B.C. aims to increase wolf cull amid protests

VICTORIA – British Columbia is aiming to increase the number of wolves it kills this winter in the second year of a plan to save endangered caribou, prompting criticism from celebrities and renewed debate over the controversial strategy.

The wolf cull is the best shot to protect threatened caribou from extinction, say caribou experts and government officials, who admit it will take years to determine if the science behind killing wolves works.

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“It’s like trying to dial a radio station in with boxing gloves on,” said Tom Ethier, an assistant deputy minister at B.C.’s Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, which oversees the cull. “We’re really trying to figure out: does this work?”

The government planned to kill about 200 wolves last winter, but a low snowpack and bad weather made the hunt difficult, he said. Sharpshooters in helicopters killed 84 wolves in B.C.’s northeast and southeast regions, Ethier said.

Wolves are preying on the herds, reducing some caribou in those areas to the point of near extinction, he said.

“We did not meet our goal, so this year there could be more wolves removed,” Ethier said.

The South Selkirk caribou herd had just 18 animals in March 2014, down from 46 in 2009, the government stated. There are about 950 caribou in seven herds in the northeast, with wolves responsible for 40 per cent of deaths in four of those herds.

“This is why we need to act,” Ethier said. “In five years, we’re hoping to turn it around and hoping it tells us this technique works. Obviously, we would prefer choices that are not as striking as this one, and not so loaded emotionally.”

The ethical dilemma forces the government to either kill wolves in an attempt to save a species or do nothing and leave the caribou.

Both Miley Cyrus and Pamela Anderson have recently criticized the hunt. On Friday, Anderson called on B.C. Premier Christy Clark to find a better solution to save caribou than the slaughter of wolves.

Cyrus travelled to B.C. this weekend to discuss the wolf cull with First Nations in the small central coast community of Klemtu. A video was posted on YouTube of her travelling in a boat with locals and joining them in song.

Earlier this month Cyrus asked her Instagram followers to sign a Pacific Wild petition to stop the killings. The petition has since grown to almost 200,000 signatures.

In response to Cyrus, Clark said she didn’t think the American singer knew enough about B.C.’s environmental plan to save caribou herds to be jumping into the debate.

“If we need help on our twerking policy in the future, perhaps we can go and seek her advice,” said Clark, who suggested Cyrus stick to her signature dance move.

But conservation scientist Chris Darimont of the University of Victoria said Cyrus is expressing what many people feel about the wolf cull.

“Despite her not being a particularly informed advocate, she’s thinking clearly on this issue, and that is probably like many British Columbians, that at a sort of gut level they are opposed to wolf control,” he said.

Darimont said successive governments have permitted forest, oil and gas and other resource companies to destroy and encroach on caribou habitat, and now that some herds are on the brink of extinction, wolves are made the scapegoat.

“It’s a desperate, last-minute Hail Mary attempt to avoid what really ought to be done and that is slow down and stop habitat destruction in caribou habitat,” he said.

Since 2007, the province’s mountain caribou recovery program has protected 2.2-million hectares of habitat in the South Selkirk, and in 2012 the government protected about 400,000 hectares of habitat in the South Peace.

Alberta government caribou expert Dave Hervieux said a 10-year wolf cull in Alberta worked, but it resulted in the deaths of about 1,000 wolves to save the Little Smoky caribou herd.

“Our assessment was then and remains, that population would be gone now, gone forever,” he said. “In that regard, the program has been a success.”

B.C. Opposition New Democrat environment critic Spencer Chandra Herbert said B.C. is messing with Mother Nature and animals are being sacrificed.

“I hate it. I wish this didn’t exist,” he said. “Some government science says maybe it will work, but maybe it’s a 50-50 chance. That’s pretty crappy odds for a population of caribou.”

Canada’s tallest building outside Toronto under construction in Edmonton

EDMONTON – The Stantec Tower under construction in the city’s Ice District is being hailed as an exciting, important step forward for Edmonton — beating out Calgary’s towers to become the tallest building in the country outside Toronto.

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“Suddenly to go from third highest outside Toronto to number one just gives you that feeling that Edmonton’s really going somewhere,” said Downtown Business Association executive director Jim Taylor. “With the economy the way it is, knowing we’re sort of in a bubble in the downtown because these projects aren’t oil and gas related…This is just great news.”

The design for the Stantec Tower was unveiled last August as a 62-storey mixed-use tower, but has since grown to 66 storeys.

