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For the week of March 20, 2022:

Entering 2022, global supply chains were already struggling. Add a post-Olympic war in Eastern Europe and another wave of the pandemic in China and Hong Kong.

Never a dull day for logistics expert and newsletter publisher Glenn Ross of ACC Group in Surrey, B.C.

Ross says the longer Russia’s war against Ukraine (which involves major wheat and fertilizer exporters), the higher the price for fuel and food and the greater likelihood of unrest in poorer countries.

The sanctions and isolation of Russia haven’t stopped Vladimir Putin, so what’s NATO’s next move? Meanwhile, a new round of lockdowns in China as omicron spreads, shutting factories and delaying shipments.

“I think the posturing by the Russian government that they want to do peace talks, I think is nothing more than a false flag,” says Ross, the featured guest on this week’s theBreaker.news Podcast. “They’ve been knocked senseless by the Ukrainians.”

Plus Pacific Rim and Pacific Northwest headlines and commentary.

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theBreaker.news Podcast: Ripple effects of Putin’s Ukraine invasion felt far and wide
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For the week of March 20, 2022:

Bob Mackin

British Columbia’s second mask mandate is over, two years after provincial officials discouraged the public from wearing face masks and promoted hand-washing to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Behind the scenes, according to briefing notes obtained under freedom of information laws, they were panicking about empty shelves.

Premier John Horgan, Dr. Bonnie Henry and Adrian Dix (BC Gov)

In February 2020, demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) spiked after China’s biggest factories closed. B.C. medical supplies buyers sounded the alarm about depleted regional stockpiles. Almost $3 million of emergency supplies bought since 2013 had expired, become obsolete, been donated to Africa’s anti-Ebola effort or absorbed into daily use. Just over $2 million of surgical masks, N95 respirators, gloves, goggles, gowns, hand sanitizer, syringes, needles and bandages remained.

“Should a widespread pandemic occur in B.C., the current level of pandemic supplies will likely not meet B.C.’s requirements which may lead to public safety risk,” said a Feb. 13, 2020, Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) supply chain department briefing note. 

As COVID-19 spread, PHSA’s new CEO, Benoit Morin, did a $7 million, no-bid deal with a Quebec supplier. But the made-in-China items delivered by Luminarie were flawed and the costly writedown led to Morin’s early-2021 firing. Fraser Health spent $2.65 million with Burnaby’s West-Can Auto Parts, including 200,000 level-2 masks and 8,000 one-gallon jugs of hand sanitizer.

From April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021, PHSA and Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) went on a half-billion-dollar PPE buying spree to protect doctors, nurses, technicians and patients from the virus. A June 2021 briefing note, obtained under a freedom of information request, shows PHSA spent $465 million and VCH $41.9 million (quantities were not included). But around 20% – or $102.1 million – was deemed unfit for use and written off in end-of-year financial reports: $67.4 million for PHSA and $37.4 million for VCH.

“The inventory still exists in B.C.,” said the briefing note. “While it does not meet strict healthcare standards, much is still considered to be acceptable PPE for other, less controlled settings.”

3M N95 mask

By February 2021, according to another briefing note, B.C. had six to 12 months’ stock of key PPE. Some types exceeded 12 months on-hand. There was so much that three warehouses had to be rented. Only a year earlier, Premier John Horgan’s deputy minister, Don Wright, had ordered staff to search under their desks for N95 masks in their earthquake kits.

Wright’s March 27, 2020, memo appealed for respirators to be sent to his office for redistribution to doctors and nurses on the frontlines.

“I expect the Premier will be very interested in seeing how many masks are collected, which is why I would ask that they come here,” Wright wrote. The precise number of N95’s collected was not released, but 1,265 masks and five boxes of latex gloves were found in Ministry of Health offices.

B.C. originally built a stockpile after the Dr. Theresa Tam-led, Canadian Pandemic Influenza Plan for the Health Sector report in 2006. Tam and co-authors warned provinces to be prepared because a pandemic would trigger international supply chain shortages.

A British Columbia Ministry of Health assistant deputy minister told regional officials in 2007 to build up a 10-week stockpile of emergency supplies. Michael MacDougall estimated waves would last six to eight weeks, and possibly 15 weeks in a large area.

