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Bob Mackin

Canadians could be going to the polls as early as March.

An Elections Canada source, not authorized to speak on behalf of the agency, has told theBreaker.news that staff are being recruited and space for district electoral offices is being sought.

Justin Trudeau on July 29 at Kitsilano Coast Guard base (Mackin)

Elections Canada spokesperson Natasha Gauthier told theBreaker.news that the agency is targeting March 1 to be ready, should a snap election be called.

“That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t be able to deliver a safe, accessible election if one were called before that date,” Gauthier said. “But March 1 would be the date by which we would be able to optimally deploy all the planned updates to our processes.”

The next scheduled election is October 2023. Despite the fixed federal election date law, that does not prevent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from calling an early election. An early election could also be triggered if the October 2019-elected minority government falls on a confidence vote. But Trudeau’s own government has admitted it will take until September for enough Canadians to be immunized to reach herd immunity. 

Gauthier said returning officers are discussing space availability for offices and polling locations with local landlords.

“Lease terms can be negotiated ahead of time, but no leases can be signed until the writs are issued,” she said.

Canada’s chief electoral officer, Stephane Perrault, issued recommendations in early October for a pandemic election. Before Parliament recessed for the Christmas break, the Liberals tabled Bill C-19 for proposed amendments to the Elections Act. Instead of a single election day, there would be three. Plus a four-day advance poll the week prior. Elections Canada expects mail-in voting would top 5 million ballots. It was only 50,000 in 2019.

Throughout the fall, the House of Commons Procedure and House Affairs committee studied feasibility and logistics of a pandemic election. Hearings included testimony from Elections BC head Anton Boegman and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

B.C. counted almost 600,000 votes by mail in the Oct. 24 provincial election. Turnout was 54.5%.

The NDP won a 57-seat majority in the election, which was held a year ahead of the legislated date. Democracy Watch and the founder of Integrity BC have petitioned B.C. Supreme Court to find Horgan and the NDP broke the law. The 2021 election was supposed to be the fifth consecutive since B.C. enacted Canada’s first fixed elections date law in 2001.

John Horgan at the Oct. 6 platform release (NDP/YouTube)

Between Sept. 21, the first day of the campaign, and Dec. 7, when the Legislature reopened, B.C. recorded almost 30,000 new cases of the virus and 300 deaths, increases of 365% and 132% respectively. The Fraser Health region drove the surge in cases. The biggest city in the region is Surrey, where the NDP won seven of nine ridings.

Andrew Wilkinson, who was the BC Liberal leader during the election, said incumbents had overwhelming advantages in B.C., Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and New Zealand.

He called the B.C. campaign a “low-information environment,” without events, crowds, personal touch or eye contact with voters.

“Just masks and once a day availabilities for the leader,” he said. “So it becomes a totally disembodied, sterile campaign where we’re all fighting against the control factor of Dr. Bonnie Henry.”

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Bob Mackin Canadians could be going to

For the week of Dec. 13, 2020:

Darryl Plecas has left the Speaker’s chair to the NDP’s Raj Chouhan. But not without releasing another bombshell report.

Plecas served for three years until Premier John Horgan called an election a year earlier than required. As promised, independent Plecas did not seek re-election in Abbotsford South.

In the Unfinished Business report, Plecas called on lawmakers of every stripe to push for change and continue his quest to end corruption.

On this edition of theBreaker.news Podcast, Plecas tells host Bob Mackin he is highly critical of the house leaders for allowing disgraced Clerk Craig James to retire without paying back a penny of his ill-gotten gains. James and ex-Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz (who also retired in disgrace) remain the subjects of a criminal investigation. 

Plecas also reveals the house leaders’ indifference to a whistleblower’s complaint about workplace harassment.

On the the opaque culture of the Legislature:

“From the very beginning it was an uphill struggle because of the structure of the place, the way they did business, the absence of any kind of mechanisms to deal appropriately with wrongdoing.”

On the lack of whistleblower protection at the Legislature:

“We still don’t have that. How on earth is that possible in this day and age, how is that possible when in the meantime the government introduced whistleblower legislation respecting government employees?”

On the Legislative Press Gallery:

“There are certain members of the Press Gallery who moved heaven and earth to trash every single thing we did, and in some cases without even reading what it is they were talking about.”

Also on this edition, Plecas’ Chief of Staff, Alan Mullen, discusses the case of the mace.

Victoria Police are investigating tampering in the Speaker’s office. The alarm that secures the Legislature’s mace on a fireplace mantle was disabled in February. It went unnoticed until late October.

Hear Mullen tell Mackin the motive may not have been theft, but to place a listening device in the Speaker’s office.