“It’s 66 storeys of useable space and then 67 to 69 are mechanical floors,” said Taylor. “Already the Stantec building meant a great deal for us, because a 62-storey building in Edmonton when our highest is about 36 with mechanical floors–-that’s a huge leap–so this was a very important building.”

The Stantec Tower under construction in the city’s Ice District will become the tallest building in the country outside Toronto.

Tonia Huynh, Global News

WAM Development Group is the owner and developer of the 250.8-metre building, working in conjunction with the Katz Group. CEO Daryl Katz said at the time the design was unveiled the tower would benefit Edmonton for generations.

“The building is going to be an absolutely exceptional piece of architecture and an extraordinary addition to Edmonton’s skyline,” he said.

The mixed-use tower will be the new headquarters for Stantec, an engineering and architecture consulting company and will stand in the arena district, just west of the Bell Tower.

Taylor said it will be a combination of offices and condo units, and is expected to open in late 2018.

Stantec and WAM Development have unveiled the design for a new 60 storey tower that will be constructed in the Edmonton Arena District, Tuesday, August 26, 2014.

Global News

Stantec and WAM Development have unveiled the design for a new 60 storey tower that will be constructed in the Edmonton Arena District, Tuesday, August 26, 2014.

Cliff Harris, Global News

Stantec and WAM Development have unveiled the design for a new 60 storey tower that will be constructed in the Edmonton Arena District, Tuesday, August 26, 2014.

Global News

Stantec and WAM Development have unveiled the design for a new 60 storey tower that will be constructed in the Edmonton Arena District, Tuesday, August 26, 2014.

Stantec, Supplied

With files from Slav Kornik

Saskatchewan doctors’ objection policy gets approval

SASKATOON – The organization that regulates doctors in Saskatchewan says physicians must provide “full and balanced health information” even if it conflicts with their deeply held moral and religious beliefs. The College of Physicians and Surgeons council has adopted a new conscientious objection policy which requires doctors to give patients the information they need to make their own informed choices.

If doctors don’t want to do that, the policy says they must refer patients to another source that will give it to them in a timely fashion.

READ MORE: The right to refuse treating a patient in Saskatchewan

The college says in a news release that the policy doesn’t apply to physician-assisted dying.

The college completed a draft of the conscientious objection policy in June and received feedback on it over the summer.

Council president Dr. Grant Stoneham says it’s impossible to please everyone, but the council feels it has made a balanced decision.

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©2015The Canadian Press

Jose Neto and guide dog honoured

CALGARY – A different kind of white hatting ceremony was held Saturday in Calgary.

This one, dedicated to service dogs and the people they help.

A young Calgary man who was blinded by gunfire in downtown Calgary credits his independence to his working dog.

Jose Neto’s inspiring story continues to touch Albertans and he gets around a lot easier these days, thanks to his golden retriever Leo.

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Leo acts as Neto’s eyes and says his service dog is committed to leading the way.

“As soon as you put the harness on, you feel that they are committed to taking you safely. So I am very confident and it’s great to have him,” said Neto.

Neto first came to Calgary from Brazil to study English.

Seven years ago he was struck in the head by a stray bullet in Calgary’s Chinatown.

He lost both eyes. Now, along with four other Calgarians who work with  service dogs, he was white-hatted. A tribute to his optimism and triumph over tragedy.

“Jose Neto. What a wonderful story. The spirit in the strength and the courage and his dog Leo has made a huge difference in his life,” said Cheryl Herperger with the City of Calgary.

“The bottom line is, people couldn’t afford it. And that’s why we do so much fundraising,” said Steve King from the Chestermere Lions Club.

Local lions clubs helped raise the 25 thousand dollars it cost to get Leo into Neto’s home.

“It’s very labor-intensive. From breeding right through to placing the dog with the client, getting the client to Ontario to do the matching in the training and also the support group to support function once people have the dog. You can’t just give a dog to someone and say see you later,” King said.

For Jose Neto, Leo’s guidance allows him to get around without the aid of another person. Since the shooting that took his sight, he graduated from college,  became a Canadian citizen and opened his own massage studio.

“It’s just great to have them around. It’s a partnership they are your eyes or whatever disability you have. They help you out with whatever you need, it’s just so important to have that independence and a dog is a big step on getting that,” Neto said.

Leo also has a new little human he looks out for.  Last month, Neto and his wife welcomed a baby girl into their lives.

“He loves her. I think he’s kind of protective at first, he didn’t know what was going on,” Neto said.

Saturday’s white hatting event was part of the second annual working dogs day event at Bowmont Park.