“A survey of major suppliers’ stockpile practices indicates they also have about two weeks of inventory in Canada,” MacDougall wrote. “Many suppliers manufacture offshore and the majority of suppliers do not have pandemic business continuity plans.”

The World Health Organization officially declared the pandemic on March 11, 2020. Just over a month earlier, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu said PPE demand was 100 times greater and prices 20 times more expensive than normal.

NIOSH testing a Ryzur KN95 mask.

A scathing report by the Canadian Federation of Nurses in October 2020, called “Time of Fear: How Canada Failed Our Health Care Workers and Mismanaged COVID-19,” said Canada was woefully unprepared because it largely ignored the lessons of SARS.

“We will never know how many of the more than 21,000 Canadian health care workers infected with COVID‐19 might have been kept safe had there been sufficient stockpiles at a precautionary level,” the report said.

In the only televised leaders’ debate of the 2020 snap election, Horgan admitted his government hadn’t anticipated a pandemic.

“We didn’t think about it in 2017, 2018 or 2019,” Horgan said. “We didn’t think about it in February [2020], when we tabled our balanced budget. We only thought about it in March when it hit us right in the face.”

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Bob Mackin British Columbia’s second mask mandate is

Bob Mackin

Dozens of current and former Canadian bobsled and skeleton athletes are calling for the immediate resignation of the president and high performance director of Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton, citing toxic culture, lack of care for athlete safety and poor transparency and governance.

Canadian bobsledders at Beijing 2022 (Olympic.ca)

“In the two quadrennials leading up to the 2022 Olympics, systemic issues within BCS have adversely impacted both the sports of bobsleigh and skeleton and have become increasingly problematic over time,” said the letter, signed generically from 60+ Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton Athletes Past & Present (2014-2022). “Too many athletes have suffered physically, mentally, emotionally and financially due to the organization’s failure to address these issues, jeopardizing the future of both sports.”

President Sarah Storey is the daughter of former world bobsled federation CEO Bob Storey. The Ottawa lawyer’s resignation, the letter said, would enable BCS to become “a safe, supportive, functional, athlete-centric model from which to build future World and Olympic Champions.” High performance director Chris Le Bihan was on Canada’s bronze medal four-man bobsled team at Vancouver 2010. 

The letter comes two weeks after the 21-member Team Canada left Beijing with only two bronze medals. Meanwhile, bobsledder Kaillie Humphries, who won two Olympic golds and a bronze for Canada, won gold in her first Olympics with the United States in the new monobob event. Humphries left BCS in 2019, citing a coach’s verbal and mental abuse. 

The letter did not mention Humphries by name, but did emphasize a history of mishandled abuse, harassment and misconduct complaints. 

“In general investigations have been undertaken to resolve these complaints, however athletes are concerned with the timeliness, priority and process by which these issues have been addressed,” the letter said. 

The athletes took issue with the lack of skeleton coach at their three-week Olympic test event on the new Beijing 2022 track in October. The letter also said BCS lacks transparency and timely communication, which has created “an  environment of deep mistrust.” 

It said that BCS blames lack of funding for the systemic problems, but the athletes allege “gross mismanagement, poor planning, inefficiency, and cronyism.” BCS, they say, “should not be able to hide behind the lack of funding as justification for the environment and culture that it has created.”

After the Games were over, skeleton’s Mirela Rahneva Tweeted that it cost her $26,585 during the Olympic year, but only receives $14,120 in payments from Sport Canada. “How are Canadian athletes suppose (sic) to make this work?”

On the fourth point, governance, the athletes say BCS’s complicated policies and practices ignore best practices and athlete feedback.

BCS has not immediately responded for comment.

Canada won gold, silver and bronze in bobsledding and a gold in skeleton at Vancouver 2010, a gold in bobsledding at Sochi 2014, and gold and bronze in bobsledding at PyeongChang 2018.

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Bob Mackin Dozens of current and former Canadian

Bob Mackin

New Westminster city hall is refusing to say how much it paid the fire chief before and after his sudden, pre-Halloween retirement.

Tim Armstrong spent 12 years of his 40-year career in public safety as chief of New Westminster Fire and Rescue Services, until three days before one of the busiest occasions of the year. A January request under the freedom of information law for a list of all individual payments made to Armstrong from Oct. 1 onwards was rejected by the city hall FOI office.