Plus Pacific Northwest and Pacific Rim headlines and commentary.

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theBreaker.news Podcast: More bombshells from Plecas and Mullen
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For the week of Dec. 13, 2020: Darryl

Bob Mackin

The former Speaker of British Columbia’s Legislative Assembly is calling on lawmakers to push for change and continue his quest to end corruption.

Darryl Plecas released a 50-page report, called “Unfinished Business,” on Dec. 11 to summarize his three years as Speaker and recommend reforms. The report recounts his ups and downs as referee in the seat of government and the loose ends left when Premier John Horgan called an election a year earlier than required.

Speaker Darryl Plecas arrives on Throne Speech Day Feb. 12, 2019 (BC Gov)

Plecas called his tenure “eventful and interesting.” It was an era marked by the criminal investigation of and retirements in disgrace by the Clerk and Sergeant-at-Arms (criminal charges are pending) and adoption of a laundry list of new or revised policies to modernize the 122-year-old workplace.

“I have always said that, in order to clean up the Legislative Assembly, it is necessary to take an honest, unblinking look at what happened – certainly more than the cursory glance that has been cast over these matters, to date. And we can’t cherry pick a bit of the low-hanging fruit (“Wood Splitter! Missing Alcohol!”) and declare the job done,” Plecas wrote. “Those are examples of the underlying problem, but dealing with them does not solve the problem itself. There is work still to do. I continue to think these issues are important and deserve attention. I call on all Members of the new Parliament to push for action on these issues, and to continue my campaign to clean up British Columbia’s Legislature.”

Plecas, a professor emeritus of criminology at the University of the Fraser Valley, was elected the BC Liberal MLA for Abbotsford South in 2013, re-elected in May 2017 and was acclaimed Speaker in September 2017. The Green-supported NDP minority came to power after it defeated the BC Liberals in a confidence vote in June 2017. The BC Liberals ejected Plecas from the party in revenge for sparking ex-Premier Christy Clark’s resignation at a Penticton caucus retreat.

Speaker Darryl Plecas on April 10 (Hansard)

“I did not set out to be a ‘reforming’ Speaker. When I started in the role, I didn’t have any depth of knowledge as to what it involved. But as many people have now read, in the reports I published in January and February 2019, I soon observed a lot of practices which did not seem right to me. I saw an entrenched culture of entitlement and greed. And I saw how partisanship, once it got into the bones of a place, can taint offices that ought to be in the service of all parties, and all members.”

“Rhinoceros skin”

In the report, Plecas wrote about finding resistance around every corner, from disappearing documents and data and political backstabbing to unfair media coverage and archaic practices. Indeed, Plecas wrote, he developed what Hillary Clinton called “rhinoceros skin” after experiencing relentless invective, mudslinging and indifference. “We can take it.”

For instance, Mary Polak, the BC Liberal house leader, supported funding for chief of staff Alan Mullen’s 2019 trip to examine security costs at legislatures in Canada and the U.S. Then, when Mullen departed, Polak and BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson complained to the media. BC Liberal MLA Jas Johal ridiculed the exercise as “Alan Mullen’s excellent summer adventure.” The early 2020 report eventually recommended ways to save millions of dollars and sparked the hiring of a former Vancouver Police Deputy Chief to study next steps on replacing the Legislative Assembly Protective Services police department with a security department.

“The response by the BC Liberals to every step I took over the past two years was quite obviously coloured by their personal animus towards me. But who does that benefit, ultimately, if a party’s dislike of one individual takes precedence over an interest anyone in their caucus might have had in taking on matters so obviously of public importance? I know who it hurts – every British Columbian taxpayer. At the same time, I was surprised and heartened by how many people did support my efforts.”

The animus intensified after the Nov. 20, 2018 suspension of Clerk Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz, the revelation of an RCMP investigation with two special prosecutors and Plecas’ reports that revealed some of their corruption. Evidence showed James was closely aligned with the BC Liberals, who appointed him in 2011 rather than leaving the job to the traditional all-party committee.

Plecas was perturbed by the way house leaders Mike Farnworth (NDP), Sonia Furstenau (Green) and Polak allowed James to retire in May 2019 without repaying the $260,000 retirement allowance he created for himself, despite it being one of the misconducts identified by retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin in her report.

Gary Lenz (left), ex-speaker Linda Reid and Craig James (Commonwealth Parliamentary Association)

“I found the decision staggering. I have no idea what leverage Mr. James could have possibly had to compel a ‘settlement’, or indeed, what notional claim he might have been ‘settling,’ against the Legislature. The ‘settlement’ was announced on the very day that an independent report was tabled confirming that Mr. James had committed misconduct – which in any other workplace, to my understanding, would have presumably justified termination for cause.”

