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Bob Mackin

A South Asian community political organizer and former general secretary of Vancouver’s Ross Street Sikh Temple died after falling down stairs at a Richmond party.

While Richmond RCMP believe the death of Rajinder Singh Bhela was an accident, they are still appealing for clues.

Raj Bhela (left) and then-Conservative leader Andrew Scheer (Facebook)

Bhela, 50, suffered a serious head injury on Jan. 30 in a building at 11732 River Road in Richmond. Sources tell theBreaker.news that Bhela was attending a booze-filled party that was held contrary to public health orders. Paramedics rushed Bhela to a trauma centre, but he died four days later in hospital. 

As per its policy, the B.C. Coroners Service would not confirm Bhela’s identity when contacted by theBreaker.news. The agency did say it was notified of a death on Feb. 3 and is investigating. “It would be a bit too early and speculative to provide any details until the coroner has completed the investigation,” said the service in an anonymous statement.

Richmond RCMP issued a news release on Feb. 10 that did not name Bhela. The Mounties said they were unaware of the incident until Feb. 5 — two days after Bhela died — when the B.C. Coroners Service “requested clarification on the circumstances.”

“While the investigation is still ongoing, evidence obtained so far suggests this was indeed an accidental fall. At this time, police do not suspect foul play,” said the statement from Cpl. Ian Henderson. He appealed for witnesses to call 604-278-1212 and quote file number 21-3371.

Bhela was a South Asian community organizer for Andrew Scheer’s successful Conservative leadership campaign, but Scheer distanced himself from Bhela in spring 2018 when Bhela was accused of defrauding the Toronto Dominion Bank.

Raj Bhela and Hector Bremner (right)

By summer 2018, brothers Pal and Gurdyal Sahota, best known as owners of the notorious Balmoral Hotel, sued Bhela and developer Tarsem Singh Gill, claiming they owed $4 million in loans.

Bhela was also on the inner-circle of Hector Bremner’s by-election win for an NPA city council seat in 2017 and Bremner’s failed 2018 mayoral bid with Mark Marissen’s Yes Vancouver party. 

Bhela quit the federal Liberal Party in 2014 when he claimed Sikh extremists were manipulating Justin Trudeau, after Harjit Sajjan was appointed the party’s candidate in Vancouver South. In 2013, Bhela was on the guest list for BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark’s cabinet unveiling event in Vancouver for party donors, lobbyists and campaign staff.

In a Feb. 4 Facebook post, fellow Conservative operative Mani Deol-Fallon wrote: “He worked hard for things he cared about and enjoyed helping people. He never asked for anything in return. He spoke of the love for his parents and children often.”

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Bob Mackin A South Asian community political organizer

Bob Mackin

At a public inquiry about money laundering in B.C. casinos — sparked by too much cash in B.C. casinos — a former casino executive said the problem was the cash.

Walter Soo, who was vice-president of player development for Great Canadian Gaming Corp. until his 2019 firing, said gamblers were demanding alternatives and the B.C. government was not willing to allow casinos to offer credit.

Ex-Great Canadian Gaming VP Walter Soo (Cullen Commission)

“By 2010 the world had morphed into cashless, much more cashless, as the smart phone was being developed, you can see that other solutions, payment solutions that was non-cash, yet for us it was still only cash,” Soo testified before Commissioner Austin Cullen. “There was no other casinos that I can think of in the world, especially in North America that would only accept cash. So it was becoming a very big concern for us as the business got larger.”

Soo said travellers preferred not to carry cash, as it exposed them to theft, confiscation or conflict with customs officers. Credit, he said, would reduce loan sharking and money laundering.

Instead, cash was king and crime flourished.

In July 2015 alone, Great Canadian’s Richmond flagship River Rock took in $13.5 million in $20 bills.

Soo said River Rock was never aiming for the top tier of gamblers who would spend a million dollars, but those that would gamble $25,000 to $250,000. The 61%/39% revenue split in favour of government meant it was not economical for Great Canadian to compete for the highest of the high rollers.