City of New Westminster FOI and privacy coordinator Brooke Holtz replied March 4 that “the records have been withheld in their entirety,” for fear that disclosure would harm personal privacy.

Holtz refused to reconsider the decision and told a reporter to complain to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC). The law is intended to protect the public’s right to know who is paid how much, and adjudicators with the OIPC have consistently ruled in favour of requiring public bodies to disclose their spending on staff and contractors.

Chief administrative officer Lisa Spitale informed staff in an Oct. 22 memo that Armstrong had chosen to retire effective Oct. 28. She wrote that Armstrong had “brought forward many improvements” to the fire department during his time in the job.

“Kindly join me in wishing Tim Armstrong good wishes in his retirement,” Spitale wrote.

On Oct. 28, Armstrong sent a memo to staff that said he decided to retireafter some much needed holiday time and reflecting on what the next chapter in life might look like.”

For 2020, the most-recent year available, City of New Westminster paid Armstrong $194,802. He billed $3,827 in expenses.

Neither Spitale nor Mayor Jonathan Cote responded for comment on March 7.

There was no official public announcement of Armstrongs departure, including on the citys social media channels. There also did not appear to be any mention of Armstrong at the Nov. 1 city council budget workshop meeting where Curtis Bremner was introduced as interim fire chief without fanfare.

Bremner later retired and Erin Williams became the new acting chief. The job vacancy has yet to be posted.

“Given the ongoing pandemic and recent retirement of the former fire chief, this is an opportune time for the city to review the fire department’s organizational structure,” said New Westminster human resources director Richard Fong. “When this review is completed, the city will post the position and commence the recruitment process for a new fire chief.”

As for not publicly recognizing Armstrong when he departed, Fong said that is not normal city practice.

Any details about retirements are personal information and the city does not discuss personnel issues publicly,” Fong said.

In early January 2011, the New Westminster Police Department announced on its website that chief Lorne Zapotichny would retire at the end of February 2011.

Cote, coincidentally, announced on Jan. 1 that he would retire from the mayoralty at the end of his term in the fall. 

In early 2020, the Justice Institute of B.C. awarded Armstrong an honorary doctor of laws degree. Armstrong joined Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services at age 21 and rose the ranks over 28 years to become deputy chief. He became New Westminsters fire chief in 2009 and also served as the Royal Citys director of emergency management. His career also included training firefighters in Canada, U.S. and Taiwan.

Coincidentally, the chief of a fire department in a suburb of Denver, Colo., with a career trajectory akin to Armstrong, announced his retirement on Jan. 10

Chief Doug Hall said his 43 years in firefighting, including 10 years as chief of the Westminster Fire Department, will end July 3.  

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Bob Mackin New Westminster city hall is refusing

Bob Mackin

The union representing SkyTrain and WestCoast Express employees is kicking in $22,500 to a $90,000 ad campaign in support of TransLink’s $200 million bailout request.

Selina Robinson and Premier John Horgan at a recent TransLink funding announcement. More to come. (BC Gov)

A March 3 memo to CUPE 7000 members about a special general meeting said their dues would not only fund the campaign, but members would also wear buttons on the job, appear as models in ads, share campaign messages on social media and urge the public to contact elected officials to call for more funding.

The campaign is to include digital ads, printed materials and a website. Some of the ads will appear on billboards and bus shelters at SkyTrain stations and on SkyTrain vehicles.

“The campaign will reinforce the message that a fully funded transit system is a critical component of public infrastructure in maintaining strong communities,” the memo said. “It will also inspire new confidence in the system as a safe and sustainable operation that serves the entire community and plays a key role in mitigating the effects of climate change.”

The $90,000 campaign aims to promote CUPE 7000 members’ work on a system that serves students, seniors and workers. CUPE National is paying half the cost, with CUPE locals 7000 and 4500 paying a quarter each.

TransLink expects to spend $2 billion in 2022, with $933 million in revenue from taxation and $619 million from fares and programs. In February, it forecast a $216 million operating loss this year.

