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Bob Mackin

A Surrey company that claimed its product could help prevent coronavirus says it is ending the ad campaign and pausing operations.

(NRP Organics)

NRP Organics sent door hanger ads via Canada Post to select neighbourhoods in Richmond, New Westminster and Vancouver.

One side features Corona Virus and COVID19 in bold letters, sandwiching a photograph of a healthcare worker in protective gear treating an Asian patient whose mouth and nose are covered by a mask. On the reverse, the words “Protect Yourself Now. Clinically Proven Anti-Viral,” referring to fulvic and humic beverage concentrates that NRP sells under the non-medicinal O Legado brand. A photograph of the door hanger was originally published in the Richmond News.

There is no vaccine or other product yet that is proven to prevent or cure the virus, which is the subject of the World Health Organization’s March 11 pandemic declaration.

After a query from theBreaker.news, an anonymous email reply from NRP said: “The information presented regarding Covid-19 was intended to be helpful and was copied from the CDC website.” 

The NRP website, however, included a disclaimer that said “statements have not been evaluated by the Health Canada or U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to… cure or prevent any disease.”

NRP co-founder Sheila Randall denied the company attempted to mislead consumers. She conceded “in retrospect, that probably wasn’t the best choice of words.”

NRP Organics door hanger that used the coronavirus pandemic to sell its product (Richmond News)

“People use all kinds of things, from fruits and vegetables and exercise, and this is just something that perhaps people haven’t heard of before, that can help their health and wellbeing,” Randall said.

The product sold for $88 a two-bottle set, but will not be advertised or sold for the time being. Co-founder James Rutherford said the company will instead observe non-essential work and social isolation recommendations from public health officials during the public health emergency.

“We’ll absolutely not be hanging any door hangers anymore, with exception of whatever’s in the system,” said co-founder James Rutherford. “There will be nothing new sent out.”

Rutherford is a real estate agent with Homelife Glenayre Realty in Abbotsford and the website was registered under the name of Walt Browne, broker/manager of the office. Browne denied involvement in both the company and website.

“I don’t know what they’re doing, I don’t know what they’re marketing, so this is all news to me,” said Browne when contacted by theBreaker.news

“We’ve got a few hundred domains on there, so when this one was registered it just went through that GoDaddy [account], we do all the domains for the offices and open houses and whatever we need,” Rutherford said. “He’s not connected with this in any way shape or form.”

After a phone interview with Randall and Rutherford, NRP Organics content disappeared from its domain and displayed a Shopify e-commerce template. 

On its website, under the heading of “How can I prevent getting infected,” B.C. Centre for Disease Control recommends social distancing, vigorous hand washing with hot water and soap, hand sanitizer, avoiding touching your face, and covering your mouth and nose to sneeze or cough.

As usual, the Better Business Bureau warns buyer beware. It recommends doing research and being wary of any miracle and all-natural product claims. “If you’re tempted to buy an unproven product or one with questionable claims, check with your doctor or other health care professional first,” according to the BBB.

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Bob Mackin A Surrey company that claimed its

Bob Mackin

Imagine the day your hiring is announced and your new boss arranges one of the biggest assignments of your career.

That is what happened to Michael Pickup, the auditor general of Nova Scotia who will switch coasts to become British Columbia’s auditor general in July.

Premier John Horgan (Hansard)

Pickup’s eight-year appointment was announced during an emergency sitting of the B.C. Legislative Assembly on March 23. Finance Minister Carole James tabled a $5 billion package aimed at rescuing an economy that ground to a halt after the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic on March 11.

The seven NDP members, three BC Liberals and two Greens voted for the pandemic response and economic recovery bill and to amend the employment standards law for unpaid, job-protected leave for employees affected by the crisis.

The relief package includes $2.8 billion in programs for residents and services and $2.2 billion for businesses. Eligible British Columbians will receive a $1,000 tax-free payment and tax credit top-ups.

Tax filing and payment deadlines are extended to the end of September for PST, municipal and regional tax, and taxes on tobacco, motor fuel and carbon. Businesses with a $500,000 or higher payroll can defer employer health payments until Sept. 30. The 7% tax on e-commerce and soda pop has also been delayed from July 1. It was unclear whether the package eventually would lead to higher taxes, service cuts or cancelled or delayed infrastructure projects. 

The two bills were the furthest thing from the minds of James and Premier John Horgan when they tabled a balanced budget last month.

“I can’t recall, in my time as a member of this place, coming on 15 years — nor as a student of history, going back over the many, many decades, a century and a half of Canada’s existence — where British Columbians have had their elected representatives meet on such a dark and troubling occasion to talk about how we come out of that darkness better off for the effort,” Horgan said. 

