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What was 2019?

Clockwise, from upper left: Jody Wilson-Raybould, Alan Mullen, Darryl Plecas, Brad West, Alex McKechnie, Justin Trudeau, John Horgan, Zhou Fengsuo.(Mackin photos)

A federal election year in Canada. Held amid a scandal involving the unapologetic Prime Minister who aimed to save SNC-Lavalin, Canada’s poster child for corruption, at the expense of the country’s first indigenous attorney general. She blew the whistle and got re-elected as an independent.

Civil rights protests in Hong Kong that spilled across the Pacific, where a suburban Vancouver mayor emerged as a voice of reason and sounded the alarm over blatant Chinese Communist Party meddling in Canadian affairs.

A bright light shone into the offices and misdeeds of the clerk and sergeant-at-arms of the British Columbia Legislature. The speaker and his chief of staff withstood a barrage of personal attacks amid their crusade to stamp-out corruption at the seat of government.

Alan Mullen (left) and Darryl Plecas, 2019 recipients of theBreaker.news Podcast Nanaimo bar for newsmakers of the year. (Mackin)

A public inquiry struck to examine how B.C. became one of the world’s magnets for dirty money. 

And a national celebration of the Toronto Raptors historic championship.

Throughout the year, theBreaker.news was there, chronicling history.

On this edition, hear the highlights of theBreaker.news Podcasts from 2019, featuring Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Jody Wilson-Raybould, Tiananmen Square massacre survivor Zhou Fengsuo, Raptors’ sport science guru Alex McKechnie, B.C. Premier John Horgan, Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West, Speaker Darryl Plecas and his chief of staff Alan Mullen.

Plus, host Bob Mackin reveals the difference-makers of 2019, the most-read stories of 2019 on theBreaker.news and offers a commentary on the end of the decade.

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

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theBreaker.news Podcast: Looking back at 2019, on a special year-end edition
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What was 2019? [caption id="attachment_9388" align="alignright" width="301"] Clockwise,

Grab a mug of egg nog, put a log on the fire and join host Bob Mackin for the Christmas edition of theBreaker.news Podcast. Including: traditional Festivus “airing of grievances,” Christmas headlines from the Pacific Rim and Pacific Northwest, the weekly virtual Nanaimo Bar award, and some of Bob’s recommendations for the all-time best Christmas tunes. 

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

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

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy Festivus from theBreaker.news!

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theBreaker.news Podcast: Special Christmas edition
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Grab a mug of egg nog, put

Bob Mackin

At the Enchanted Forest tourist attraction near Revelstoke, Dave Mix looks into the camera as he strolls among the evergreens.

“This EV road trip is like a fairy tale,” says Mix, the BC Hydro employee who doubles as the spokesman for the taxpayer-owned utility. “All the way across the province, powered by clean energy. How magical is that?”

Dave Mix in Revelstoke’s Enchanted Forest (BC Hydro/YouTube)

It is a scene from the four-part, $220,000 BC Hydro ad campaign in which Mix is depicted driving from Tofino to the Alberta border, to tout the virtues of electric vehicles. The campaign is part of the NDP minority government’s CleanBC climate strategy mandated by the confidence and supply agreement with the Green Party.

But, based on BC Hydro documents that theBreaker.news obtained under the freedom of information law, Dave’s Clean Getaway road trip was more fairy tale than documentary.

For starters, Mix did not drive the electric car all the way from the shores of the Pacific Ocean to the Rockies in a single trip. He took a Pacific Coastal Airlines flight from Vancouver International Airport to Tofino on April 28 and returned home on Air Canada from Nanaimo on April 30. He could have driven the electric vehicle onto a BC Ferry instead.

After the Vancouver to Kamloops leg, Mix returned May 8 to YVR via Air Canada. Five days later, on May 13, the journey resumed when Mix flew from Vancouver to Kamloops.

“Guys, I made it from Tofino to Yoho National Park, in an electric vehicle, no emissions and it cost me, um, about 30 bucks. I call that success,” Mix says victoriously near the end of the final video, which concludes at the Welcome to Alberta sign at the provincial border.

The climax of the Dave’s Clean Getaway campaign at the B.C./Alberta border. (BC Hydro)

Mix did not do a U-turn in the BC Hydro-branded Chevy Bolt. Instead, he carried on to Calgary and flew back to Vancouver on Air Canada.

In reality, the trip cost much more than 30 bucks.

Mix’s expense report for the period totalled $3,250. His 1,452.2 kilometres in flights added up to 2.17 tonnes of carbon emissions, according to calculations using CarbonZero.ca. The driving distance from Tofino to the Alberta border (including the BC Ferry voyage Mix avoided) is 1,063 km.

“The optics become a bit two-faced, because on the one hand we’re preaching electric car energy consumption, and on the other hand we’re using one of the biggest squanderers of fossil fuels in the world: it’s called an airplane,” Lindsay Meredith, Simon Fraser University professor emeritus of marketing, told St. John Alexander and CTV News Vancouver. 