Nanaimo SkyTrain Station (Google)

TransLink had expected to start 2022 at 60% of pre-COVID ridership and reach 90% by year-end, but that was before the omicron wave hit. The transit and roads agency fears it may not return to pre-pandemic levels due to the adoption of electric cars and work-from-home. Ridership plunged 83% and TransLink lost $75 million per month when the pandemic hit two years ago. It temporarily laid-off 1,500 employees and cut services. The B.C. and federal governments propped-up TransLink with a joint $644 million infusion in 2020.

Meanwhile, Unifor-represented Coast Mountain Bus Co. (CMBC) workers are getting a one-year contract extension to March 31, 2023. Almost three-quarters of members ratified the deal, which includes a 3% pay hike for bus drivers and 5% increase for maintenance and SeaBus workers starting April 1.

CMBC requested extending the contract for 5,000 Unifor workers. 

BC Transit-employed members of Local 114, however, have been on strike since Jan. 29 in the Sea-to-Sky corridor.

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Bob Mackin The union representing SkyTrain and WestCoast

Bob Mackin

Metro Vancouver’s ongoing rescue of the late and over-budget North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant project continues, after the award of a key contract on March 9.

Spain’s Acciona dominates B.C. megaprojects

The liquid waste committee voted to name project engineer AECOM Canada Ltd. the design consultant in a move that could lead to construction resuming in summer. Cheryl Nelms, Metro Vancouver’s general manager of project delivery, told the committee that the $15 million amendment for AECOM is the first phase of a contract that could cost as much as $60 million.

Almost a year ago, on March 12, 2021, the Metro Vancouver board admitted the budget had doubled to $1.058 billion and the plant wouldn’t be in service until 2024 – four years later than planned. Last October, the board announced firing of design, build and finance contractor Acciona for missing construction milestones and gave formal, 90-day notice in January.

Acciona is the lead main civil works contractor on the Site C dam and has joint venture contracts to build the new Pattullo Bridge and Broadway Subway.

“In AECOMs new role as design consultant they will now hold the process guarantees and will ensure that the plant is fully operable and maintainable while meeting its federal and provincial obligations with regards to effluent performance,” said the staff report. “The transition of AECOM to assume the role of Metro Vancouvers design consultant will enable cost savings by fast-tracking portions of the design and maintaining construction continuity.”

The project has cost $498 million so far and is expected to spend another $267 million in 2022. Design of the sewage plant project on the former BC Rail station site in North Vancouver is 80% complete, but construction only 37%. The only part finished is a pump station near the aging, 1961-opened sewage plant beside the Lions Gate Bridge. 

Larina Lopez sandwiched between Metro Vancouver’s Pee and Poo mascots (Metro Vancouver)

At its Feb. 23 meeting, the committee awarded PCL Constructors Westcoast Inc. a $40 million construction management contract that positions PCL as the likely successor to Acciona.

“The ideal situation is that that contractor can then come to us and provide us with that guaranteed, maximum price to deliver the project, and we would come to [the board] in September, October to recommend an award with this contractor to implement and do the final construction of this project,” Nelms said.

Seven companies responded to the November tender call. Aecon Water Infrastructure Ltd. and Graham Infrastructure LP were also shortlisted.

Nelms said there could be further concrete work on the site in the summer. The next budget update is not expected until the fourth quarter of 2022. Nelms said the escalating costs for labour and commodities have “been on the radar.”

Meanwhile, the committee gave preliminary design approval for a new Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant, estimated at $9.9 billion. The committee directed staff to continue pursuit of funding from senior governments.

Metro Vancouver won’t meet the 2030 federal deadline to upgrade secondary sewage treatment. The new plant would not be operational until mid-2035, with full completion estimated for 2038. But it will put a dent in household budgets.

Households in the Vancouver sewerage area, which includes Vancouver,Richmond, Burnaby and the University of British Columbia and endowment lands, could be paying $275 to $625 more per year during the life of the project. In other areas, the tax hit would be $15 to $75 per year.

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Bob Mackin Metro Vancouver’s ongoing rescue of the

Bob Mackin

A retired Mexican general in Canadian custody since Dec. 17 will live in Surrey under bail conditions while he awaits extradition proceedings in Vancouver.

The Mexican government wants Canada to return Eduardo Leon Trauwitz, 55, to face trial on organized crime and fuel theft charges. Trauwitz is also the former head of security for state oil company Pemex.