Michael Pickup, B.C.’s new auditor general (Nova Scotia)

Pickup is the permanent replacement for Carol Bellringer, who suddenly announced her resignation last September after tabling a faulty report on the Legislature spending scandal. Bellringer did not conduct the promised forensic audit after lobbying heavily to keep the assignment in her office, instead of letting it go to an out-of-province auditor (as originally recommended by the all-party committee that oversees the legislature). 

Bellringer’s interim replacement, Russ Jones, was among the four candidates who were interviewed Feb. 21. The committee instead chose Pickup, Nova Scotia’s auditor general since 2014 and a 25-year veteran of the Auditor General of Canada’s office.

A silver lining of the pandemic? It brought political adversaries together unlike before. The sitting even had a question period, but there was no desk-thumping, clapping or jeering or sneering across the aisle. Almost four years after Delta independent MLA Vicki Huntington’s private member’s bill failed to achieve the same.

“The absence of partisanship I think all British Columbians should celebrate,” Horgan said. “At this unique time, partisanship has left the building. People are here to work together with one singular focus. That’s the health and well-being of all British Columbians.”

The Legislature is unlikely to return to finish the spring session, which had been scheduled through the end of May. The emergency is also likely to put to bed any suggestion of an early election in fall 2020. British Columbians are scheduled to go to the polls in October 2021.

British Columbia’s tourism lobby pleads for bailout

In a March 21 letter to NDP tourism Minister Lisa Beare, Tourism Industry Association of B.C. CEO Walt Judas, said the $19 billion-a-year industry that employs 300,000 suffered a “direct and severe blow.”

“With all leisure and business travel not at a standstill, B.C.’s visitor economy will lose several billion dollars in revenue during the March to June period alone,” Judas wrote.

The coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of cruise ships in Vancouver and Victoria until July and the premature end of the skiing and snowboarding season, including at Whistler Blackcomb, North America’s biggest resort.

“While our industry is doing what it can to support thousands of employees who rely on a thriving tourism industry to pay their bills and support their families, we cannot do it without government assistance,” Judas wrote.

The industry’s wish list included an incremental supplement to the federal wage subsidy; a program to offset fixed costs; a temporary raise to the employer health tax exemption and a reduction or elimination of the tax for eligible businesses in the 2020 tax year; and immediate sale of packaged beer, wine and spirits with take-out or delivery from restaurants.

Government already acted on the latter during the weekend.

An internal member impact survey found 43% of respondents expect extreme and 26% severe impacts on their business over the next six months. Almost nine in 10 reported postponements and cancellations from clients and customers due to the pandemic.

City workers brace for layoffs

Leaders of City of Vancouver’s three unions reached an agreement with city hall to protect jobs. But the head of the outside workers’ union concedes that major job losses are inevitable.

Vancouver city hall (CoV)

A March 23 memo from Andrew Ledger of CUPE Local 1004, which represents outside workers, said locals 1004, 15 and 391 concluded discussions on the letter of understanding with city hall, park board and civic library management.

“We now expect significant changes to our workforces; with many civic facility closures already in place, this week will see more city operations suspended and significant layoffs to follow,” wrote Ledger.

The details will be circulated after city council ratifies. The memo said the main points include:

Seniority protection during the public health crisis, wage and benefit protection when work group layoffs occur; and No bumping during temporary layoffs.

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Bob Mackin Imagine the day your hiring is

In British Columbia, public health officials have decreased the quantity and quality of information disclosed about the coronavirus pandemic. 

Ontario’s health ministry still releases non-personal case-by-case information. But, in B.C., officials are frustrating reporters seeking the most basic information.

Who is suffering? Where? How was it spread? How many tests are in the backlog?

Also, the information and privacy commissioner gave provincial and municipal government offices and agencies carte blanche to take up to 90 business days to answer freedom of information requests during the public health emergency.

Sean Holman in 2018 (Mackin)

This deeply concerns Sean Holman, professor of journalism at Mount Royal University in Calgary and one of Canada’s foremost researchers into the way governments manage and manipulate information.

“We are in a democracy, we are not in a dictatorship,” Holman told theBreaker.news Podcast host Bob Mackin on this week’s edition. “Governments need to involve people in decision-making that is happening right now, as difficult as that may be. The population deserves to know what their government knows, especially at a time of crisis to evaluate whether or not their governments are making the right decisions for the safety of all.”

Why is transparency so important? Holman said it is because the public needs to evaluate whether or not public bodies are doing their jobs to protect us from the disease. Without transparency, there is a heightened risk of disinformation and mixed messages leading to confusion and chaos. 

“If people can get a better sense about how much infection there is in their local geographic area, they can act accordingly and we really do want people to, in this time of crisis, be acting in accordance to the risk around them,” he said. “We want people to be self-isolating, we want people to be socially distancing, we want people to be thinking about the larger community, as opposed to thinking about their own individual safety. By disclosing that type of information, we can allow for those kinds of measures.”

Also on this edition, a recap of the week’s major announcements impacting the west coast. Hear Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, President Donald Trump, Premier John Horgan, Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart.