In Unfinished Business, Plecas also revealed that he wrote a confidential memo to the Legislative Assembly Management Committee in February 2019 about an alleged case of workplace harassment from a whistleblower. But no action was taken.

“Given the highly sensitive nature of the allegations, and the charged atmosphere in the aftermath of my first Report, I felt that LAMC was best placed to consider this information, and act on it; and that a #MeToo-style allegation involving the Legislative Assembly deserved a cross-party response. As far as I am aware, neither the allegations, nor my memorandum, have been investigated or acted upon to date.”

Change the culture

Plecas stayed true to his promise to be a one-term Speaker and did not run in the Oct. 24 election. Deputy Speaker Raj Chouhan was acclaimed as his replacement when the Legislature reconvened Dec. 7. Plecas is encouraged by steps taken in the past two years to revise or implement policies in the workplace, including risk management, internal audit, liquor control and inventory, employee travel, corporate purchasing card, gifts and honoraria, standards of conduct, uniform, vacation, gift shop and hospitality.

Speaker Darryl Plecas (left) and chief of staff Alan Mullen (Mackin)

But policies are never enough without robust compliance and enforcement.

“No ‘policy’ is air-tight. No drafter can imagine the myriad of creative ways a motivated person can skirt around the boundaries, if so inclined. The mustard might be banned, but what if the policy doesn’t say anything about artisanal jellies? A book might be 99% for personal enjoyment, but if it’s 1% educational, can it be expensed? There will always be notional ‘grey areas’ where we have a right to expect good judgement from our most senior officials. Rather than simply expecting a well-drafted policy to act as a safety net, we need institutional structures and frameworks in place to ensure proper, fully-informed oversight: of subordinate employees by managers; of managers by our senior officials; and of those officials by elected representatives who are ultimately accountable to voters.”

Ultimately, a culture change — which Plecas compared to turning around a cruise ship — is needed at the Legislature, an institution “insulated from common avenues of public scrutiny and accountability.”

“The court system, for example, has very limited jurisdiction over activities at the Legislative Assembly, and many statutory instruments that promote accountability elsewhere in government do not apply to the Legislative Assembly. For example, freedom of information laws do not apply, nor does the Ombudsperson have any jurisdiction over activities that transpire at the Legislature.”

Plecas recommended the Clerk become a director-general, as in the U.K., and the Sergeant-at-Arms become a ceremonial position.

The Speaker, he wrote, should be independent, also like the U.K., where at least three parties nominate the candidate who, when chosen, leaves partisanship forever.

“Corruption in public office – even when it comes to perhaps seemingly small things like padding expenses – is in my view much worse in the context of the Legislative Assembly than in other workplaces, because it takes advantage of all British Columbians. British Columbians are ‘the boss’. They are the ‘owners’ of this organization. They have a fundamental right to know what is going on, and to be confident that public servants are not taking advantage or improperly profiting from them.”

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Bob Mackin The former Speaker of British Columbia's

Bob Mackin

A former coach with Canada’s national women’s soccer team and the W-League’s Vancouver Whitecaps has been charged with multiple sex crimes for incidents that allegedly took place during two decades.

Bob Birarda in 2005 (CSA)

Robert Steven (Bob) Birarda appeared in North Vancouver Provincial Court Dec. 9. He was charged with offences against four individuals between Jan. 1, 1988 and March 25, 2008 on the North Shore and in Burnaby.

Birarda faces six counts of sexual exploitation, two counts of sexual assault and one count of child luring.

According to documents obtained by Jon Woodward of CTV News Vancouver (and shared with theBreaker.news), Delta-resident Birarda appeared before Judge Lyndsay Smith on the morning of Dec. 9. Smith released him on several bail conditions. Birarda is prohibited from communicating with or contacting the four alleged victims, cannot be in the presence of anyone under 18 and must not to be in a soccer field, park or recreation facility. He was ordered to report by phone to a bail supervisor. 

Birarda’s next scheduled appearance is Jan. 28. There is a publication ban on evidence and the identities of the alleged victims.

In the late 1980s, Birarda worked for late-Whitecaps and Canadian World Cup team coach Tony Waiters at his coaching education company in West Vancouver. Birarda coached in the 1990s with Capilano College in North Vancouver.

Birarda coached the Whitecaps women’s team to the 2006 W-League championship, missed the 2007 playoffs and advanced to the conference finals in 2008. He headed the under-20 national women’s team and assisted on Canada’s team that lost on penalty kicks to the U.S. in the quarter-finals of the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics.