Yet, a lot of them came anyway and Chinese new year was prime time, when River Rock would test new games and marketing strategies. 

“We gained greater than our fair share of the business because we reacted with building the facilities to welcome these people in and we identified what they wanted,” he said. “Crude as it sounds, we were serving hamburgers, they wanted steak. So we changed the menu.”

Soo said Chinese new year would result in families reuniting in Vancouver and it was an opportunity to spark word of mouth among gamblers who would return to China and encourage their friends and business associates to visit River Rock during other times of the year.

“They would be our walking advertising boards, of saying ‘hey I was just in River Rock during Chinese new year, they’ve created this product, it was really good, I like it’.”

Soo said that geopolitics also became a major driver of Chinese gamblers to B.C.

River Rock Casino Resort in Richmond (Mackin)

Post-SARS, the Chinese government opened the border to Macau for gamblers from Hong Kong and Mainland China. “Chinese people gushed in,” he said.

Then, American regulators put Las Vegas-owned casinos in Macau under extra scrutiny, chairman Xi Jinping went on an anti-corruption purge in the Chinese Communist Party and the global Chinese currency flight sent investors and gamblers alike to B.C.

“For years overlapping, from 2005 to 2012, these people just kept flowing in. They just, it may sound crude, but they just washed up on shore.”

Was Soo worried about dirty money?

“I knew there was this entity of four or five different (regulatory and law enforcement) partners that we had… again I had to trust, with such a vast pool as long and wide as it was deep that it was working on a fully integrated, coordinated and cooperative manner.”

Soo said in his affidavit that he was born in Vancouver, has limited ability to converse in Cantonese and no ability to communicate in Mandarin. He joined Great Canadian in 1983 as a roulette dealer at the Pacific National Exhibition. He sued Great Canadian after his 2019 firing, alleging that he was the fall guy for the NDP government’s focus on dirty money at the River Rock.

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Bob Mackin At a public inquiry about money

Bob Mackin

An outsourced review of the Provincial Health Services Authority springtime spending scandal led to the Feb. 9 firing of CEO Benoit Morin.

His interim replacement is Dr. David Byres, the assistant deputy minister of health.

Morin was cleared of conflict of interest after he bought millions of dollars of faulty N95 masks that were later written-off, but there was evidence found of friction with senior management. 

Ex-PHSA CEO Benoit Morin (PHSA/Facebook)

The report, by John Bethel of Ernst and Young, was released Feb. 9, almost a month after its original deadline of Jan. 15. Bethel was assistant deputy minister of health from 2009 to 2012, during the BC Liberal administration. The cover of the report showed gloved hands disinfecting a door handle, even though the main issue was the respirator procurement.

Morin was new in the $352,000-a-year job in early 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic hit and PHSA scrambled to find personal-protective equipment (theBreaker.news was first to report that the B.C. NDP government had failed to replenish emergency stockpiles in 2019).

Morin directed staff to send a $6.95 million deposit to Montreal-based supplier Luminarie. After the orders were placed, an obituary was circulated within PHSA that apparently showed a personal relationship between Morin and a founder of Luminarie.

While Morin “personally initiated and directed the initial purchase,” Bethel reported no pre-existing relationships between Morin and the executive from the Montreal vendor. Morin had been introduced to the company by a health executive in Quebec who had previous dealings with the company.

PHSA made the $6.95 million deposit on March 24, 2020, a week before fiscal year-end. The China-manufactured goods arrived in April but failed provincial testing protocols — an unspecified amount was deemed counterfeit. The prepaid balance for $6.95 million was recorded in the 2020 year-end books, to the opposition of Morin. The board wanted external auditors to examine the issue and an external engineer was hired to determine if the masks could be salvaged for other uses.

“This write-off was ultimately supported by the PHSA’s external auditors and the chair of the audit committee on behalf of the board,” the Bethel report said. “The board and the CEO continue to have concerns that a write-off of this magnitude should have been raised with them in advance of it being recorded.”