It was a chance for people to get to know the city’s working dogs and their handlers and learn about the roles of service dogs.

– With files from Lisa MacGregor

Hundreds of Victoria’s homeless get paid $20 to attend meeting

The latest footnote in the ongoing story of Victoria’s homeless population – and how the city is grappling with it – came at Crystal Garden on September 16.

Hundreds of homeless people gathered there to attend an open meeting on temporary housing options.

Approximately 365 people attended, and each were paid $20. All told, it cost the city about $7,300.

Mayor Lisa Helps said the money came out of a $350,000 budget city council created explicitly to examine the issue. She says the money was well worth it.

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“The city often hires consultants, to the tune of $100, $150 an hour. This is no different. These were consultants, with lived experience, and they had already done their field research by the time they got to the meeting,” she said.

Helps says the only thing she would do differently next time is have people sign up in advance, so they would know how many people were coming – and how much they would have to pay out. City staff had to go to banks multiple times in order to have enough cash on hand.

But otherwise, she has no regrets.

“The quality of input, and the kinds of ideas we got, simply would not have happened if we didn’t have so many people who were marginally housed show up. …all in all, I think it was a very good, and very modest expenditure.

But not everyone agrees.

“The number of people to whom we’ve paid the honorarium was far beyond the number required to get opinions,” said councillor Geoff Young.

“I believe the numbers were a surprise not just to me but the people organizing it.”

READ MORE: Victoria says homeless problem an increasing drain on budget

The city has seen an increase in the homeless population in the years since a Supreme Court ruling allowed people to sleep overnight in public parks without penalty.

A proposed tent city in Topaz Park was put on hold after fierce opposition from the local community.

Don Evans is executive director of Our Place, which runs drop-in centre downtown. He says it was his suggestion to offer a $20 honorarium.

“If there wouldn’t have been anything to attract people to go, then you may have got some of the regular people that are advocates – people that advocate hard for the homeless – but you wouldn’t have gotten the people that are actually living the experience every day and having to live with all the challenges,” he says.

“They were engaged, there was optimism, there was hope in the room, and these are people that don’t often feel very hopeful. To give them that voice was important. I’m glad that we were able to do that.”

Harper makes campaign appeal to new Canadians with promise of ‘Maple Leaf’ award – National

OTTAWA – The Conservatives are continuing their campaign efforts to shore up electoral support among new Canadians with the announcement of a new award for people who foster links between Canada and their country of origin.

Stephen Harper announced in a press release that a re-elected Conservative government would create something called a “Maple Leaf” designation, to be awarded to no more than five to seven individuals per year.

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READ MORE: Question on refugee crisis leads to fiery exchange in federal leaders debate

The release from the prime minister says new Canadians are great ambassadors, while noting that one in five Canadians – some 6.8 million – are foreign born.

The announcement Saturday came a couple of hours before Conservative candidate Chris Alexander, acting in his role as minister of citizenship and immigration, was to announce new measures for Syrian refugees at a news conference in Toronto.

Harper created something of a social media storm during an election leaders’ debate Thursday in Calgary when he referred to “old stock” Canadians while defending his government’s cuts to refugee health care.

New Democrats and Liberals jumped on the comment, alleging it is evidence that Harper is playing divisive, wedge politics.

“We’re lucky to have millions of people who come to Canada to build a new life and also maintain close ties with their birth country,” Harper said in Saturday’s news release.

“In a global economy, we have an opportunity to draw on the connections that new Canadians have to build social, cultural and economic ties to developing economies.”

Harper, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau are back out on the campaign trail Sunday after a down day Saturday to regroup.

The three major parties are locked in a statistical dead heat in public opinion surveys with two more leaders’ debates – one in French in Montreal and a second on foreign affairs – scheduled over the next eight days.

Canadians go to the polls on Oct. 19.

©2015The Canadian Press

Four places where a Sunshine Coast-Lower Mainland connector could go

The provincial government is looking into a road connector between the Lower Mainland and the Sunshine Coast.

“We are into looking a fixed link,” confirmed Premier Christy Clark yesterday.

“It’s really preliminary, but we’re doing that work right now. It would certainly ease access for people, it would potentially lower the cost for BC Ferries as well, but it’s really early on.”

One of the many things that will have to be decided is the route of any connector. Here’s a look at four possibilities.

1. Through Bowen Island to Gibsons

Rafal Izdebski – Bowen Island

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The shortest, most direct route from Metro Vancouver to the Sunshine Coast would be from Horseshoe Bay to Gibsons, with a bridge or tunnel broken up at Bowen Island and Keats Island.