In February 2019, former Whitecap and national team player Ciara McCormack blew the whistle on Birarda’s return to youth coaching with Coastal FC in South Surrey. Birarda was suspended.

She is not among the four alleged victims. On her blog, McCormack recounted how she unsuccessfully complained to club president Bob Lenarduzzi in 2007 about Birarda bullying and harassing players.

CSA and Whitecaps

It took until May 2008 for the Whitecaps to hire a lawyer to act as an ombudsperson. Birarda was eventually let go in October 2008 by the Whitecaps and Canadian Soccer Association on the same day. A news release at the time said Birarda’s departure was mutual and “in the best interest of both parties.” The club made no mention of any alleged misconduct by Birarda at the time. 

McCormack’s blog post went viral. A dozen players from the 2008 Whitecaps and national team issued a public statement, alleging “incidents of abuse, manipulation, or inappropriate behaviour” by Birarda in 2007 and 2008.

Whitecaps supporters grew unhappy with the team’s response and organized match boycotts and first half walkouts at Major League Soccer games in B.C. Place in spring 2019. Owners Greg Kerfoot and Jeff Mallett eventually apologized to the players and admitted that Birarda’s contract was cancelled in 2008 due to sexualized text messages with a player.

They ordered an internal review by a Toronto law firm and forwarded the players’ complaints to the Vancouver Police Department. VPD, in turn, forwarded the file to the North Vancouver RCMP which was actively investigating in summer 2019. 

Ciara McCormack (Twitter)

In August 2019, Lenarduzzi was demoted from president to club liaison.

“I had lost faith in the system,” McCormack told theBreaker.news. “This is unexpected.”

“I hope this serves as a huge wakeup call, our system is not safe and all the changes that need to happen.”

McCormack said she hopes the victims can heal, have a voice and that the case against Birarda can be “impetus for people to speak up and not have to go through this.”

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Bob Mackin A former coach with Canada’s national

Bob Mackin

While disaster unfolded Oct. 1 on the Capilano River, a Metro Vancouver bureaucrat was beaming about the possibilities of a federal funding announcement.

“You’ve likely already seen this, but the Prime Minister announced today $10 billion in new major infrastructure initiatives to create 60,000 jobs and economic growth,” wrote Metro Vancouver external relations director Heather Schoemaker in documents released under the freedom of information law.

Mid-October photograph of the Cleveland Dam spillway into the Capilano River (Mackin)

Just a few minutes earlier, a chain of events was underway at the Cleveland Dam, but it would take a while for the incident to be widely communicated.

A torrent of water rushed down the Capilano River without any warning to those who were fishing. Metro Vancouver commissioner Jerry Dobrovolny later blamed human error in the deaths of North Vancouver artist Ryan Nickerson and his son Hugh. At the end of October, three workers were fired.

Email from Oct. 1, released to theBreaker.news, includes the timeline for the incident.

As workers were conducting maintenance work on the dam, the drum gate — the barrier that holds water in the reservoir — was locked out during work.

At 1:21 p.m., the drum gate re-engaged but did not operate as expected and continued past the set point.

It was fully opened at 1:46 p.m. Six minutes later, at 1:52 p.m., manual operation was initiated to close the drum gate. It was fully closed by 2:08 p.m.

Almost an hour later, a 3:04 p.m., an “emerging incident report” to Metro Vancouver staff from duty officer Will Beatty said rescue crews were on the Capilano River.

“NV Fire dispatch called with inquiries about MV’s spillway control, as fire services and search and rescue are on scene attempting to rescue two people from the Capilano River. MV Parks staff are on scene with the fire services incident commander and MV water services have been notified,” Beatty wrote.

Diagram showing the Cleveland Dam drum gate allowing water on the spillway.
(Metro Vancouver)

Under “anticipated impacts and duration”, Beatty wrote: “None, although the extent of the rescue is unknown and could potentially impact Capilano River Regional Park. Potential media interest.”

The emerging incident report about the Capilano River came, coincidentally, four minutes after one alerting staff about a sewer leak at the Crescent Beach foreman in South Surrey.

Inside Metro Vancouver, communications staff decided what they would tell the media.

“Metro Vancouver was doing maintenance on the dam and at approximately 1:30 p.m. there was a malfunction of such the the drum gate opened and a large volume of water — a significant surge over the drum gate, equivalent to a heavy rain event — flowed down the mouth of the river,” wrote Schoemaker at 3:40 p.m. ”Flow in the river has been reduced and stabilized and Metro Vancouver staff are now working through an investigation of the event and taking steps to ensure this will not happen again.