It was not a solo trip. Mix was joined by an undisclosed number of video production contractors from Basetwo Media and Smak, and as many as four BC Hydro employees: communications advisor Chelsea Watt, marketing communication advisor Amy Huynh, marketing communications specialist Nicki Harris and advertising coordinator Kathryn MacDonald. The four submitted combined expense claims for more than $17,600, and were on some of the same flights as Mix.

A BC Hydro ad campaign claimed it cost only $30 to travel by electric car from Tofino to the Alberta border. In fact, the ad campaign cost more than $200,000 and included air travel. (BC Hydro)

Part of their spending included almost $1,200 to rent vehicles on Vancouver Island and in Kamloops from Budget Rent-A-Car, plus $209 in fuel.

BC Hydro spokeswoman Susie Rieder insisted that Mix drove each leg of the trip in the electric vehicle.

“Production of the campaign was done in legs, and therefore the BC Hydro employees involved (including Dave) did take flights back to Vancouver in between each leg,” Rieder said by email. “By doing this, we were able to significantly reduce overtime costs, as well as the time they were away from the office and their day-to-day work.

“If we had the team drive the entire route, they would have incurred significant overtime costs, additional costs for meals and hotels, productivity costs due to being out of the office for days at a time.”

BC Hydro spokesman Dave Mix camping at Tofino (BC Hydro)

Even the sleeping bag from part one appears to have been a mere prop.

MacDonald’s expense report shows it cost $44.82 at Wal-Mart in Burnaby on April 26. She returned it almost a month later on May 21 for $44.77.

“Purchased sleeping bag for EV road trip filming, but was able to return it,” the expense report stated. No explanation for the nickel deficit.

While Mix was shown in a tent on a campground with the electric car parked nearby, his expense report shows a $155.56 lodging charge from the Tofino Resort and Marina on April 28.

At least Mix’s surfing and canoeing were the real deal.

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Bob Mackin At the Enchanted Forest tourist attraction

Bob Mackin

The year 2019 was supposed to be all about celebrating the past and welcoming the future for the Vancouver Whitecaps.

It was the 40th anniversary of the North American Soccer League team’s Soccer Bowl ’79 championship. Today’s Whitecaps, originally launched as the 86ers in 1987, hoped to use nostalgia to launch the era of new coach Marc dos Santos.

Instead, it was the worst season on and off field for the 2011 Major League Soccer entrant.

It hit a low when the local boy made good in the NASL, Bob Lenarduzzi, was demoted from president to club liaison, a sort of consultant and goodwill ambassador, in August. That was six months after we learned from a whistleblower that, under Lenarduzzi’s presidency in 2007 and 2008, the women’s team was suffering a toxic culture.

Bob Lenarduzzi (Whitecaps)

The Whitecaps were slow to address Ciara McCormack’s concerns. The Southsiders and other supporters groups protested by walking out to the concourse before halftime. Many fans just didn’t walk into B.C. Place Stadium at all. After several public relations blunders, the club finally hired a Toronto consultancy in late May to review what happened in 2008 and years since.

Oddly, the clock did not begin in 2007, the year that McCormack originally brought her concerns to Lenarduzzi.

More than three months late, on the last Wednesday before Christmas, the report was published.

What’s it called?

Review of Safe Sport and HR Practices: Findings and Recommendations Report. It was commissioned by the Whitecaps, who have not disclosed how much it cost. 

Who wrote the report?

Three people from Toronto-based Sport Law and Strategy Group (SLSG), who received “guidance and peer review” from the company’s partners, Dina Bell-Laroche and Steven Indig.

Sport Law and Strategy Group

Lawyer Bell-Laroche is a former Canadian Olympic Committee press chief and Indig the legal counsel for Ontario Soccer Association.

SLSG is a 1992-founded consultancy that specializes in organizational governance, business planning and management, dispute resolution, marketing and legal issues.

The trio

Ex-criminal defence lawyer LeeAnn Cupidio, social media, research and communication specialist Kevin Lawrie and administrator Kathy Hare.

Lawrie also co-authored a 2011 evaluation of Own the Podium, the Canadian Olympic Committee-aligned high-performance sports agency that was chaired by Whitecaps’ executive chair John Furlong. 

How long is the report?

The report is a 32-page summary, hence the “Findings and Recommendations Report” subtitle. Based on the amount of interviews, there would be reams of unreleased transcripts or interview notes and supporting documents in the possession of SLSG and the Whitecaps.

Extra time

When it was announced May 27, the Whitecaps said “the work is expected to take approximately three months.”

It took another three months, and then some.

The Whitecaps say they received the final report Dec. 13. The club explained the priority was to give SLSG “the necessary time to conduct their work thoroughly and independently.”

What else was up?

