to claim a package of drugs when their name was called.

"We are taking these drugs as a way to prove the community can control its own safer supply," she said.

"Here's the real tragedy. If we don't regulate the drug supply, people will die. And I'm telling you, do not use alone, especially if you're an opioid user."

The group has continued selling drugs, bought on the dark web, through a compassion club at an undisclosed location in the Downtown Eastside despite a rejection last year of its exemption application. Health Canada has said the controlled substances were illegally bought and produced.

Nyx says DULF will file an application for a judicial review of the decision.

Residents brandish garden tools to keep B&E suspect for police

Pitchfork gang nabs suspect

Nanaimo RCMP say a group of residents cornered a break-and-enter suspect in a carport by using garden tools to keep him from fleeing.

The Jan. 25 incident in nearby Cedar stemmed from police receiving several 911 calls regarding a report that a homeowner had come face-to-face with an intruder in his home.

The suspect suffered a head injury in a struggle with the homeowner and lost a significant amount of blood, but managed to flee, police said. A search with police dogs was unsuccessful.

That was followed three hours later by 911 calls about two kilometres away, made after a man with dried blood on him was alleged to have tried to break into a residence there. That’s where the residents made their stand and kept him in place until police arrived to make an arrest.

A 34-year-old man of no fixed address was taken to Nanaimo hospital, where he was treated and released before being transported to the Nanaimo RCMP detachment.

He was found to be the subject of four outstanding warrants from North Cowichan. No charges have yet been laid in connection with the two reported incidents in Cedar.

“We are pleased that the ­suspect was eventually located and that none of the homeowners were injured while trying to subdue him,” said Reserve Const. Gary O’Brien.

Injured humpback whale that swam from B.C. to Hawaii 'likely' dead

Injured whale likely dead

A severely injured humpback whale that travelled all the way from B.C. to Hawaii is believed to be dead. 

The whale — known as ‘Moon’ — was likely injured after a ship strike off the coast of northern B.C. She used just her pectoral fins to swim to the breeding grounds of Hawaii. 

“Not only was she likely in considerable pain, but she had somehow migrated thousands of miles across the North Pacific to her Hawaiian breeding grounds without being able to propel herself with her tail,” says Janie Wray of the North Coast Cetacean Society.

Moon's entire back was curved into an unnatural “S” shape, making her tail almost completely immobile. 

Back in December, a humpback researcher with the Marine Education and Research Society suspected Moon would die.

“There’s no way she will be able to make it back because she’s so emaciated,” said Jackie Hildering during an interview. “She was breast-stroking the whole way. It’s a tragedy, but it shows the tenacity of their inherent need to migrate.”

During an interview with Glacier Media on Jan. 30, Wray said she suspects Moon has died as she has not been seen recently. 

“The last sighting that anyone has ever heard of her was around Dec. 11,” she says. “She was in pretty dire condition.”

While it’s difficult to confirm, Wray spoke to whale researchers in Hawaii who confirmed the mammal has not been seen. 

"I think likely; it isn't confirmed but likely," she says. 

Her death, while sad, is a sense of relief for Wray. 

"I can't stop thinking about her every day, wondering how she's doing and wondering if she's still alive,” says Wray. “It would be a sense of relief for all of us that have spent time with her to know that, that she's no longer suffering.”

For Wray, she'd like to see Moon's death spark change.

"[I'm] hoping that her story can somehow make a difference, you know, regarding vessel speeds and awareness to whales in our in our area,” she says. 

Moon's 55-day journey to Hawaii left her completely emaciated with excessive loads of whale lice.

"I think she really gives us insight to how remarkable whales are and you know, how they are a creature of culture,” says Wray. 

Sentencing for child lurer Kevin James Belcourt delayed

Lurer's sentence delayed

Sentencing for a Prince George man who pleaded guilty to luring a child for a sexual purpose was put on hold Tuesday so he can go through a new psychiatric assessment.

In June 2022, Kevin James Belcourt pleaded guilty to sexually interfering with a person under 16 years old, telecommunicating to lure a child under 16 years old and possessing child pornography. 

But the psychiatrist who subsequently assessed Belcourt was under the impression he pleaded guilty to different offences.

In response, Belcourt "became upset and did not interact with the doctor to the level he needed to," and that led to a "tainted" outcome, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Marguerite Church was told during a hearing at the Prince George courthouse.

The assessment was filed in October and, once the discrepancy was discovered, the initial plan was to have the psychiatrist testify during the sentencing hearing. But in the name of fairness, Crown prosecution eventually agreed with defence counsel to instead seek a judge's permission to have a second assessment carried out in an expedited fashion.

Along with determining Belcourt's risk of committing similar crimes in the future, Church agreed with defence counsel Stefan Catona's request that the assessment also take into account any mental health issues Belcourt may be dealing with.

The hope now is to have a hearing on sentencing by sometime in early-to-mid-April.

In December 2019, Prince George RCMP issued a statement saying Belcourt had been arrested and charged with alleged offences related to a single youth, but suspected there may be more victims.

"Police believe that Belcourt communicated with the victim via the Snapchat social media app which facilitated several in-person meetings," RCMP said at the time. "Belcourt's Snapchat vanity names included Emily Mojo, James Biggs and Eddy100."

RCMP asked anyone who had contact with those accounts or with Belcourt between July 1 and Nov. 30, 2019, when he was arrested, to contact the detachment's sex crimes unit.

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