“DNV fire and rescue on site and conducting a full sweep of the river. At least four people in the process of being rescued — uncertain if there are others and the extent of injuries is unknown.”

Metro Vancouver spokesman Don Bradley wrote at 4:03 p.m. that he spoke with the North Vancouver RCMP public information officer. “There is now one confirmed fatality and they are preparing to release a public statement.”

Bradley proposed a statement that included this line: “An unknown number of people were reportedly swept downstream and rescue efforts are currently underway including a step of the river.”

Capilano Reservoir (Mackin)

The draft at 4:15 p.m. from communications director Amanda McCuaig said “an unknown number of people have been impacted by the surge.”

A shorter statement at 4:42 p.m. omitted mention of victims altogether.

Same with Dobrovolny’s 5:13 p.m. staff memo.

General manager of parks, Neal Carley, recounted, in a 7:15 p.m. email, the 4:15 p.m. situation report from the emergency operations centre in the 28th floor conference room at Metro Vancouver headquarters. Eleven officials were in-person and two attended by phone.

Carley wrote that watershed operations manager Mike Mayers had been contacted at 2:14 p.m. by North Shore Rescue, which said it was initiating a search of the river.

“Reports that four people were stranded on an island in the river, two rescued and evacuated, two swept downstream and rescued/evacuated, a fifth person was found in distress.”

NSR called off the search around 5:20 p.m.

Metro Vancouver has yet to publish the incident report, after Dobrovolny promised one. The regional district government is also working on a report to be submitted to WorkSafeBC.

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Bob Mackin While disaster unfolded Oct. 1 on

By Doris Gómora

In México, during the COVID-19 pandemic, drug trafficking cartels are delivering boxes with food to seniors and low-income families in towns and cities.

In every box, cartels printed their logos, or local dealers’ names. The Sinaloa Cartel delivered food in plastic bags with a printed image of Osama Bin Laden, the dead leader of the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization.

(DEA)

From Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s relatives to dealers in military uniforms and guns are trying to build a social support network. People that received that food must be choosing between drug trafficking organizations or governments.

With an economic crisis and not enough jobs, many will be looking to work with drug trafficking organizations, even in money laundering, in the countries where cartels have illegal operations. Meanwhile, in México, violence will be worse because every drug organization is fighting to control territories.

Around the world, academics and some government officials understood that there is no government social program that can compete with the economic power of drug cartels to build a social base among the population.

Drug trafficking cartels convince or threaten people to work with them, and also they pay a lot more than any government support. But working with drug trafficking cartels is a death notice that is extending to relatives.

The drug trafficking cartels are a Pandora’s Box.

Sinaloa cartel logo

In narcotrafficking, life is short, not long. I learned that in Colombia in the ‘90s when I began to understand drug trafficking as a reporter. Why? People get thousands of dollars quickly but never can get out alive of drug cartels activities, and they know that they will die soon. Pandora’s Box has a lot of temptations and evils as well.

And temptations are extended to politicians and government officials.

The Latin American politicians used to think that there is nothing wrong to accept money from drug trafficking cartels. They never expect those drug cartels are going to ask for the money back or even kill them. Politicians think that they are superior to drug traffickers. That has been happening since the ‘70s. 

Politicians accept money for financing their campaigns, but the action that politicians, candidates, and government officers consider as harmless opens a Pandora’s Box and releases thousands of bad things.

And what is inside the Pandora’s Box of the drug trafficking cartels? The power of destruction, the inferno of violence. The drug cartels decide who lives and who does not, and how.

The way drug cartels take back their money from politicians is by controlling territories, even with violence. And politicians keep silent about it.

Then bad things are released, arriving slowly, and with terrible violence. Drug trafficking cartels commit massive kidnappings, disappearances, executions, and even car bombings.

El Chapo mask (NewADesigns)

And the infamous box is continuing to release death. Pandora’s Box is mythology, but drug trafficking cartels are not. They are real as the violence that they spread.

In November 2019, the public was shocked by the murder of nine LeBaron’s family members in a wedding convoy by a Mexican drug trafficking organization. Members of the American-Mexican Mormon group are looking for justice. They asked the U.S. government for help because they have dual citizenship.

But Mexican families whose relatives were killed by drug cartels in small towns, cities, and even in mass executions are asking the Mexican government for help and years pass with no answers for most of them. The same experience is replicated in South America, where the Mexican cartel operates with local criminal allies.

The Narcopolitic is so broad in the countries where drug trafficking cartels works that it is impossible to not see it. In México, for instance, “Etellekt,” a consulting firm, informed that during the 2017-2018 electoral process, 523 candidates from all political parties were killed by violence related to cartels.