The report was released two days after the signing of Canadian international striker Lucas Cavallini. The designated player is integral to the club’s pre-Christmas ticket sales and merchandise campaign.

’Twas the week before…

The timing, on the last Wednesday before Christmas, also suggests the club received advice from a person with government and political damage control.

John Furlong (VANOC)

In May, theBreaker.news was told by two reliable sources that longtime public relations executive Renee Smith-Valade, Furlong’s spouse, was offering advice to the club. Smith-Valade was head of communications at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics organizing committee. She is now vice-president of inflight service with Air Canada.

In 2012, six months after he joined the Whitecaps, Furlong was the subject of an exposé by Laura Robinson in the Georgia Straight. Robinson found inconsistencies in Furlong’s post-Olympic memoir and several former students in his physical education classes in Northern British Columbia alleged he abused them. Furlong denied the allegations. RCMP did not pursue charges and a civil lawsuit by never made it to trial.

Who blew the whistle?

Former Whitecaps’ women’s team player McCormack kicked-off the whole process with her explosive blog post last Feb. 25, under the headline: A Horrific Canadian Soccer Story – The Story No One Wants to Listen To, But Everyone Needs to Hear. The villain was “Coach Billy” and included documents dating back to 2007 to back-up her claims. “Coach Billy” had returned to coaching young women, despite an agreement that he would not do so.

What did she have to say?

McCormack was not impressed with the Dec. 18-published report, but she had low expectations.

“The primary purpose was from a PR standpoint to have the whole thing framed in a way that didn’t make them look like they didn’t cover anything up,” McCormack said in an interview. “The fact they used that specific verbiage.

Ciara McCormack (Twitter)

“Part of me was hopeful, but actions speak louder than words. Over and over again the Whitecaps have shown they’re about themselves and their image, it’s just corporate-speak and there’s nothing of real character and integrity.”

McCormack said the Canadian Soccer Association cannot escape accountability. She wished that the report had been conducted by a truly independent third-party, rather than one bought and paid for by the Whitecaps. She also wished it was not released at a time of year when media attention and public discourse will be limited.

“Even the fact this story is dropping a few days before Christmas, people are a lot smarter now, everybody sees through the little tricks.”

In three parts

SLSG said it sought to do three things: understand the steps the Whitecaps took to address past incidents, understand current stakeholder experiences via three separate surveys, and compared current Whitecaps’ documents and processes to leading safe sport and human resources practices.

Survey says… what?

SLSG conducted three surveys of Whitecaps coaches and staff, parents and guardians, and participants to compare current Whitecaps documents and procedures. A total 1,411 survey forms were sent, but only 326 completed. The report said the response rate was 37.3% overall, but our math says it was 23.1%.

Of the seven Whitecaps administrators, three did not complete the survey. Their names and titles were not mentioned.

The survey questions were not included in the report.

No names mentioned

Citing privacy legislation, SLSG was not provided with contact information to distribute the survey or solicit interviews.

“Contact information was provided for staff and administrators who participated in the interviews about the Whitecap’s HR practices.”

At the outset, the Whitecaps, on behalf of SLSG, invited anyone with relevant information to come forward confidentially to SLSG.

How many key interviewees?

Interviewees included 14 players from the 2006-2008 Whitecaps women’s roster; seven past and present Whitecaps administrators and staff; six past and present Whitecaps coaches; six other interested parties, including parents/guardians and past and present supporters.

Bob Birarda in 2005 (CSA)

Who was the coach, eh?

The report refers to “Coach A.” But it does not name the coach at the centre of the controversy. That was Bob Birarda. theBreaker.news chose to name Birarda back in February because it related directly to the public announcement and media coverage in October 2008 of his departure as coach.

It must be emphasized that there are no criminal charges or civil actions at this time and none of the allegations has been tested in a court of law. Birarda has not responded to requests for comment. Birarda was suspended by Coastal FC in South Surrey early this year as a result of the publicity.

No help from the 2008 investigator

Earlier this year, theBreaker.news spoke with lawyer Anne Chopra, who was the investigator hired by the Whitecaps in 2008. SLSG, however, reported that it was unable to reach her.

“Since the beginning of the process, the SLSG intended to interview the lawyer and workplace consultant (hereinafter referred to as the Investigator) who was retained by the Whitecaps’ in 2008 to conduct investigations, provide advice and recommendations, and act as ombudsperson for the organization,” the report said. “Multiple attempts were made to contact the Investigator at two email addresses and a current active phone number provided by the Whitecaps and at multiple phone numbers found online. Ultimately the SLSG was unable to connect with the Investigator.”

No help from the original 2008 whistleblower

“The SLSG also intended to interview the player who brought forward the initial concerns to the Whitecap’s women’s team manager, Diana Voice, in May 2008, however this player declined to participate.”

Who was interviewed?

Fourteen of 82 former players contacted were interviewed by SLSG. The players were not identified.