B.C.-arrested Eduardo Leon Trauwitz

In BC Supreme Court on March 14, Justice Michael Tammen ruled Trauwitz should be freed from custody, fitted with an electronic monitoring device and live under an 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew with his daughter, Maria Fernanda Leon, who agreed to put up a $20,000 cash surety. Trauwitz must also report regularly to a probation officer.

The Crown, on behalf of the Mexican government, had argued that Trauwitz is a flight risk. But Tammen said the original RCMP application for Trauwitz’s arrest was missing key facts about the accused and his case.

Trauwitz is accused of using his Pemex position from January 2015 to August 2016 to facilitate theft of at least 1.87 billion litres of hydrocarbon from clandestine taps in Pemex pipelines. A lawyer for ex-Pemex employees filed a criminal complaint in March 2017 to the office of Mexico’s Attorney General that claimed they were threatened with firing if they did not follow the scheme. In May 2019, Trauwitz fled to B.C., instead of appearing in a Mexican court, and applied for Canadian refugee status. During a Dec. 22 hearing, Trauwitz’s lawyer Tom Arbogast told the court that his client was the fall guy and subject to a politically motivated prosecution.

“Mr. Trauwitz was the one who was trying to stop hydrocarbon theft and his actions actually prohibited other corrupt individuals from engaging in carbon theft,” Arbogast said. “They are now turning that back against him because they are higher up in the political food chain.”

Tammen said the RCMP officer who made the application for Trauwitz’s arrest did not provide full details of Trauwitz’s status in Canada. The officer’s affidavit did not include facts about the RCMP’s communication with the Canada Border Services Agency or Trauwitz’s pending refugee claim. Tammen said the officer’s own notes show that on Dec. 14, two days before the arrest warrant application, he learned that Trauwitz was scheduled to report to the Immigration and Refugee Board on Dec. 27 in downtown Vancouver. 

The material non-disclosure was enough to satisfy court requirements to trigger a review of Trauwitz’s detention, because, Tammen said, the officer “painted a picture that was at minimum incomplete, perhaps deliberately misleading, concerning Mr. Trauwitz’s connection to Canada and the knowledge of same.”

Law Courts Vancouver (Joe Mabel)

Additionally, Tammen said, the court was provided an incomplete picture of the sentence Trauwitz would receive if convicted in Mexico. The only information before the bail judge was that the Trauwitz could be jailed 30 to 60 years. But, Tammen said, the Canadian government lawyers are proceeding on breach of trust by a public official, which is punishable by a maximum five-year sentence in Canada. In Mexico, the range is between two and 14 years in prison.

“In short, it is not certain that Mr. Trauwitz, if returned to Mexico, would face the potential maximum sentence of 30 to 60 years that the charges on which extradition proceedings are extant, although serious are not clearly among the most serious offenses known to either Canadian or Mexican law,” he said.

Tammen said the Crown, on behalf of Mexico, will have to satisfy the court that the Mexican charges are similar to Canadian laws during the extradition case.

Trauwitz’s next court appearance is April 6.

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Bob Mackin A retired Mexican general in Canadian

For the week of March 13, 2022:

On this edition of theBreaker.news Podcast: Four months before Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, words of warning about Russia and Belarus and ideas on how to encourage democracy in the neighbouring dictatorships.

Listen to highlights of an October 2021 Macdonald-Laurier Institute webinar.

Plus Pacific Rim and Pacific Northwest headlines and commentary.

CLICK BELOW to listen or go to TuneIn or Apple Podcasts.

Now on Google Podcasts!

Have you missed an edition of theBreaker.news Podcast? Go to the archive.

Support theBreaker.news for as low as $2 a month on Patreon. Find out how. Click here.

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TheBreaker.news Podcast: Early warnings of Russia, Belarus belligerence
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For the week of March 13, 2022:

Bob Mackin

It took a war for Canadian telecoms to drop a Russian government propaganda outlet from their channel menus. 

But a human rights group that advocates for journalists and lawyers in China is hoping that the federal regulator will end the authorization for two channels acting as Chinese Communist Party mouthpieces.