A key question about those killings: did some of them receive money from rival drug cartels, or were they killed because the criminals want to put their people into positions of authority? 

In 2011, Congressman Michael McCaul sought to classify Mexican cartels as terrorist organizations. In 2019, GOP lawmakers Mark Green and Chip Roy wrote a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to label violent drug cartels as terrorist organizations. After LeBaron’s family members were attacked, the Trump administration paused a plan to designate Mexican cartels as a terrorist organization.

After high-level negotiations with the Mexican government, President Donald Trump has made clear that it remains an option designated some of the Mexican drug trafficking cartels as terrorist organizations.

From a local politician to the high-ranking officers, drug traffickers are looking for associates. Politicians and officers keep silent. They do not want people to know who opens the Pandora’s Box that terrifies the lives of millions.

Politicians from locals to the top used to think that they can work together with drug cartels and get a “Pax Mafiosi.” But a new problem begins: if a politician accepted money from one drug trafficking organization, rival cartels consider him or her as a new enemy, and violence keeps going. Peace doesn’t come easy, or fast, either.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Donald Trump, July 8, 2020 (White House)

A “Pax Mafiosi” is not the answer. A Pandora’s Box just opens other Pandora’s Boxes.

Pandora’s Box has so much terror and darkness that it is immensely powerful. People don’t know who works with who, and why. The line between political power and drug trafficking is so thin that it seems that they are intertwined.

In México, journalists, such as Miroslava Breach, were killed when they investigated the line between politicians and drug trafficking cartels.

Silence is not the answer, but many keep silent because they could be threatened or killed by the drug trafficking cartels. But others choose to fight against cartels, as happened recently in small towns in Michoacan, México through self-defence groups. Fighting against the narcos is hard and needs financing and resources.

The Pandora’s Box of Mexican cartels is still open, and the only thing that everybody is trying to find in the deep of that box is hope.

Peace and justice look so far away. When will the Pandora’s Box of Mexican cartels close? Not soon. 

Doris Gómora is a Mexican news freelancer reporter. She has worked for the largest newspapers in México such as El Financiero, Reforma, and El Universal. Since 1992 , she has covered drug trafficking. She has won journalism prizes for her investigations about drug trafficking.

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By Doris Gómora In México, during the COVID-19

For the week of Dec. 6, 2020:

When Darryl Plecas wasn’t busy fighting corruption in the Legislature, keeping decorum as B.C.’s 39th Speaker, or looking after his constituents in Abbotsford South, he was listening to advice on improving parliament and the way MLAs communicate with citizens.

One of his final acts as Speaker of the 41st Parliament was the Dec. 3 release of two reports from his groundbreaking Speaker’s Forum on the Role of Members, Ideas for Change and Actioning Proposals for Change. They are the product of roundtable meetings with groups representing indigenous people, youth, teachers, political scientists, former MLAs and media (including theBreaker.news Podcast host Bob Mackin).

Speaker Darryl Plecas (Hansard)

Facilitator Prof. Martha Dow noted dozens of recommendations, including: term limits, regular town hall meetings, banning heckling and applause in Question Period, disclosure of voting and attendance records, empowering committees to hold inquiries, lowering the voting age to 16 and mandatory Civics 12 classes in high schools.

“These aren’t really my recommendations for reform, certainly not,” Plecas told Mackin in a feature interview on this edition of theBreaker.news Podcast. “They’re simply the recommendations of a collection of people who we think are fairly representative of British Columbians, who have some interest in seeing change, positive change.”

The Speaker’s Forum roundtables and Plecas’ term were supposed to last four years. But both were cut short when Premier John Horgan called a snap fall election in September. Plecas fulfilled a promise not to run for a third term in Abbotsford South. His Deputy Speaker Raj Chouhan, who was re-elected in Burnaby-Edmonds, is the NDP designate to take over. Meanwhile, Plecas waits for a special prosecutor to decide on charges in the RCMP’s corruption investigation of ex-Clerk Craig James and ex-Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz.

The most difficult aspect of his term as Speaker? “Experiencing the resistance to change.”

Plecas was a catalyst for a suite of new policies and procedures and checks and balances during his three years as Speaker, but it did not come easy. And now these two reports from his Speaker’s Forum, which he hopes will bring MLAs closer to the people they represent. 

On this week’s edition, listen to the interview, plus Pacific Northwest and Pacific Rim headlines and commentary.

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

Now on Spotify!