Whitecaps’ owner Greg Kerfoot (Santa Ono, Twitter)

SLSG also interviewed nine individuals in the organization, including owner Greg Kerfoot, Bob Lenarduzzi, soccer development director Dan Lenarduzzi, COO Rachel Lewis and soccer operations vice-president Greg Anderson. Plus Voice and three coaches who requested anonymity.

Documents

SLSG reviewed almost 20 documents, including seven Whitecaps internal handbooks, guides and policies, and similar documents from Canada, B.C. and Ontario soccer associations, Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport and U.S. Center for Safe Sport. Some of the non-Whitecaps documents are linked in the report.

Small-caps

SLSG called the 2008 version of the Whitecaps “much smaller and less sophisticated organization” than in 2019. The women’s team had a four-month W-League season and the head coach doubled as the under-20 national team coach. Several players were on both squads.

What happened?

SLSG: “In May 2008, the Whitecaps were alerted that a player had received inappropriate text messages from her coach. The matter was investigated and corrective actions were taken. In September 2008, while the same coach was working with the U20 national team, the Canadian Soccer Association received a similar complaint regarding the coach’s behaviour in that program. Another investigation was conducted which resulted in the termination of the coach from both programs.”

No “cover up”

According to SLSG, Whitecaps were not attempting to “sweep [the incidents] under the rug.”

“The leadership team seemed to genuinely believe they were receiving proper legal and administrative advice — which they followed.”

Media misled

The report is silent on the Oct. 9, 2008 news release that announced Birarda’s mutually agreed departure from the club. There was nothing in that news release to suggest misconduct on Birarda’s part. Neither the club nor Birarda indicated any reason for the departure when contacted by a reporter at the time.

Sexts

The club ordered Birarda to undergo sensitivity training when the first complaint of inappropriate text messages with a player emerged. It was a summer when he was also an assistant coach on the Beijing 2008 Olympics team and Whitecaps’ owner Greg Kerfoot was a financial booster of the national team program.

Turned a blind eye

SLSG: “The Whitecaps shared their findings and the actions that were taken with the CSA, however it does not appear that any monitoring was put into place to ensure the corrective measures were being adhered to,” SLSG reported.

“After a second, similar complaint about the same coach was raised with the CSA in September 2008, the Whitecaps worked in collaboration with the CSA to determine next steps. Both organizations followed the direction and guidance of the same investigator which resulted in the organizations terminating the coach from both programs.”

Dropped the ball

SLSG said there was a lack of effective communication with players before, during and after the investigations and the leadership team chose a path of confidentiality. 

“However, it is clear from the information provided by the players that it was this lack of communication that resulted in frustration, mistrust and speculation which has contributed to the lingering animosity still held by some former players today.”

Passed the ball

SLSG: “The Whitecaps were criticized by some players for not taking steps to ensure that the coach was prohibited from coaching in the future. It was determined that the Whitecaps did not have the authority and jurisdiction to prohibit anyone from coaching in other soccer programs.”

Bullying on the boys team

The first of two other incidents included in the report.  Global News reported in 2017 about criminal charges for players on the under-15 boys residency program after a teammate had been sexually assaulted in a dressing room.

“These players were minors at the time of the incident, so the specific details of the  assault are not included in this report,” says the SLSG footnote. 

The mother of the victim claimed the Whitecaps tried to “downplay the situation and convince the family not to go to the police. She claimed that they did not take the matter seriously and tried to convince the family to deal with the matter internally. At the time, the Whitecaps did not respond to any media requests for comment because the matter was under police investigation.”

Two-day delay

There was a 48-hour delay in contacting police in 2017. SLSG reported that staff tried to ensure the family knew “conflicting facts, potential risks, and options available to them.” It said the staff did not mean to dissuade the family from notifying police.

Importantly, SLSG conceded that it only collected information about the incident from the Whitecaps; the mother was not interviewed because the incident fell outside the initial scope of the review.

“Nevertheless, Whitecaps staff should not have attempted to act as counsel to the family and, if it was suspected that there may have been a criminal incident, should have contacted police immediately themselves.”

Mis-hire

Whitecaps announced in October 2013 that they lured Brett Adams, a coach from England to run the Kootenay Academy Centre. Adams had been interviewed in January 2013 when no position had been open, so his information was kept on file. “His references and background check were verified,” the report said.

Brett Adams (Nelson Soccer)

“The Whitecaps were unaware of the racism allegations (which occurred in April 2013, after the initial screening) and did not perform any additional screening before the coach was hired. It was later, in 2015, that the coach was sanctioned by the FA (a governing organization in English soccer). “

“Based on the information provided and interviews with staff, the Whitecaps acknowledged that there was an error in the hiring process for this coach. Had the Whitecaps redone the interview and vetting process once the coaching position became available, these allegations may have impacted the hiring decision.”

Tourism Minister Lisa Beare (BC Gov)

Recommendations

The report contains 40 recommendations on safe sport and 10 on human resources.