John Bethel (EY/LinkedIn)

When the shipment was deemed useless, the board and Morin preferred negotiations with Luminarie rather than litigation.

“When such negotiations apparently failed other executive members decided to pursue legal action against the Montreal vendor without informing the CEO or the board of directors. We were also informed that in January 2021 the Montreal vendor filed for bankruptcy, rendering the likelihood of any significant recovery to be low.”

Bethel blamed a “disconnect” between the CEO, board and staff over what action to take and when it should have been taken.

The report also said three executives and the chief internal auditor left PHSA in 2020, after the conflict of interest allegation against Morin. Morin sought to fire three of them at the end of April 2020 for cause. In-house lawyers and two external firms were retained.

Montreal-based distributor Luminarie

“We have been informed that the then-desire to terminate these individuals was due to a perceived ‘lack of loyalty’ to the CEO related to their roles and involvement in the problematic PPE purchase,” the report said. “All of the employees’ departures were at least in-part related to a perceived lack of loyalty to, and/or friction with, the CEO.”

The report did not delve into other issues, including the unbudgeted renovations to PHSA executive offices, hiring and compensation for staff in Morin’s office and the work environment and staff morale. “These issues have been discussed with the deputy minister of health,” Bethel wrote.

Excessive catering expenses for staff and executives from mid-March to mid-June were not mentioned.

CBC originally reported on the spending scandal Nov. 30, more than a month after the NDP won a majority in the snap fall election that was not required by law until October 2021.

Health Minister Adrian Dix told CTV that Morin was being fired without cause and would receive nine months severance. By theBreaker.news calculation, that could be as much as $270,000. Dix did not mention whether Morin would be subject to a standard non-disclosure clause.

The Bethel report was released several hours after the B.C. Auditor General published his report on management of medical device cybersecurity at PHSA.

Michael Pickup found that PHSA had not evaluated all cybersecurity threats and their potential harm to patients, is not effectively managing cybersecurity risk on all medical devices and lacks many cybersecurity controls for its medical devices.

The bottom line, Pickup concluded, is that PHSA cannot apply appropriate security controls to all systems and devices and it may not be able to detect when systems and devices on medical device networks are attacked. There are over 18,000 of such devices in the Lower Mainland, ranging from from MRI machines to infusion pumps. The audit covered November 2019 to May 2020.

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Bob Mackin An outsourced review of the Provincial

Bob Mackin

A major blow to Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum’s dream to replace the Surrey RCMP with a civic force.

Bob Rolls (Surrey Police Service board)

theBreaker.news has learned that the former deputy chief of the Vancouver Police is quitting the Surrey Police Service board.

Bob Rolls, a 33-year veteran of the VPD, was McCallum’s first appointee to the board. Another seven people were appointed by the B.C. NDP government.

Rolls’s departure is effective March 1.

McCallum’s spokeswoman Amber Stowe referred theBreaker.news to Surrey Police Board executive director Melissa Granum. Granum said Rolls is moving to Vancouver Island with his wife.

“How the city goes about selecting a replacement is their jurisdiction, so you will need to ask them about that,” Granum said.

McCallum ran on a platform in 2018 to replace the Mounties. In November 2020, Delta assistant chief Norm Lipinski was hired as the chief.

The board was under a cloud of controversy after the Vancouver Sun published photographs in December of NDP-appointed board member Harley Chappell with Hells Angels members.

The chief of the Semiahmoo First Nation said his father was a member of the biker gang and that the photograph was taken at a funeral.

More to come…

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Bob Mackin A major blow to Surrey Mayor

For the week of Feb. 7, 2021:

theBreaker.news Podcast host Bob Mackin welcomes guest Jules Boykoff, a political science professor in Portland, Ore. and author of books examining the politics of the Olympics and mega-events.

Jules Boykoff (Brian Lee)

The Olympics industry is at a crucial point in 2021, as the year-delayed Tokyo Olympics battles pandemic headwinds and next winter’s Beijing Olympics face increasing calls for a boycott, due to China’s human rights record.

A million Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province are incarcerated in what the U.S. has described as a “genocide.”