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theBreaker.news Podcast: Through Darryl Plecas and his Speaker's Forum, British Columbians deliver ideas for change
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For the week of Dec. 6, 2020:

Bob Mackin

The Chinese citizen arrested at Vancouver International Airport last February on charges he laundered money for Mexican drug cartels will go before a federal judge in February 2021 in Chicago.

Long Huanxin, aka “Little Long” or “Mateo K,” is charged in the United States with receiving bulk cash from the proceeds of narcotics, laundering the funds and delivering the money to drug-trafficking organizations in Mexico.

Federal Court in Chicago (U.S. District Court)

theBreaker.news was first to report last March how Long was arrested Feb. 5 after arriving on a flight from Guangzhou. Canada Border Services Agency officers were acting on a warrant issued in March 2019 from the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division. Long agreed on July 15 in B.C. Supreme Court to surrender to the U.S. court.

The unsealed grand jury indictment alleges that Long and Haiping Pan, aka “Francisco” and “Myonlystar,” were involved from May 2017 to July 2018 in a scheme with Mexican national Antonio Cuellar Esparza

“Pan, Long and others including Cuellar Esparza, coordinated money ‘pickups’ in Chicago, New York, and elsewhere, at which bulk quantities of cash narcotics proceeds were delivered by U.S.-based drug traffickers to operatives who worked for Pan and Long,” the indictment said. “It was further part of the conspiracy that Long and others delivered, and caused to be delivered, the cash narcotics proceeds to individuals and businesses in the United States that assisted in laundering the funds, including by receiving the cash narcotics proceeds, which were in U.S. dollars, and identifying the monetary equivalent of the cash narcotics proceeds in Chinese Yuan located in commercial bank accounts in China.”

The indictment specifically alleges that Pan and Long received large sums of cash in Chicago — $253,780 on July 2, 2018 and $254,980 on July 5, 2018 — that were the proceeds of illicit drug trafficking. Long was scheduled to appear in court for a Dec. 4 status hearing, but that was delayed to Feb. 3.

Long may not be in a U.S. jail had he not booked a flight through YVR due to the coronavirus pandemic.

After witnessing his wife give birth to their second child in November 2019 in Taiwan, Long returned to Guangdong to visit his mother, according to a Canadian immigration court. When the Wuhan coronavirus spread from Hubei to other Chinese provinces, Taiwan banned entry for travellers from Guangdong. Since Long has both permanent resident status and business holdings in Mexico, he arranged to travel there to reunite with his family.

Vancouver International Airport control tower (YVR)

After his YVR arrest, where he was interrogated and his Huawei smart phone was searched, Long was transferred to the North Fraser Pre-Trial Centre in Port Coquitlam and held in quarantine, even though he did not appear to be infected with the coronavirus.

The immigration court in Vancouver heard that Long is purchasing manager for a business owned by his parents-in-law that imports toys and clocks from Guangdong and sells from a warehouse in Mexico. Long, who holds a degree in international trade and economy from Guangdong University of Technology, has no criminal record.

Long had previously invested in Mexican hotels, restaurants and karaoke bars, as well as bitcoin.

There are some coincidences between Long’s case and that of Meng Wenzhou, the Huawei executive arrested Dec. 1, 2018 at Vancouver International Airport on a fraud warrant issued by a court in New York.

Like Meng, Long planned to switch flights at YVR to Mexico. Long had worked for another Shenzhen-based Chinese tech company, CK Telecom and had moved in 2012 to Mexico to set-up a supply chain. Meng’s husband, Liu “Carlos’ Xiaozong, is a former Huawei regional manager for Mexico.

Like Meng, Long provided the password for his cell phone to Canadian authorities. In his case, evidence was extracted from his phone and WeChat account about his business deals.

Meng, however, is free on $10 million bail, resides under a nightly curfew at a Shaughnessy mansion near the U.S. consulate compound, has bodyguards who have also worked at the nearby Chinese consulate, and wears a surveillance anklet to prevent her from fleeing Vancouver.

The Wall Street Journal reported Dec. 3 that Meng is in talks with U.S. authorities about a potential plea bargain. 

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Bob Mackin The Chinese citizen arrested at Vancouver

Bob Mackin

Good news for vehicle drivers. You will be able to drive eastbound from Denman to Jervis again on Beach Avenue in the West End.

Beach Avenue near Sunset Beach in Vancouver, Dec. 3 (Mackin)

Bad news: The ban will continue from Jervis to Hornby, as city hall moves to create a permanent bike lane.

The traffic changes were imposed in the spring when the Park Board, dominated by left wing COPE and Green commissioners. They banned bikes from the dedicated bike lane on the seawall in order to displace vehicles when traffic decreased during the stay at home spring. The lanes remained shut even after the economy reopened.