A trip in the podcast time machine, back to Expo 86. Hear clips of the late Kenny Rogers at the Expo 86 Royal Gala, attended by Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

Plus commentaries and Pacific Rim and Pacific Northwest headlines. 

CLICK BELOW to listen or go to Apple Podcasts and subscribe. 

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theBreaker.news Podcast: Why we need transparency from our governments in a time of crisis
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In British Columbia, public health officials have

Bob Mackin

Vancouver city hall finances are in freefall because of the coronavirus crisis, but they pushed the “UP” button at 12th and Cambie on a plan to revamp Mayor Kennedy Stewart’s private elevator.

Plans to carry on with tendering came the same day that city council declared a state of emergency, amid rampant fear of both the disease and economic ruin.

Vancouver city hall (Mackin)

A March 19 notice on the civic procurement website reminded bidders for the “city hall mayor’s office elevator modernization” contract that the deadline is March 31 at 3 p.m. Applicants must now contact city hall by email to arrange a delivery appointment, because the city hall campus is open for appointments only during the state of emergency.

The March 3-issued tender notice says the elevator cab still retains its “superb ornate brass features and rich art deco panels along with the original cabin operating panels and hall call fixtures at each level.” Work will include replacing elevating device drive equipment, replacing heritage fixtures with suitable reproductions and bringing the elevator up to current building codes. The budget is not mentioned in the documents.

During a March 20 conference call with reporters, theBreaker.news tried to ask Mayor Kennedy Stewart about the budget for the job and why it is proceeding at this time. However, city manager Sadhu Johnston took over the microphone and did not directly address the elevator tendering.

“What we’ve been trying to do as an organization is to continue moving the business forward of the organization while we address and maintain the critical services,” Johnston said.

He said staffers are being encouraged to work from home or cease activities.

“Up to now we’ve been trying to keep as much going as we can. And we’re going to be shifting next week to less of that activity,” Johnston said.

Mayor Kennedy Stewart (Mackin)

An attempt to ask a follow-up question, about the optics of proceeding while city services have been cut to bare minimum, was cut-off. (SCROLL DOWN AND LISTEN TO AUDIO)

UPDATE: On March 24, city hall informed bidders that the deadline has been postponed until April 28. But bureaucrats have scheduled a mandatory information meeting for bidders to attend on March 31. 

By email, Stewart’s chief of staff Neil Monckton said the elevator services seven floors and is also used by staff, councillors and the city clerk. He referred questions about the budget to the communications department, which did not immediately respond. 

Stewart has acknowledged that the coronavirus epidemic could be ruinous for the local economy and that he would be seeking aid from senior governments. On March 20, he announced property tax payments are delayed 60 days and the Vancouver Economic Commission is striking a task force to rescue the city’s economy, which has ground to a halt. He also ordered all restaurants to stop offering dine-in, table service at midnight or face prosecution. He urged Vancouverites to stay home or stay away from each other by a metre or more, but did not dismiss the possibility of ordering a California-style mass-quarantine.

CLICK AND LISTEN to Bob Mackin’s question about the Mayor’s Office Elevator Modernization

Vancouver city hall was built in 1936 and declared a heritage building in 1976. The elevator was temporarily out of service in July 2018, according to a memo from the city manager to the mayor and council at the time. The motor had to be removed and sent to a service shop for repairs.

A 2019 report included in the tendering package said there is lead-based paint on the door and walls of the mayor’s elevator and on machine equipment. The only asbestos found was in the elevator machine room’s plaster ceiling, but not the elevator itself.

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Bob Mackin Vancouver city hall finances are in

Bob Mackin

MoveUp, the union representing ICBC workers, is urging the public to self-isolate and avoid unnecessary interactions with service workers after a March 19 incident at the ICBC driver licensing office in Richmond.

Lansdowne Centre (Colliers Canada)

theBreaker.news learned that RCMP officers were called to deal with a client wearing a surgical mask. Staff witnessed the man coughing and sneezing, and believed the man was exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus, so they asked him to leave. But he refused, according to a source.

Richmond RCMP spokesman Cpl. Dennis Hwang said the incident happened shortly after 9 a.m.

“The man was located, identified as a 31-year old from Nanaimo, and left voluntarily on foot,” Hwang said by email. “He was not permitted to drive. The man was believed to be attending for legitimate business.”

In an interview, MoveUp vice-president Annette Toth said people need to think of others, have patience and ask themselves whether they really need to visit ICBC right now.

“Does my 16-year-old need to get their learner’s licence now? Can they wait a couple weeks?” Toth said. “The non-essential ones, the ones that don’t have to be looked after now, please stay home, please wait. Please give us time so we can handle and deal with the people that need to be looked after.”

MoveUp is aware of people directed to self-isolate upon return from international trips to high-risk countries who have provided false information to ICBC staff members in order to receive service.