What does the government say?

Statement to theBreaker.news from Tourism Minister Lisa Beare, whose portfolio includes sport and B.C. Pavilion Corporation, manager of B.C. Place Stadium:

“Any physical, sexual or psychological harassment and abuse of athletes is completely unacceptable. Athletes have the right to play free of abuse, discrimination and harassment. The Whitecaps are an independent professional sport organization, accountable to their leadership and their fans as stakeholders. It is incumbent on all sports organizations to ensure players are protected and any incident of player abuse should be reported to the appropriate authorities for investigation.”

What next?

SLSG says the Whitecaps policies and procedures evolved since 2008. The Whitecaps say: “We will be working as expeditiously as possible to implement the recommendations effectively.”

Police file

This may not be over.

The Whitecaps said in April that they contacted the Vancouver Police Department, after more players came forward with allegations. In August, the VPD referred theBreaker.news to the North Vancouver RCMP.

theBreaker.news also independently verified that a file is open and an investigation underway.

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Bob Mackin The year 2019 was supposed to

Bob Mackin

She was withdrawn from the elite private school for girls on Vancouver’s westside to save her life.

That is according to a lawsuit filed Dec. 16 in B.C. Supreme Court, which alleges the daughter of a westside couple suffered a downward spiral of bullying, homophobia, racism and harassment at the hands of her Crofton House School classmates.

(Crofton House/Facebook)

Natalie and Uwe Boll filed the negligence claim, alleging that a doctor at B.C. Children’s Hospital said early this fall that their 13-year-old daughter should not go back to Crofton House under any circumstances after the girl cut herself, overdosed on Xanax and pondered suicide. theBreaker.news has chosen not to publish the girl’s name.

“The doctor advised that Crofton House was a danger to [the girl’s] life,” said the court filing.

“The culture allowed to cultivate at Crofton House is harmful to students. Crofton House has broken its own code of conduct and failed to implement proper anti-bullying protocols and provide [her] with a safe environment.”

None of the allegations has been proven in court and Crofton House has yet to respond.

The Bolls’ daughter entered Grade 6 at Crofton House in September 2017 as a “bright and happy” 11-year-old who found joy in ballet dancing, reading and singing. After a camping trip early in Grade 7, she was the subject of malicious gossip and rumours and received online messages in January 2019, such as “everyone hates you,” “kill yourself,” and “drink bleach.” She was also among several students caught vaping in the washroom, but the only one suspended, the court filing said.

The bullying continued when her Grade 8 year began, as fellow students called her a “skid” and “lesbian” in the hallways. Another student wanted to settle a dispute over the price and condition of a vaping device by stabbing, macing and robbing her at a McDonald’s after school.

“[She] no longer wished to be at school due to Crofton House’s hostile environment.”

It culminated with the overdose on Xanax pills, which she procured on school grounds.

“A Crofton student had told [her] that the Xanax would ease her pain from being bullied. She was told that the Xanax would help her not care about the Crofton students being mean to her.”

Her mother drove her to the emergency room at the University of B.C. hospital where she was revived with a shot of Narcan, put on suicide watch and transferred to B.C. Children’s Hospital.

The suit alleged the mother spoke with the school’s police liaison who was aware of the bullying, but that the school did not provide him with details. Same with the Xanax incident, “but Crofton House never disclosed that the overdose occurred at school and did not provide details regarding the overdose.”

The lawsuit said it has affected her mother, stepfather and even her younger brother, a five-year-old who “regularly observes his older sister crying and in pain.”

Separately, Natalie Boll has launched an online petition to lobby the federal government to ban the Yolo and Tellonym anonymous messaging apps that she said were used by fellow Crofton House students to harass her daughter. She said that she was bullied herself by school administrators and other parents when she tried to reach out for help.

“We went to the school as soon as it got really bad last year when she was in Grade 7,” Natalie Boll said in an interview. “Over the course of the year, we went to them several times with the bullying and their response to it — through the counsellor, the principal, the different scenarios — was to tell my daughter how she can change to be less of a target. Really, they didn’t hold the girls accountable.”

Boll said tuition was $24,000 plus uniforms per year. She didn’t withdraw her daughter sooner because “when you go to school at Crofton House, getting in is difficult and when you’re in you’re constantly being told you’re so special, you really believe you’ve been given this opportunity to be part of something so exclusive. Giving her a chance that I never got, and then they keep telling you something’s wrong with you.”

Crofton House’s head of school, Ena Harrop, warned parents at the 1898-founded school that there would be a lawsuit and media attention.

Pink Shirt Day at Crofton House (Crofton House/Facebook)

“The school does not agree with the characterization of events as portrayed in the lawsuit and will provide a robust legal defence of the allegations,” said Harrop’s letter to parents. “I know we can rely on the support of the community and request your discretion and patience as we navigate this difficult situation.”