Hear Boykoff ponder whether the Tokyo Olympics should go ahead this summer and whether next winter’s Beijing Olympics should be boycotted.

Plus headlines from the Pacific Rim and Pacific Northwest.

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

Now on Spotify!

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

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theBreaker.news Podcast
theBreaker.news Podcast
theBreaker.news Podcast: What to do with the Tokyo and Beijing Olympics?
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For the week of Feb. 7, 2021: theBreaker.news

Bob Mackin

The challenge: how to illustrate the danger of ignoring public health orders in the face of the fast-spreading coronavirus pandemic.

Field epidemiologist Laurence Campeau (LinkedIn)

That is what Fraser Health Authority set out to tackle in November, as Surrey became British Columbia’s epicentre of infection.

Under the freedom of information law, theBreaker.news sought the anonymized contact tracing reports from Fraser Health, to verify the claims made in the infographics.

Records disclosed show that there was inexact science behind the spin.

Laurence Campeau, a field epidemiologist with the Public Health Agency of Canada since September 2020, provided the contact tracing background to the communications department. Though, not all the numbers are visible in the heavily censored email that was provided to theBreaker.news. (Scroll down to see the email.)

(Fraser Health)

For the wedding infographic, part of the celebration was hosted at a household. A person “still attended the wedding… despite having developed symptoms. Note that the exposure source for this case is unknown.”

“Something to note is that according to case interviews, social distancing was maintained at the (censored),” Campeau wrote. “Everyone was masked at all times and maintained physical distancing, the tables were separated by 2 m and seated maximum 4 people each. The event was catered but food was served by caterers only. A shared bathroom was used by all, but good cleaning procedures were in place. Case’s (censored) reports that (censored) called Services Canada and obtained all COVID guidelines before hosting this event(s) to ensure all safety measures were in place.”

Another infographic featured a fitness studio scenario.

“Client who goes to (censored) fitness on a daily basis starts showing symptoms.”

The notes mention “4 classes on (censored) and 4 more on (censored).”

The studio was closed to prevent further transmission.

There were 67 primary and 37 secondary cases. What the infographic does not show is 129 household contacts identified for both primary and secondary cases. “This could include duplicate if someone was mentioned by two different people,” Campeau wrote.

The infographic mentions a “games night” from which seven people tested positive. “No physical distancing or masks,” Campeau wrote.

The infographic mentions four people tested positive at a correctional facility. Campeau wrote that one of the primary cases from the fitness studio worked “there,” meaning the correctional facility.

(Fraser Health)

“Exact number unknown; I know (censored) mentioned 90 but I will try to confirm this.” (The infographic used the number 80 to refer to the total at the correctional facility.)

Campeau’s email referred to exposure at “various schools.” The infographic said there were “six school exposures.”

“Confirmed cases worked in many, many different places; I haven’t been able to look into each one to see which led to potential exposures event.”

On Dec. 4, Fraser Health became the first regional health authority to offer a do it yourself contact tracing form on its website.

As of Dec. 17, the B.C. government had hired 1,235 contact tracers (including 579 in Fraser Health), more than double the number in the summer. B.C. also seconded staff from Statistics Canada and the Red Cross to work at the hub in the Vancouver Convention Centre.

However, there were numerous reports of contact tracers hitting dead ends, due to unreturned phone calls, hang-ups and evasive persons exposed to the virus. Contact tracing relies on the honesty, accuracy and memory of where a person was, when and with whom. 

The B.C. government opted-out of the federal government’s COVID Alert exposure notification app. B.C. officials have never fully explained why, but indicated they were considering adopting Alberta’s version.

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Fraser Health Contact Tracing FOI by Bob Mackin on Scribd

Bob Mackin The challenge: how to illustrate

Bob Mackin

Dr. Bonnie Henry was appearing solo on the first Saturday of May 2020 when a reporter brought several errors in the daily pandemic report to her attention.

“We have many hospitals and many health authorities, it is actually not as simple as you’d think,” Henry said.