“Our staff and all the citizens are hoping people will be honest and forthright, that is putting other peoples lives in jeopardy by not being truthful,” she said. “Everywhere, people need to take this seriously and recognize that they need to be home when they come back from another country and need to self-isolate.”

All road tests are suspended for at least two weeks, without cancellation fees. Toth said ICBC is continuing to receive 5,000 visits a day at driver licensing offices across the province and talks are underway about more ways to lighten the load. 

In a prepared statement, ICBC said it is following recommendations from the Provincial Health Officer to limit transmission of the virus. Every customer that visits is supposed to be asked coronavirus screening questions. If they answer yes to any of the questions, they are asked to return at a later date. Access is limited to waiting areas, to ensure social distancing. 

MoveUp has 12,000 members, mainly in B.C., also including staff at BC Hydro and FortisBC.

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Bob Mackin MoveUp, the union representing ICBC

Bob Mackin

British Columbia is under state of emergency for at least the next two weeks and leisure travel to the United States is banned indefinitely because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Solicitor General Mike Farnworth invoked B.C.’s Emergency Program Act on March 18, four hours after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Donald Trump announced the border would remain open for essential services and goods shipments only.

Mike Farnworth

While Farnworth’s move could bring relief from panic-buying, hoarding and profiteering from basic goods, like toilet paper, cleaning supplies and meat, the law also gives police extraordinary power to control travel inside B.C. and enter a building without a warrant. The law was declared the same day that the Provincial Court on the Downtown Eastside and the B.C. Supreme Court both shut down indefinitely for fear of infection from the Wuhan coronavirus.

Meanwhile, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s March 17-declared public health emergency also means temporary erosion of British Columbians’ right to know.

Information and Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy announced March 18 that he is allowing the provincial government, agencies, Crown corporations and municipal governments to take an extra 30 business days to answer freedom of information requests received by April 30. That means it could take up three months, plus weekends and holidays, to receive documents. The decision is retroactive to March 1 and McEvoy left the door open for public bodies to ask for even more time to reply. 

McEvoy said a large number of public bodies asked for assistance, but they do have to provide him a list by June 30 of every request for which the additional extension was invoked.

“It is clear that the situation has affected their operations and it is likely to continue to do so for some time,” McEvoy said by email. “I take notice of the fact that this interferes with public bodies’ ability to respond to requests for access to records within the time required under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. This extraordinary and unforeseeable situation will be monitored on an ongoing basis in case circumstances warrant this decision being revisited.”

The decision is understandable, but concerning, said the executive director of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association.

B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy (Mackin)

“We will be watching this closely,” said Jason Woywada by email. “While the pandemic will give rise to reasonable challenges related to the timely processing of FOI requests, it is vital that the public’s right to know not be compromised.”

Woywada said if ever there was time for extensive public interest disclosure and fulsome transparency, it is now. The law contains a public interest override clause that states a public body must, without delay, disclose information that is about a risk of significant harm to the health or safety of the public or a group of people.

“Clear and comprehensive transparency from government bodies will help to counteract precisely the kinds of mis-, dis- and mal- information that circulate in a vacuum during an emergency of this magnitude,” Woywada said.

The decision by McEvoy does not preclude making requests nor does it mean a request can be dismissed out of hand, he added. 

McEvoy said he believes public bodies are aware of their responsibility to adhere to the public interest override section of the law and it does not need further elaboration.

“It is up to public bodies to exercise discretion with respect to proactive disclosure,” McEvoy said. “It is fair to say, based on media reports, that public bodies are struggling to do their best to get important information to the public while grappling with responding to the public health emergency in other ways.”

Woywoda is also concerned about the security of information, with many government workers taking their work home to continue their jobs.

“Beyond the impacts to FOI with this extension, we are concerned about how shifts to increased use of personal devices and remote work may impact the production and preservation of records (ie a duty to document concern) within public bodies,” he said.

McEvoy released a one-page tip sheet for public bodies and organizations setting-up remote workspaces in the wake of the pandemic.

He recommended protecting mobile devices and passwords; encrypting and password-protecting portable hard drives and USBs; keeping software updated; using work emails, not personal accounts; and only removing personal information from the office if necessary.

“General rules of thumb: Avoid viewing personal information collected and used for work in public. If you must, take precautions to make sure no one else can view the personal information,” McEvoy wrote.

On March 18, Henry announced another 45 cases in British Columbia, bringing the total to 231. Seven people have died, while five have fully recovered.

Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix provided a breakdown of cases by health authority, but did not disclose whether the new cases are the result of foreign travel or community transmission. Unlike other jurisdictions, the government’s coronavirus website does not provide an anonymized, case-by-case analysis.

That inspired a question from a radio reporter in B.C.’s interior on Dix and Henry’s teleconference.

“Our listeners are telling us daily that Northern Health and Interior Health are too vague when it comes to releasing numbers of cases, they say it’s causing rumours to spread around communities,” the reporter said. “Other provinces, like Ontario, are more specific.”