The letter said the school is serious about “maintaining a safe, inclusive and caring community that promotes the well-being of our students” with a code of conduct, policies and procedures.

In October, an elite, westside private school for boys suspended and expelled several students for sharing racist memes on social media. St. George’s believed as many as 15 boys were involved.

The Ministry of Education was planning on a November inspection of the school, which receives provincial subsidies.

The estimated per-full-time-equivalent taxpayer grant per student for private schools in Vancouver for 2019-2010 is $9,009, according to the Ministry of Education website.

St. George’s was also in the news earlier this year after David Sidoo was charged with fraud in the United States for allegedly paying more than $200,000 to have someone write university entrance exams for his two sons, both St. George’s graduates.

Sidoo pleaded not guilty. A trial date has not been set. His lawyers are demanding prosecutors hand over more documents, including some that the lawyers believe might lead to acquittal.

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Bob Mackin She was withdrawn from the elite

The Trudeau Liberals’ minority government suffered its first major setback on Dec. 10, world human rights day.

Justin Trudeau, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau and Xi Jinping (PMO)

The Conservative motion to strike a committee on Canada-China relations passed, with help from other opposition members. Question Period was dominated by issues of trade and diplomacy, from the continued jailing of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor to the Hong Kong democracy movement to the import of deadly fentanyl from China.

On this edition of theBreaker.news, hear highlights from the raucous Question Period, as Trudeau let some of his new cabinet ministers defend the Liberal record on dealing with the world’s most-populous and most-controversial country, which former CSIS director Richard Fadden has described as an “adversary.” 

Plus commentaries and headlines from the Pacific Rim and Pacific Northwest. 

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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The Trudeau Liberals' minority government suffered its

Bob Mackin

A major North Vancouver-based chain of auto body repair garages hopes it will be business as usual this weekend after suffering a cyberattack two weeks ago.

(Craftsman Collision)

Craftsman Collision chief operating officer Rick Hatswell told theBreaker.news that the company had to shut down computer systems and deal manually with ICBC claims. Someone inadvertently clicked on a malicious email that triggered ransomware which, according to Norton security, locks and encrypts a victim’s computer or device data, then demands ransom to restore access.

Hatswell said the hackers grabbed the company’s web domain and sent emails that appeared to be from Craftsman.

“We just started getting hit with all the phishing emails all at once so we recognized it pretty quick. When we shut it down we had to rebuild from back up which has taken us quite a bit of time,” Hatswell said in an interview. “As of now we’re back up to business, it should be every shop by tomorrow. The IT department has been burning the candle at both ends getting everything rebuilt, getting all the servers up and running so the shops can reconnect with head office.”

ICBC had to send staff to examine vehicles needing repair at Craftsman, an accredited repair facility normally connected to the Express Repair program for damage estimates and approvals.

Craftsman Collision locations billed ICBC $80.7 million for the year ended March 31, 2019, according to the Crown corporation’s statement of financial information.

ICBC spokesperson Joanna Linsangan said in a prepared statement that the auto insurer took immediate steps to safeguard its customer information.

“We’ve conducted an assessment of our own systems, and can confirm that our customer data has not been compromised. We will continue to work with Craftsman Collision to determine if there remains to be a risk to our customer’s information,” Linsangan said.

Craftsman Collision president Rick Hatswell (Craftsman Collision/Facebook)

Craftsman hired a third-party specialist to get the company back online and conduct a full forensic investigation to find out how much damage the hackers did. Hatswell believes very little was affected because the company acted quickly.

“We don’t keep much on file other than name, phone number and address. There is no banking info, it’s all done through ICBC’s side for payments, so at least there is no information of that type or passwords or anything like that,” he said. “We don’t believe anything was taken at all.”

Hatswell said he tried to report the incident to the RCMP, but “they basically turned me down.” He was referred to the Ontario-based Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre toll-free hotline. Hatswell said the company intends to notify customers.

“I don’t know who to actually call to be honest, I know our third-party would know, but when I reached out locally nobody seemed to care, there was no money lost.”

Information and Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy said his office had not been notified. The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner encourages both public bodies and private sector organizations to voluntarily report privacy breaches via a form on the OIPC website. There is no mandatory reporting law, despite a 2017 NDP campaign promise.

During the last provincial election, the NDP told the B.C. Information and Privacy Association that, if it came to power, the party “will consider best practices both across Canada and internationally for breach notifications in both the public and private sectors to determine a made-in-B.C. policy.”

“We agree that mandatory breach notification would benefit the public by enhancing accountability and transparency, and helping to mitigate the serious fallouts of privacy breaches and as government we will take action,” said an April 2017 NDP letter in response to a questionnaire.

Roger Gale, a BCIT industrial network cybersecurity instructor, told CTV that privacy breach reporting is necessary.