Meng Wanzhou at Russia Calling 2014 with President Vladimir Putin (RT)

Bell, Rogers, Shaw and Telus each voluntarily pulled the English-language RT America after Russia invaded Ukraine. On March 1, Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez commended them and said that the Liberal government is asking the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission to fast-track a hearing process that could ban RT for good. “Disinformation has no place on Canadian airwaves,” Rodriguez Tweeted.

CRTC spokeswoman Isabella Maestri said the agency has received complaints from citizens about 2005-launched RT. The channel is still available via live streaming services and on its own website.

Safeguard Defenders’ campaign director Laura Harth called RT’s removal by Canadian telecoms “a very interesting development to see, especially in this time of information warfare” when authoritarian regimes are using modern media to spread disinformation and enforce their image in democratic countries.

“We hope that the same will go with regard to China, we hope that the lesson we can learn from the atrocities happening now in Ukraine,” Harth said in an interview from Rome.

Safeguard Defenders complained to the CRTC in December 2019 about Mandarin language CCTV-4 and English language CGTN with evidence they aired dozens of forced confessions of prisoners from 2013 to 2019. It called the content abusive and harmful, and “typical of CCTV’s mode of operation and broadcast.” 

Swedish human rights activist Peter Dahlin in a 2016 forced, false confession (CCTV)

Founder Peter Dahlin was himself detained for 23 days on trumped-up charges of endangering national security in early 2016 while running the China Action NGO. The Swede was released after a forced, false confession on state TV.

In January, Safeguard Defenders learned that the CRTC had demanded state parent company China International Communications Co., explain why CCTV-4 and CGTN should remain available on Canadian TV. A letter provided by the CRTC media relations office showed secretary general Claude Doucet threatened removal from the list of non-Canadian programming services authorized for distribution.

“If the allegations contained in Safeguard Defenders’ complaint are true, the distribution of such content in Canada is antithetical to the policy objectives of the [Broadcasting] Act and does not serve the public interest in any way,” Doucet wrote.

The services qualified for carriage in Canada in 2006 and 2012, respectively. In his letter, Doucet reminded CCTV-4 that when it was authorized, “the Commission made it clear that removal of a non-Canadian service from the list is a remedy that it will be prepared to exercise should content aired on the service be contrary to Canadian broadcasting policy.”

Maestri said that the Beijing company was granted a two-month extension from the original Jan. 31 deadline, but “have not yet replied in a substantive manner.” 

In the U.K., regulator Ofcom ruled in early 2021 in favour of Safeguard Defenders and withdrew CGTN’s licence. It also issued issued £450,000 (or CAD$763,000) in fines for multiple violations.

Bell was the only telecom to respond to a query, but it only did so to confirm that it had withdrawn RT on Feb. 27. It did not answer questions about CCTV-4 and CGTN.

Harth said that with RT gone from the Canadian telecoms, there is a concern that the Chinese government services will act as proxies for Russia’s government. “They have a strategic alliance and marriage of convenience,” she said. 

Some of CCTV-4’s programming airs elsewhere, such as the CCTV China World News twice-daily on the Shaw Multicultural Channel. The channel also carries newscasts from Taiwan’s FTV, The Epoch Times Hong Kong Express and NTD News Vancouver.

Canada’s spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, reported in late 2020 that China, Russia and Iran were to blame for spreading pandemic-related disinformation in Canada about the source of COVID-19 and its remedies. 

A 2021 CSIS report warned of the foreign influence tactics used by states hostile to Canadian values. “These include: human intelligence operations, the use of state-sponsored or foreign influenced media, and the use of sophisticated cyber tools.”

The goals of using traditional media and social media platforms, CSIS said, are to deliver foreign influence campaigns to change voter opinions, sway politicians’ choices, alter government relations and to “sow confusion and distrust in Canadian democratic processes and institutions.”

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Bob Mackin It took a war for Canadian

Bob Mackin

Before public health officials and organizers of the 2020 Pacific Dental Conference realized an attendee had been infected with COVID-19, confusion and miscommunication had been spreading, according to documents obtained under freedom of information.

Pacific Dental Conference 2020 program: the event was B.C.’s first-known coronavirus superspreader.