Dr. Bonnie Henry (left) and Health Minister Adrian Dix on March 6. (Mackin)

Said Henry: “It’s partly privacy, but it’s partly because we need everybody to be aware that the risk is not just in one place, it’s not just them and over there, it’s in your community too and you need to be taking these measures now everywhere in B.C., and across Canada, and, quite frankly, globally, now because this is being transmitted rapidly.”

By comparison, Ontario publishes a daily list of new confirmed positive cases, each with a case number, the sex and approximate age of the patient, name of public health unit, method of transmission (ie. community, travel country or continent, or close contact) and patient status (ie. self-isolating).

Washington State publishes a daily, county-by-county list of positive/confirmed cases and deaths and confirmed cases by age bracket and sex.

The Ontario and Washington governments both release more information than B.C., while successfully the confidentiality of patients.

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Bob Mackin British Columbia is under state of

Bob Mackin

A Chinese citizen wanted by the United States on money laundering charges was arrested en route to Mexico, where he planned to reunite with his wife and children after coronavirus kept them apart.

But then he was quarantined in a Vancouver-area jail while waiting to go before an immigration adjudicator.

Vancouver International Airport control tower (YVR)

A Canadian border guard’s statement, obtained by theBreaker.news, said Long Huanxin, 32, was detained Feb. 5 at Vancouver International Airport. The Department of Homeland Security told Canada Border Services Agency a day earlier that a four-count bench warrant for Long’s arrest had been issued March 8, 2019 from the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division in Chicago.

After witnessing his wife give birth to their second child late last November in Taiwan, Long, who also goes by Kevin, returned to Guangdong to visit his mother. 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 be with his family again.

Long travelled from Guangzhou on China Southern flight CZ-329 to Vancouver and presented himself at 9:50 a.m. on Feb. 5 to a border agent at YVR. He was diverted to secondary screening. Different CBSA officers interrogated him on Feb. 5 and 6 and searched his Huawei smartphone before transferring him to North Fraser Pre-Trial Centre in Port Coquitlam.

Then another coronavirus complication.

Long’s originally scheduled Feb. 7 detention review hearing at the Immigration and Refugee Board was delayed until Feb. 11. Long was quarantined because he had arrived from China.

China Southern Airlines flies Guangzhou to Vancouver (CS Air)

“There have been issues regarding Mr. Long as a result of the protocol that’s been put in place by North Fraser Pre-Trial Centre,” CBSA hearings officer Ryan Friesen told an IRB adjudicator at the Feb. 11 hearing. “The Minister acknowledges that Mr. Long is asymptomatic. It’s not a question of whether or not he is suspected to be ill with coronavirus, but rather the precautions that are being taken by the Correction Centre itself, which are, again, outside the Minister’s control.”

The IRB was told that the U.S. alleges Long had been contracted to arrange for the collection of narcotic proceeds in various U.S. cities and was also responsible for the repatriation of those illicit funds to various transnational cartels in Mexico.

theBreaker.news contacted Nicole Navas Oxman of the U.S. Department of Justice, but she declined comment.

There was yet another coronavirus-related delay in the case.

An RCMP liaison officer based in China, who was supposed to help gain more information on Long, was seconded to CFB Trenton Ontario for the operation to evacuate and quarantine Canadians from Wuhan.

At the IRB hearing, Long’s lawyer, Vanessa De Jong, called her client’s detention unjustified and said he never intended to remain in Canada.

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

De Jong told the IRB that Long holds a degree in international trade and economy from Guangdong University of Technology and he has no criminal record. 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.

He had previously invested in the Mexican hotels, restaurants and karaoke bars company called Domi, but sold those investments. He had also invested in bitcoin, but cashed-out because of the cryptocurrency’s volatility, De Jong said.

“All of the evidence before you today points to Mr. Long being involved in completely lawful business,” De Jong said. “And given that any evidence that may say otherwise is under seal, and even if you do find that the CBSA do — do have reasonable grounds to suspect Mr. Long is involved in organized criminality, which, of course, we say that they do not, we submit that the Minister has not demonstrated that there are any steps available to them to inquire into the suspicion.”

IRB ordered Long to remain in custody. He was arrested Feb. 14 on a provisional warrant seeking his extradition to the U.S. and made short appearances in B.C. Supreme Court via video link on Feb. 26 and March 11. His next date is March 25.

Domi Group’s Mexico City karaoke bar (Facebook)

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 worked at the nearby Chinese consulate, and wears a surveillance anklet to prevent her from fleeing Vancouver.

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Bob Mackin A Chinese citizen wanted by

Bob Mackin

Imagine being the mayor of a big city who declared an emergency, but there was no imminent risk of harm to citizens in his jurisdiction.

Then, more than a year later, a real, deadly emergency comes along and the economy suddenly screeches to a halt. The mayor dithers and refuses to push the alarm button.