“Many organizations, companies will not want to report data breaches, it hits their public perception, it hits their bottom line, but I think there has to be a political will to bring in legislation like that,” Gale told reporter Alissa Thibault. “When it comes to data security, I think that the governments are moving at a snail’s pace, compared to the hackers out there.”

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

On Dec. 12, New Zealand-based Emsisoft Malware Lab published its “The State of Ransomware in the U.S.: Report and Statistics” and warned that the threat of ransomware had reached a crisis level.

In 2019, the U.S. was hit by an unprecedented and unrelenting barrage of ransomware attacks that impacted at least 948 government agencies, educational establishments and healthcare providers at a potential cost in excess of $7.5 billion,” the report said.

According to Emsisoft, existing security weaknesses and the development of increasingly sophisticated attack mechanisms designed to exploit those weaknesses have created a “near-perfect storm.” It recommended improved security standards and oversight, more guidance and better public-private sector cooperation.

On Dec. 13, New Orleans City Hall activated the civic emergency operations centre after a cyberattack.

As for Hatswell, he does expect a hit to Craftsman Collision’s bottom line during what is generally the slowest month of the year.

“I’m hoping it’s obviously not in the millions, but having 37 stores in B.C., I’m sure it’s in the hundreds of thousands of lost revenue. When the RCMP says ‘well you haven’t paid out anything,’ well, there’s a lot of other costs on rebuilding software, hiring companies and the lost revenue.”

Request for comment from the office of Attorney General David Eby, the minister in charge of ICBC, was not fulfilled by deadline.

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Bob Mackin A major North Vancouver-based chain of

Bob Mackin

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart should repay taxpayers for his campaign-style video that cost nearly $8,000, says an independent watchdog.

Documents obtained under freedom of information by theBreaker.news show that Stewart’s “One Year In” video cost $7,875. Evan Crowe, who was a video producer and digital coordinator on the B.C. NDP’s 2017 campaign, sent an invoice Nov. 7 for production and post-production of the Nov. 5-published Facebook video.

Scenes from Mayor Kennedy Stewart’s first anniversary ad (City of Vancouver)

The slick, 54-second ad emphasizes Stewart’s three goals of building the right supply of housing, tackling the opioid overdose crisis and extending SkyTrain to the University of B.C. Nov. 5 was the anniversary of labour-backed independent Stewart’s swearing-in after edging the NPA’s Ken Sim by 957 votes in the civic election.

Dermod Travis of IntegrityBC called it a “slap in the face to every ratepayer in Vancouver.”

“His office budget, city funds are not for his personal benefit, they are not to assist him in seeking re-election, they are there to provide services to citizens, not services to campaign organizers, campaign advisors and campaign strategists,” Travis said. “He has an obligation to take a look at that video, to take a look at how he has used that video and to return the money to the taxpayers of Vancouver.”

The video shows Stewart with Premier John Horgan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and mainstreeting with his wife, political science professor Jeanette Ashe. It ends with City of Vancouver branding and was embedded in a Nov. 5 email to Stewart campaign supporters with a link to his fundraising website.

Spokesman Alvin Singh did not fulfil theBreaker.news request to interview Stewart. In an interview, Singh called the expenditure “extraordinarily small.”

Mayor Kennedy Stewart’s wife, Jeanette Ashe, appears on the right in Stewart’s first anniversary video (City of Vancouver)

“It represents fractions upon fractions upon fractions of budget. The city’s operating budget is $1.5 billion,” Singh said.

CTV’s St. John Alexander caught-up with Stewart at the TransLink Mayors’ Council meeting in New Westminster.

“I think people expect me to communicate with them and this is one way that we do it,” Stewart said.

He said it is a way of communicating to other levels of government what he is doing and to cut through the “tidal wave of information,” from Donald Trump to Brexit, consumed by the public.

“I think that communicating with the public is essential,” Stewart said. “There’s a lot of questions in the city and making sure that they know where we’re delivering is very important, so I’ll continue to communicate with the public in this way, because, I think if I didn’t, people would say ‘where is he’?”

Ex-NPA city councillor George Affleck, who runs a digital marketing company, said Stewart is following in the footsteps of his mayoral predecessor, Gregor Robertson. He questioned the timing, because city council is wrestling with a proposed 9.3% increase in property taxes and utility fees.

“We have this massive budget increase, and here we have the mayor of our city spending taxpayer dollars to do a promotional video,” Affleck told CTV. “This kind of approach where governments in power spend taxpayer dollars to promote themselves Is very frustrating for taxpayers, there’s a lot of cynicism about politics and when he talks about togetherness, he’s pushing people away in fact.”

The Mayor’s Office was allotted $1.345 million of the $3.144 million budgeted for mayor and council this year. That includes $80,000 for professional fees and $91,000 for miscellaneous, including $9,000 for public information.

In April 2018, theBreaker.news reported that Robertson gave more than $51,000 in patronage contracts to Mark Vonesch, a Vision Vancouver cameraman who pretended to be a media worker during the 2014 election campaign. 