A Dec. 3 memo to Mayor and Council from Lon LaClaire, general manager of engineering, said the seawall bike path will remain closed at least into 2021.

“Staff have developed an interim design for Beach Avenue that will start to be installed in December 2020 and would be replaced with more permanent treatments depending on the result of engagement and design through the master plan process.”

Beach Avenue near Sunset Beach in Vancouver, Dec. 3 (Mackin)

LaClaire claims the move was the result of an online survey that received 2,500 responses. There was no formal public hearing. 

On Dec. 3, theBreaker.news photographed some of the preliminary markings where a traffic island and other alterations to the roadway are planned.

A news release issued Dec. 4 says the work will begin “next week.” The budget was omitted, but theBreaker.news has confirmed it is $250,000.

The memo says pylons will be replaced by a concrete barrier.   

“Construction crews will work as quickly as possible to minimize local impacts, but changes like restoring eastbound motor vehicle and transit access (between Denman St and Jervis St) may be delayed as they rely on other project elements (which are weather dependent) to be in place before they can be implemented. Staff will continue to monitor and make additional adjustments to the design as needed.”

Ultimately, the new bike lane is part of a bigger strategy, connected to the West End Waterfront Master Planning process. The council-approved project is marketed as a rethink to parks, beaches and other public space. This happens during a wave of upscale condo tower development around the West End, transforming the dense forest of apartment buildings into a resort district appealing to foreign investors who want to buy close to Stanley Park.

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Bob Mackin Good news for vehicle drivers. You

Bob Mackin

The real estate and immigration lawyer who failed in a 2018 bid for the Richmond mayoralty is guilty of professional misconduct, according to a Law Society of British Columbia tribunal.

Hong Guo

In a Nov. 4 decision, the tribunal found Hong Guo failed to supervise a bookkeeper, improperly delegated trust accounting to him, misappropriated funds and breached law society undertakings and orders.

Guo had alleged that bookkeeper Zixin “Jeff” Li took $7.5 million from her firm’s trust accounts for 100 clients in 2016, laundered the cash at a casino and fled to China.

A disciplinary hearing is scheduled for two days in March 2021. Guo could face reprimand, a maximum $50,000 fine, conditions or restrictions on her practice, a suspension, or even expulsion from the legal profession.

“Although the theft amount was $7.5 million, in fact only $6.7 million was actually paid out by the banks because the last cheque was caught by the bank before it cleared,” said the Law Society’s ruling. “The panel found that the sheer volume of her practice made it improbable Guo could properly supervise the accounting department and employees.”

Guo had signed blank trust cheques and left them with Li before departing on a two-week vacation in March 2016. She claimed some of the blank cheques were forged, but did not provide evidence at the hearings, which ran 10 days in February and June.

“The bookkeeper was able to orchestrate the theft by crediting fake deposits to a trust account ledger he had set up in a former conveyancing assistant’s name, thereby inflating the apparent balance available for withdrawal,” the ruling said. “From late February to March 31, 2016, $7.5 million in trust funds were provided to the former conveyancing assistant using the pre-signed blank trust cheques. On April 1, 2016, Guo discovered the theft when she could not find her bookkeeper to review her monthly trust reconciliation statements.”

By early 2018, Guo had deposited $2.6 million of family money and $4 million from an insurance policy to repay the trust account. The Law Society issued the citation against Guo in September 2018.

The panel also found that after Guo discovered the theft, “she misappropriated or improperly withdrew three separate clients’ trust funds [worth more than $649,000] when there were insufficient funds on deposit to the credit of other clients.”

Guo also manipulated trust account records to allow her to use other clients’ funds to complete transactions.

Richmond lawyer Hong Guo announced her run for Mayor of Richmond last June.

“While Guo deposited $1.69 million in family funds, the funds were not allocated to particular clients or client files, making it difficult to determine the amount of funds actually on deposit, and most of the funds had been paid to close other transactions,” the ruling said. “In one instance, Guo delayed paying half of the real estate commission, some unpaid strata fees and her legal account for fees, disbursements and taxes to reduce the impact of the theft.”

The tribunal’s decision also said Guo deposited almost $197 million into a trust account, but withdrew $7.27 million via cheques that had not been signed by a second signatory.

Guo originally came to Canada in 1993 and studied law at the University of Windsor. She worked in the State Council in China’s central government and was called to the B.C. bar in 2009.

Guo finished fourth in the mayoral election in 2018 after an interview with theBreaker.news in which she denied the existence of China’s well-documented human rights abuses.

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Bob Mackin The real estate and immigration lawyer