Mayor Kennedy Stewart (Mackin)

That is Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart’s dilemma.

The October 2018-elected city council under Stewart moved in January 2019 to declare a climate change emergency. But no meeting with top officials or live, televised news conference followed. Stewart went about his business for a couple of days and then took the weekend off. It was an emergency in name only. 

Now, the week after the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus from Wuhan, China a global pandemic, Stewart is dithering.

“We base our choices on the needs, based on science and the best public information we have,” Stewart said at a March 16 news conference in city hall. “At this point, we don’t see a need operationally to declare a state of emergency. You can imagine a number of things happen when you do that. But if we did do it, it would really centralize power in the city, allowing us to take extraordinary measures, like, for example, procure hotel space, to deliver clothing, to deliver food, to disperse groups of people, so it really is the top level we can go to.”

For the time being, Stewart will not follow the lead of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who declared a coronavirus emergency on March 15.

“I’m ready to do it, if we think we need to do it,” Stewart said.

What Stewart did do on March 16 was announce the citywide, temporary shutdown of community centres, swimming pools, hockey rinks, libraries and by-admission gardens. Vancouver joined Surrey, Delta and West Vancouver in closing recreation and library facilities. All fear they may not be able to maintain core, essential service levels, if staff become ill.

City manager Sadhu Johnston was absent from the news conference, but city hall communications told theBreaker.news that he was healthy.

Stewart said he was in the early stages of talking with senior governments and area mayors about economic stimulus programs and tax breaks to cushion the blow for the economy.

On the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, Stewart said Vancouverites should think twice before going out and stay a metre away from others if they have to. Restaurants and bars, he said, should reduce their capacity to make more space between tables.

Stewart, who is also the police board chair, was asked how the city would monitor establishments, to make sure they do not allow more than 50 people inside. The city has business licence inspectors, but it they were not being mobilized to conduct spot checks. 

“We’re not policing right now, we’re very proud with the way the city has reacted to this point,” Stewart said.

Stewart’s tune changed suddenly in late afternoon.

He told Lynda Steele on CKNW that he had spoken to Police Chief Adam Palmer after Vancouver Coastal Health medical officer Dr. Patty Daly issued an order to close downtown core bars and restaurants on St. Patrick’s Day. Stewart recommended enjoying the taste of Guinness and the sound of the Pogues at home instead.

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

The 50-person limit comes from Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s formal order, a “notice to owners, occupiers, and operators of places at which large numbers of people gather,” which reduced the public gatherings limit from the 250 attendees cap she set late last week.

That means you cannot invite 50 friends to a St. Patrick’s Day hooley, Easter egg hunt in April or a Cinco de Mayo fiesta in May.

Henry’s order lasts until the end of May. She has the option to extend it into June or reduce the ceiling further.

Henry’s order includes a lengthy, broad list of venues. Such as casinos, which were ordered to fold their cards at 11:59 a.m. March 16, 12 hours after Great Canadian Gaming shut its B.C. gambling venues.

The wording of Henry’s order against public gatherings means city hall and the park board should finally clear Oppenheimer Park’s tent city, if more than 50 people are on the park. A problem would be finding shelter for park dwellers, as the city transitions into spring with double digit daytime temperatures and freezing overnight temperatures in the short-term weather forecast.

Three more deaths

The latest province-wide stats released March 16 said B.C. had 30 new cases in the Vancouver Coastal, Fraser and Interior health regions, for a total 103.

Four deaths from Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver, including three over the weekend. Six people are in acute care, but five have fully recovered and the rest are self-isolating at home.

Lions Gate Hospital, where three people in the administration department tested positive, will only accept emergency patients. The government is cancelling thousands of surgeries province-wide, recalling recently retired doctors and nurses. It is also reducing court operations, by postponing jury selection and delaying cases that are not urgent between now and the end of May.

Lynn Valley Care Centre (Mackin)

Henry revealed that at least four cases stem from the Pacific Dental Conference, held March 5-7 at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Henry said more than one person at the conference had the virus and was passing it to others. Cases have been identified from that conference in other provinces across Canada. She said everybody who attended has been notified that they need to stay home. If she had her way, the conference would never have happened.

“It was at a time when I was advising that medical conferences, in particular, should not be held,” she said.

But a statement from the organizer, the B.C. Dental Association, said that the Provincial Health Services Agency was consulted more than a week before the event and Dr. David Patrick from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control was a speaker at the conference.

“At no time was the PDC asked by any public health representatives to halt the conference,” said the prepared statement attributed to president James Singer.

Henry, Health Minister Adrian Dix, Premier John Horgan and at least two deputy ministers attended a news conference on March 6 in the adjoining Pan Pacific Hotel, which shares doors, escalators, elevators and washrooms with the Vancouver Convention Centre at Canada Place. The Vancouver cabinet office is in the complex’s World Trade Centre.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ordered that Canada’s borders be restricted to Canadian citizens, permanent residents, diplomats, flight crews and American citizens. Trudeau called upon Canadians to stay home. For those Canadians outside the country, he urged them to come home, before mass-cancellation of flights.