But there are a number of reasons that would be unlikely.

“It would overwhelm traffic, and because of the elevation, there’s no way of building a four-lane highway,” argues Oddvin Vedo, a former Sunshine Coast economic development officer who has advocated for a fixed link via his blog.

Bowen Island Mayor Murray Skeels also feels it’s unlikely they would consider going through Bowen Island.

“I would think that some people would get quite excited, as in passionately excited one way or the other. Passions may flare. Some people would go absolutely crazy,” he said.

“We kind of like being an island. I don’t think that hooking us up to West Vancouver would go over well.”

2. Through Gambier Island to Williamson Landing

Susan Robinson – Gambier Island

Susan Robinson – Gambier Island

Vedo believes a bridge further north, connecting at Williamson Landing, just north of Langdale, would be more feasible because of the room to build a highway connector. But any route would likely have to go through Gambier Island, either from Lions Bay, or Horseshoe Bay via Bowen Island.

“You’re also looking at two deep sea tunnels, and lots of issues from Islands Trust,” says Vedo. “Gambier would probably be very much against the car traffic on their island.”

Kate-Louise Stamford, a Gambier Island Trustee for the Islands Trust, concurs.

“We have been very well aware if you were to draw a straight line across the Howe Sound, Gambier is in the middle, but when you look at the practicalities, Gambier is difficult to maneuver through,” she says.

Stamford notes that Gambier Island, which has a peak population of around 700 in the summertime, has no roads that go through the entire island because of the steep terrain. And the island’s Official Community Plan includes a statement saying they only support passenger ferry access.

“Geographically, it’s quite a difficult access point, and sociologically, the island flavour is we’re a rural area, we’d like to keep it rural. That’s the overarching vision,” she says.

3. From Porteau Cove

Lucas Diack – Porteau Cove

Lucas Diack – Porteau Cove

Vedo is championing the idea of a bridge from Porteau Cove Provincial Park, 20 kilometres north of Horseshoe Bay.

“You can build a bridge, which would be the cheapest one, and you have the elevation on the Sea-to-Sky side to start which would make it 65 metres high, which would allow any sized ship going to Woodfibre and Squamish to pass under,” he argues.

Vedo says that area of the Howe Sound is much shallower.

“The solution at Porteau Cove area is much less costly, and easier. You’d have to build a [new] highway…but that’s quite simple with a couple of bridges and level tunnels.”

4. A highway from Squamish

Garrick Jay – The Chief, Squamish

One option that wouldn’t include any water crossing is a highway from Squamish.

It would take significantly longer for people to reach Metro Vancouver from the Sunshine Coast, and require several tunnels through mountainous terrain. But it would help keep the Horseshoe Bay-Langdale route profitable for BC Ferries (it makes $10 million a year, helping to subsidize smaller routes), would require no bridges over Howe Sound – and has been researched by people on the Sunshine Coast for many years.

“Our road concept has been around a long, long time,” says Colin Palmer, Electoral Area C Director for the Powell River Regional District, and member of the Third Crossing Society.

“What’s triggering part of the issue is the very high ferry fares. It’s becoming more and more difficult for people to move. If that road went through, there’d be less worry about the ferry fares.”

A road from Squamish could either south to Port Mellon and Gibsons, or west to Powell River, but Palmer argues a road to his city, while longer, would open up more economic opportunities in the area.

“Squamish down to Gibsons, those economic advantages are limited. We see a lot more potential for economic development,” he says.

“There’s an aging demographic here, young people are looking to find work. We’re the end of the road, literally. To open up Powell River would be a huge significant benefit, for local government, for taxes, for people’s livelihood.”

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Canadian brewers band together in fight against impaired driving

EDMONTON — Some of Canada’s biggest brewers are coming together in the fight against impaired driving.

Beer Canada, which represents 32 brewers across the country—including Molson, Labatt and Sleeman, launched its “Partners for Safer Communities” initiative Friday. The joint campaign aims to reduce the number of people drinking and driving by promoting the use of designated drivers.

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“Although we’re individual brewers in a fiercely competitive industry, there’s strength in putting our differences aside and taking action together to promote responsible drinking,” said John Sleeman, founder of Sleeman Breweries and chairman of Beer Canada.

“We know that 85 per cent of Canadians follow Health Canada’s safe drinking guidelines, it’s that other 15 per cent that we really want to get through,” added Jeff Ryan with Labatt Breweries.