In November, a week-long system error forced a flurry of corrections to the mounting case counts for Fraser Health.

The provincial health officer chalked it up to “the travails of our IT systems.”

“It is something that happens,” Henry said, with a shrug.

Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix are in their second year of delivering live updates with select statistics on the health emergency in B.C., so it should be old hat by now. But a journalism professor in Calgary is not ready to sound the alarm.

Dr. Bonnie Henry shrugs after admitting a major Fraser Health data error in November (CPAC)

“I don’t have any reason right now to question the explanations that Bonnie Henry is providing,”  said Mount Royal University’s Sean Holman. ‘Given the stress of the situation, and all of the various complexities associated with managing the pandemic, her explanations sound relatively reasonable at the present moment.”

However, that is not to say improvements aren’t needed now.

“It is also an example of why giving people the power to see for themselves, the raw data, could be very helpful during a time of crisis, and during this particular crisis,” Holman.

SCROLL DOWN AND WATCH VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS

But British Columbia has stubbornly refused to share certain data about the pandemic via the freedom of information system.

The Ministry of Health wants theBreaker.news to pay $270 for the error and correction logs during the first wave of the pandemic. The B.C. Centre for Disease Control refused altogether to disclose the anonymized chain of custody data of the first 617 positive tests for coronavirus as of late March 2020. BCCDC claimed it would take 32 hours and require the hiring of an external consultant.

Holman said people don’t just want “someone to preach from the pulpit, telling them what the number is.

“They want to be able to see that information for themselves, that is a desire that we all have and that desire heightens under situations of stress.”

On Feb. 1, Holman testified to the House of Commons government operations committee in his role with the Canadian COVID-19 Accountability Group, an ad hoc coalition of experts recommending urgent reforms to freedom of information and whistleblower laws.

Journalism professor Sean Holman (OGGO)

“I am deeply troubled by the scale of secrecy that we have seen from Canadian governments during the pandemic,” Holman told the committee. “That secrecy has meant the federal government has failed to provide the public and public officials with the data needed to track and account for billions of dollars in COVID-19 spending, including the cost and contract for COVID-19 vaccine.”

Holman said citizens need more and better information from governments and corporations, so they can better understand the world around them and to make better decisions to keep themselves safe.

“The costs of not providing this information are severe in the post-truth era,” Holman said. “If there’s an information gap there is now a substantial risk it will be filled with misinformation and disinformation. We can see that in anti-masking protests that have happened across this country and we can see it in the conspiracy theories those protests are based on.”

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Bob Mackin Dr. Bonnie Henry was appearing solo

Bob Mackin

An independent B.C. utilities watchdog has accused the B.C. NDP government of “gaming the timing” of ICBC financial disclosures for political purposes.

In a Feb.4-published analysis, Richard McCandless raised the alarm about Premier John Horgan and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth announcing a $190 average pandemic rebate to policy holders on Feb. 2. The NDP finally released ICBC’s two-months overdue, second quarter financial report on Feb. 3.

From ICBC’s $3.3 million ad campaign by PSDDB (ICBC)

“The withholding of ICBC’s second quarter financial report is a regressive step in the continuing effort to make ICBC more accountable to its policyholders and to the public at large,” wrote McCandless, a former senior B.C. government bureaucrat. “While it may be acceptable for the government to justify a COVID-19 rebate as fulfilling a previous commitment, it should not be gaming the timing of such accountability documents to meet its political timetable.”

The report showed $394 million combined net income as of Sept. 30, 2020, up $83 million since June 30.

By McCandless’s calculation, ICBC could have $550 million to $600 million net income by year-end. But that may not be enough to justify the rebate.

“In this simple scenario returning $600 million to policyholders would result in no net income at year-end.

From ICBC’s $3.3 million ad campaign by PSDDB (ICBC)

The low capital reserve leaves ICBC in an unhealthy financial condition with an elevated risk of a taxpayer bailout if there is an adverse financial development, such as a drop in the equity markets,” McCandless wrote.