The March 5-7, 2020 Vancouver Convention Centre even registered almost 15,000 people by opening day and became B.C.’s first superspreader. It generated at least 87 documented cases of the novel coronavirus and led to one death, North Vancouver dentist Dr. Denis Vincent. The conference is happening for a second year online, from March 14 to April 12. Organizers hope to return to the three-day, in-person format in March 2023.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry told reporters after the March 12, 2020 exposure alert that she had not been consulted and nor was she aware of the conference — despite co-headlining a pandemic plan news conference upstairs in a Pan Pacific Hotel meeting room on the second day, with Premier John Horgan and Health Minister Adrian Dix.  

B.C. Centre for Disease Control and Vancouver Coastal Health Authority did not conduct a risk assessment. BCCDC was, however, concerned with ensuring that its Dr. David Patrick could add a 10-minute COVID-19 “recommendations and guidance” segment to his late-morning keynote speech on March 6, 2020.

An ominous Facebook post, in the Vancouver Dental Professionals group, circulated on March 11, 2020. It said a technician from Richmond dental equipment supplier Patterson had been asked to self-quarantine after someone with coronavirus had visited the company’s booth. 

Jocelyn Johnston, the B.C. Dental Association executive director, emailed the conference’s manager, Shannon Brown, and VCH medical health officer Dr. John Harding on March 11 about the Facebook post: “Yes, it is this bad… in the last 2 minutes I got a text and another 2 emails.”

Dr. Bonnie Henry (left), Premier John Horgan and Health Minister Adrian Dix (Mackin)

“The affected attendee was onsite in the West building on March 6 from 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., and spent a majority of their time at an exhibitor booth on the trade show floor,” wrote convention centre general manager Craig Lehto in a memo to staff. “VCH has advised that the individual is recovering at home and there is no ongoing risk to the community, nor is there any further risk posed at the Vancouver Convention Centre. We have also confirmed with VCH that our enhanced cleaning and sanitations measures that have been used at the facility both during and following the conference are considered appropriate.”

Conference participants were told to self-monitor for fever, cough, headache or shortness of breath for 14 days. In a March 16 memo, B.C. Dental Association president Dr. James Singer wrote that the BCDA had consulted with the Provincial Health Services Authority about the conference on Feb. 24, and “at no time was the PDC asked by any public health representatives to halt the conference.”

The only evidence of consultation that was released in the FOI file was a Feb. 24 email from the director of the PHSA’s Provincial Infection Control Network of B.C. PICNET. She also sent her message to the Health Emergency Coordination Centre in the Ministry of Health.

“I’m sure this is one of many conference/meeting gatherings but we thought it was worth noting,” Tamara Leigh Donovan wrote. “Majority of attendees are coming from across Canada and the Pacific Coast of North America with other smaller numbers from Europe. This may be of interest to Bonnie [Henry] and others.”

Brian Sagar, the senior director of communicable disease in the Ministry of Health, responded with a link to the Vancouver Convention Centre schedule and a remark: “Lots of big group gatherings in Vancouver in the coming months!!!”

The full extent of the superspreader is not publicly known. VCH refused to release the anonymized contact tracing report. In June 2020, Henry called it a “sentinel event” and Dix said in late-2020 interviews that he regretted not cancelling the conference.

Email received by the B.C. government health emergency headquarters about the Pacific Dental Conference (FOI)

Research published in the journal Science estimates a whopping 300,000 COVID-19 cases around the world stemmed from a Boston biotech company’s management conference in late February 2020. A hundred of the 175 attendees of the Biogen meeting at the Marriott Long Wharf Hotel took ill.

On March 8, 2020, the day after the conference ended, B.C. recorded its first death from the virus, a man in his 80s at the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver. The World Health Organization declared a pandemic emergency three days later. The following week, the B.C. NDP government declared a provincial state of emergency. In B.C., officials have reported 2,896 deaths through March 3, 2022.

A December 2020 contribution to the British Dental Journal about modelling and pandemic planning by Mark-Steven Howe, included the Pacific Dental Conference in its footnotes.

“In conclusion, if we are to manage extreme emergencies such as future pandemics, we need more open channels of communication and understanding. If leadership is to be successful, it needs to both listen to and understand the limitations of emerging science and modelling, but also effectively appraise the evidence as it develops on the ground,” Howe wrote.

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Bob Mackin Before public health officials and organizers