About 1,500 brewery employees will visit close to 2,500 establishments across Canada asking people to take the pledge not to drink and drive. For every pledge made, a donation will be made to “Change the Conversation,” an organization that creates awareness about the dangers of impaired driving.

READ MORE: One-day checkstop blitz nabs 166 impaired drivers on Alberta roads

Police in Edmonton are involved in the initiative and said they are “nowhere near” their goal of zero impaired drivers on the road.

“We don’t see a steady decrease throughout the years,” said Const. Kathy Nelson. “One month may be lower than another month, one checkstop may be lower than another checkstop, but in all honesty we’re not really seeing a dramatic decrease.”

Nelson said it appears there is a shift in attitude, though, as they have seen an increase in the number of people reporting possible impaired drivers through their “Curb the Danger” program.

“We make those priority one calls, we respond to them and often we are getting impaired drivers off the road,” she added.

In August, RCMP said a recent study showed each night, on average, one in 33 drivers on Alberta roads is impaired.

Burnaby residents protesting destruction of affordable rental housing

A number of residents facing eviction in one Burnaby neighbourhood took to the streets today, protesting the demolition of low-rise buildings they say are being replaced with new condo towers.

Kaye Bedford learned a few months ago that her building was slated for demolition. She’s now looking for a new home.

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“It’s not good to have that feeling that you’re being tossed out just because you can’t afford to rent apartments around here,” said Bedford, adding that the unexpected evictions of her and her neighbours is what prompted her to join the rally.

“I have friends or I’ve known people that have already been gone because their building is not here anymore, so they have to move somewhere else,” she said.

This latest rally is among a handful of demonstrations organized by the Campaign to Stop Demo-Evictions in Burnaby, a coalition of housing groups which includes the Metrotown Residents Association, Social Housing Alliance and ACORN Burnaby.

“What we’re seeing right now is a lot of these rental buildings are still standing but they’ve been bought up by developers,” said Maria Wallstam, a rally organizer with the Social housing Alliance. “So, although they’re not demolished yet, they will be demolished in the coming years. So, I’m expecting that there will be hundreds of evicted people in the next few years.”

According to a report released earlier this year, 23 apartment buildings were sold in Metrotown last year, with 14 of them slated to become new market housing.

READ MORE: Foreign investors snap up Burnaby real estate

Four areas in the Vancouver suburb–Brentwood, Metrotown, Edmonds and Lougheed–are catching the eyes of investors. Wallstam says that’s no coincidence.

“There’s this idea of transit lead development here in Vancouver which is very popular, but really what it should be called is transit lead displacement because that’s what’s happening,” said Wallstam.

In the past, officials with the city of Burnaby have referred to their Community Benefit Bonus Policy, which allows them to consider developments in these popular neighbourhoods in exchange for a contribution.

However, protesters are asking the city to take another approach.

“We’ve been calling for a moratorium on the affordable and rental housing on the neighbourhood and there’s been no response whatsoever,” said Wallstam.

Pro-democracy protesters in Bangkok defy junta with rare anti-coup rally – National

BANGKOK – More than 200 pro-democracy activists defied Thailand’s junta and staged a rare protest in the capital that marked the anniversary of a coup that had pushed the Southeast Asian nation into a nearly decade-long turmoil.

The activists Saturday evening marched peacefully to Bangkok’s Democracy Monument, a symbolic location that has become a rallying point for protests in recent years. They carried anti-junta banners and shouted pro-democracy slogans as a ring of police kept watch but did not break up the rally.

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READ MORE: Bombings in insurgency-plagued southern Thailand kill 3

The demonstration started with a forum at Bangkok’s Thammasat University that was allowed by authorities, but they denied a request for a march outside of the campus.

The protesters, from a group called the New Democracy Movement, called the rally to mark the anniversary of the Sept. 19, 2006, coup that unseated then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on allegations of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for the king. The coup plunged Thailand into a cycle of sometimes violent street protests as Thaksin’s supporters and opponents struggled for power.

Last year, the army overthrew an elected government run by Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, on the pretext of restoring order and reconciling the politically divided country.

READ MORE: Thai police say Bangkok bombing suspect fled to Turkey

Saturday’s protest also appeared designed at least in part to embarrass the current leader, army chief-turned-Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who is scheduled to make an address this month at the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

Critics at home and abroad say the junta has made little effort toward reconciliation, and has focused on clamping down on dissent and civil liberties.

After initially promising quick elections to restore democracy, Prayuth now says polls will not be held until at least 2017.

©2015The Associated Press