Dix was disappointed border access was not restricted further.

“We remain concerned that access for visitors from the U.S. continues to be allowed, given the situation particularly in King and Snohomish county in Washington State, which affects B.C. more than anyone else,” Dix said. “It’s our strong view, and our strong message, that visitors from the U.S., don’t come.”

Coronavirus cases in Washington have exceeded the 900 mark, including 48 deaths. 

Laurie Trautman, director of the Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University in Bellingham, said southbound car volume at the border dropped 33% in the first half of March, on a year-over-year basis.

Canada and the U.S. do about $1 billion a day in cross-border trade. U.S. government figures for 2019 show 3.9 million vehicles crossed at Blaine carrying 7.7 million passengers. Nearly 370,000 trucks and 303,000 full containers also crossed the 49th parallel.

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Bob Mackin Imagine being the mayor of a

After the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus from Wuhan, China, a global pandemic, came the cavalcade of cancellations and the pandemic of postponements. A desperate effort to curtail public events, to stop the spread of the disease.

It means the biggest time out in sports history.

Sports economist Victor Matheson in Vancouver, June 28, 2018 (Mackin)

theBreaker.news Podcast called upon Victor Matheson, a professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. who is one of the world’s top experts on the economics of sports and mega-events. His research has found spectator sports deliver less to the economy than boosters claim, because of what is called the substitution effect.

“In this case, it’s likely to be a much larger impact that we’re feeling on the local economy around Vancouver and other places in the country, because there isn’t going to be people who don’t go to a Whitecaps game, don’t go to a Canucks game, who then instead spend the money elsewhere,” Matheson told theBreaker.news Podcast host Bob Mackin. “Because people aren’t going out to dinner, they’re not going to the theatre, they’re not going to other entertainment events. Any money not spent in professional sports, it’s not getting spent elsewhere in the local economy. It’s just not getting spent at all.” 

The impact will be immediately felt by the hourly workers who operate, maintain and clean sports venues and those who work for area hotels and restaurants frequented by fans, teams and media. Major leagues that have suffered strikes or lockouts should be resilient again. Not so much for minor leagues, women’s leagues and startups. There are also major ramifications for broadcasters and advertisers, who were banking on the races for NHL and NBA playoff spots (postponed), the NCAA basketball’s Final Four (cancelled) and golf’s marquee tournament, The Masters (postponed).

The biggest question revolves around whether the Tokyo 2020 Olympics are rescheduled or cancelled. For now, the Japanese government and the International Olympic Committee say the show will go on, as scheduled, on July 24.

Whistler Village (Whistler Blackcomb)

“Tokyo has about 25 billion reasons to want to make sure the Olympics goes through in some sort of way,” Matheson said. “Because that’s about what they’ve spent preparing for the Olympics.”

Listen to the full interview with Matheson on this edition.

Also, more on the shocking March 14 announcement from Vail Resorts Inc. that it would close Whistler Blackcomb and its 36 other resorts until March 22, at least.

Vail acquired 75% of Whistler Blackcomb Holdings in 2016 for $1.4 billion and the 2010 Winter Olympics host resort is the jewel in its portfolio. It suffered a poor start, with little December snow and disappointing international visitation numbers in January. Now the coronavirus shock to the global tourism industry.

Listen to what Vail Chair and CEO Robert Katz said when asked March 9 on a call with stock analysts whether he anticipated closing resorts during the lucrative spring break/Easter period.

Plus commentaries and Pacific Rim and Pacific Northwest headlines. 

Click below to listen or go to Apple Podcasts and subscribe. 

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

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theBreaker.news Podcast: Coronavirus pandemic forces the biggest time out in sports history
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After the World Health Organization declared the

Bob Mackin

Just over a year after he was arrested in San Jose, David Sidoo is scheduled to go before a judge in Boston to plead guilty to his role in the college admissions scandal.

David Sidoo accepting the Order of B.C. from Premier Christy Clark and Lt. Gov. Judith Guichon in 2016 (BC Gov)

The former Canadian Football League star, who became a wealthy oil, gas and mining investor, faced up to 20 years in jail and was tentatively scheduled for trial next January.

But filings released March 11 from the Federal Court in Boston show that Sidoo agreed with prosecutors on Feb. 6 to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud. The plea bargain, if the judge accepts it, means Sidoo could face only 90 days in prison, pay a $250,000 fine and be under 12 months of supervised release.

Sidoo was released on a $1 million bond last March and pleaded not guilty to mail and wire fraud and money laundering charges. He will appear in court in Boston on March 13, according to a statement from his three lawyers.

“His desire is to seek finality to the process,” read the March 11 statement from Martin Weinberg, David Chesnoff and Richard Schonfield.