Though the NDP is touting an average $190 per policyholder, the actual rebate payments could be as high as $400 and as low as $25.

ICBC has been a major focus of the Horgan government in early 2021, as it seeks to change the channel from the glacially slow rollout of coronavirus vaccine.

The basic insurance monopoly’s transition to a no fault insurance system in May is the subject of the $3.3 million “enhanced care” ad campaign. The Jan. 25-launched campaign runs to May and is funded $2.8 million internally and $500,000 from central government.

“It’s important to let British Columbians know what these changes mean for them and where they can learn more,” said ICBC spokesman Brent Shearer.

ICBC hired the Palmer Stamnes DDB ad agency for creative services and Vizeum for media buying on the radio, TV and digital media campaign.

The firms were hired on five-year contracts, after a tendering process in February 2020, worth an estimated $11.5 million for Vizeum and $5.8 million for PSDDB.

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Bob Mackin An independent B.C. utilities watchdog has

Bob Mackin

Seven current and former directors of the Vancouver Non-Partisan Association are suing Mayor Kennedy Stewart and City of Vancouver for defamation.

In a lawsuit filed Feb. 4 in B.C. Supreme Court, David Mawhinney, Christopher Wilson, David Pasin, Phyllis Tang, Angelo Isidorou, Federico Fuoco and Wes Mussio say Stewart’s Jan. 28-published statement on city hall letterhead was false, defamatory and for political gain.

Mayor Kennedy Stewart’s Jan. 28 statement (Twitter)

“NPA leaders have so far failed to stop hate spreading within their party,” said Stewart under the headline Statement from Mayor Stewart on extremism within Board of Non-Partisan Association. “These extreme individuals will choose who stands as candidates for the NPA in the next election, their election platform, and from whom they accept donations.”

The lawsuit alleges that Stewart, who is already campaigning for his 2022 re-election, “used his power and resources as the Mayor of the City of Vancouver to publish the highly defamatory press release against his main opponent, the NPA. The attack is false and partisan with the deliberate attempt to attack the character of each and all NPA board members for political gain.”

The lawsuit said Stewart’s suggestions of extremism within the NPA board and support for hate groups are knowingly false statements.

“There is no extremism in the NPA board or in the NPA itself,” said the statement of claim. “The suggestion of support for hate groups is a knowingly false statement for political gain and at no time is true in any way. No NPA board member or the NPA itself supports hate groups or belongs to a hate group.”

The statement of claim has not been tested in court and Stewart has not filed a reply.

The Stewart statement was sparked by a story in The Tyee based on a four-year-old photo of Isidorou wearing a MAGA hat and making a Donald Trump-inspired OK sign outside the opening of Vancouver’s Trump Tower. 

The hand signal has since been co-opted by white supremacists. Isidorou has denied any support for that ideology. He quit the NPA board last week to quell calls from the NPA elected caucus for an emergency annual general meeting.

In a Jan. 29 interview on CKNW radio, Isidorou, who writes for the Post Millennial website, threatened a defamation lawsuit against The Tyee to restore his character. “I’m not exactly Hitler’s wet dream, I’m Greek and part-Middle Eastern,” he said. “I’m not exactly bullish on my survival in what I’m being pushed to believe that I’m for.”

Isidorou said in 2017 he was an “immature 20-year-old being an idiot,” mimicking Trump.

The “NPA seven” lawsuit was filed by Mussio Goodman, the law firm owned by NPA director Mussio, the Nanaimo Clippers owner who has spent much of the winter living in South Florida.

Stewart won the 2018 mayoral election by just 957 votes over the NPA’s Ken Sim. The NPA elected five candidates to the 11 member council, the most of any party.

Coun. Rebecca Bligh left the caucus to sit as an independent in late  2019 after News1130 errantly reported that Ray Goldenchild, a new member of the NPA board, attended a meeting against the sexual orientation and gender identity school curriculum.

It was confirmed after Bligh quit that Goldenchild did not attend the meeting, and he expressed his support publicly for the SOGI program.

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Bob Mackin Seven current and former directors of