Sidoo did not immediately respond to theBreaker.news’ phone calls to his $31.7 million Point Grey mansion or his mobile phone.

Sidoo was accused of arranging to pay consultant Rick Singer more than $200,000 for Harvard-educated tennis coach Mark Riddell to write college entrance exams for sons Dylan and Jordan Sidoo, neither of whom are charged.

Dylan Sidoo used the results from the Riddell-written test to enter Chapman University in California, but later transferred to the University of Southern California where he graduated from the film school. Jordan Sidoo entered University of California Berkeley and graduated with a history and political economy degree. Jordan Sidoo briefly worked for the Vancouver Whitecaps early last year. The brothers are two of the three founders of Disappears.com Inc., which markets the Vanish encrypted messaging app.

Dylan (left), David and Jordan Sidoo

Riddell pleaded guilty in April 2019 to fraud and money laundering in the scheme hatched by mastermind Singer, who admitted that he “created a side door that would guarantee families would get in” for a steep price. Singer’s methods involved faking athletic credentials and cheating on entrance exams. Payments were arranged through a charitable foundation that Singer ran.

Prosecutors alleged Riddell traveled from Tampa, Fla. to Vancouver and used false identification to pose as Dylan Sidoo to write an SAT [Scholastic Aptitude Test] test on Dec. 3, 2011 at a venue that has not been disclosed. Riddell allegedly traveled to Vancouver again, to write a test on June 9, 2012 that is described in the indictment as a “Canadian high school graduation exam.” The venue for that exam remains undisclosed.

Prosecutors supplied copies of evidence to Sidoo and his legal team in late April 2019. There was so much evidence, that it came on a hard drive and DVD. At the time, Chesnoff said Sidoo’s legal team was examining the evidence in order to “present facts about the credibility of Mr. Singer.”

Last October, a new version of the indictment against David Sidoo said that Singer drafted a false application essay in 2013 that claimed Jordan Sidoo worked as an intern with an anti-gang violence organization in Los Angeles.

The October 2013 essay falsely claimed that Jordan Sidoo had been held up at gunpoint by gang members in Los Angeles. After Singer emailed a draft to David Sidoo, he wrote back to Singer with minor changes.

“Can we lessen the interaction with the gangs. Guns …? That’s scary stuff. Your call you know what they look for,” David Sidoo wrote.

The essay, without the reference to guns, was later submitted as part of Sidoo’s younger son’s application for admission to multiple universities.

The indictment also alleged that Sidoo asked Singer if Riddell could take either the Graduate Management Admission Test or Law School Admission Test on behalf of Dylan Sidoo. Riddell agreed to pay Singer and Singer agreed to pay Riddell $100,000. But the plan went awry.

David Sidoo (left) and Justin Trudeau in 2016 (PMO)

“Singer and Riddell researched the security measures in place for both exams. On or about April 28, 2015, Singer told Sidoo that their plan to have Riddell take the LSAT in place of Sidoo’s son was ‘[n]ot happening due to fingerprinting’ requirements on the exam,” the indictment said.

In mid-December 2016, according to the indictment, Riddell wired $520 through Western Union to China to buy fraudulent drivers’ licences so he could pose as Dylan Sidoo for the GMAT. Riddell ultimately decided not to take the exam, because the fake ID was “not of high quality.”

In an email last October, Chesnoff dismissed the contents of that updated indictment. 

“These are mere allegations from the mouths of admitted fraudsters. Mr. Sidoo looks forward to his day in court,” Chesnoff said.  

Now Sidoo will go to court to plead guilty and receive a relatively light penalty.

The UBC football star who became a UBC booster, and later a BC Liberal-appointed member of the UBC board of governors, is bound to suffer, reputation-wise. He was caught paying a high price so that his sons could go to universities other than UBC, which is only a short drive from the family mansion. His sons’ California diplomas are tarnished and could be subject to revocation.

David Sidoo could be stripped of his 2016 Order of British Columbia and his name could disappear almost entirely from Thunderbird Stadium, where he donated money to upgrade the facility and help the UBC team win the Vanier Cup in 2015. Sidoo was a star defensive back on the 1982 Vanier Cup-winning UBC team.

Sidoo was the first person from British Columbia to be charged, but will be the second to plead guilty. A Surrey woman who is a Chinese citizen will be sentenced May 19.

Xiaoning Sui, 48, is expected to be sentenced to time already served in a Spanish jail after her plea bargain. She admitted guilt Feb. 21, paid a $250,000 bond to the court, was ordered to provide a DNA sample and restricted to travel within the U.S. and Canada only.

Sui was arrested in Spain last summer after paying a $400,000 bribe to have her tennis-playing son recruited to the University of California Los Angeles soccer team so that he could study there. He had no prior competitive soccer experience, but was falsely billed as a top player on two private teams in Canada.

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Bob Mackin Just over a year after he