Travis said there are “loads of cost-effective means” for politicians who feel they must communicate by video to constituents.

“Simply using a webcam, Skype, hand-held video recorder,” he said. “Frankly, some of the best ads that come out of the U.S. proven to be some of the least costly because they are done in a very homegrown style by the candidate or the campaign.”

On Nov. 29, Stewart announced he was running for re-election in 2022 in a fundraising email.

“I think Vancouver ratepayers would rather have a mayor who cares about the here and now than 2022,” Travis said.

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Bob Mackin Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart should

Bob Mackin

A Courtenay resident opposed to the NDP government’s restrictions on residential use of farmland said it was no surprise her petition was rejected in late October.

Delta South BC Liberal MLA Ian Paton presenting a petition before it was quietly rejected (Hansard TV)

Meghan McPherson organized an Oct. 28 rally against Bills 52 and 15 outside the Legislature. Her aim is to reverse the ban on secondary, non-farm-use family housing.

Inside the Legislature, Delta South MLA and agriculture critic Ian Paton, a farmer himself, tabled McPherson’s 26,000-signatory Change.org petition as a “30-pound stack” of paper in a box after a raucous question period interrupted by farmers and ranchers in the public gallery.

The petition was later returned to Paton by the clerk’s office because “all signatures must be original and written directly on the face of the petition, and not pasted or transferred to it.” Electronic petitions are not allowed.

McPherson said she was called by an aide to Agriculture Minister Lana Popham the week before the rally and told about the rule. She said Paton also knew the petition was unacceptable. (Paton did not reply to theBreaker.news.) McPherson said she is confident at least half the digital signatories are genuine B.C. residents. 

“Whether it was in a formal format or not it would be up to the ministry and the current government to decide what they are going to do with it,” McPherson said in an interview. “It shows a lot of defiance to reject a 26,000-signature petition on a technicality.”

Oct. 28 rally by farmers and ranchers outside the Legislature (Facebook)

McPherson said she used Change.org for convenience. She did not have the time or resources to go door-to-door on her own. 

It was at least the second BC Liberal-tabled petition to be rejected in the last two years. A 17,000-name “Scrap the Speculation Tax” petition via Change.org in April 2018 was returned to Kelowna West MLA Ben Stewart. The originator of the petition refused to reveal his or her name to theBreaker.news. That petition ran concurrently with Hill and Knowlton’s anti-tax social media campaign for the Urban Development Institute.

More than a century ago, Austrian politician and historian Joseph Redlich called the petition “the oldest of all parliamentary forms, the fertile seed of all the proceedings of the House of Commons.” 

Twice, while in opposition, the NDP failed to modernize petitions via private member’s bills: In 2014 with Jane Shin’s Electronic Petitions Act and in 2017 with Gary Holman’s Modernizing Public Participation in Democracy Act. 

A model for electronic petitions exists at the House of Commons.

While he was Burnaby South NDP MP, Kennedy Stewart successfully proposed a system of MP-endorsed citizen petitions that are published up to 120 days on the House of Commons website. Supporters are required to provide full names, province, territory and country of residence, postal code (if within Canada), telephone number and email address for verification by House of Commons staff.

Those petitions that receive 500 or more online signatories from residents or citizens of Canada are tabled in the House of Commons to wait for an official response from the government. 

The path of an e-petition (Petitions.OurCommons.ca)

Stewart is now mayor of Vancouver, but has not fulfilled a 2018 campaign promise for a city hall electronic petition system.

McPherson said she and her family moved out of a townhouse and bought a one-hectare parcel on a hillside with a plan to start a hobby farm.

“It was a dream property for us, a place we could stay forever with his parents and my mom, a place for a hobby farm, chickens and goats and build a barn,” she said. “I just wanted to have a nice little rural property with a teeny farm, maybe sell some eggs, maybe feed my neighbourhood.”

Now she is looking at an estimated $800,000 in startup fees to turn it into a farm that conforms with the laws. Undaunted, McPherson plans to start a paper-based petition in the new year, with help from others elsewhere in B.C. 

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Bob Mackin A Courtenay resident opposed to the

Bob Mackin

An indigenous leader claims he was dumped as chair of the First Nations Health Authority after accusing the chief executive officer of conflict of interest.

Grand Chief Doug Kelly (FNHA)

Grand Chief Doug Kelly, president of the Sto:lo Tribal Council, filed a B.C. Supreme Court lawsuit against the authority on Dec. 6, claiming he is owed more than $380,000 for breach of contract.

The 59-year-old alleged he had 25 months left as the $183,000-a-year chair of the West Vancouver-based authority. The authority is responsible for programs that were formerly delivered to 200 B.C. First Nations communities by Health Canada. The federal government committed $4.7 billion from 2013 to 2022 and the B.C. government agreed to chip-in $83.5 million. 

Kelly’s lawsuit said CEO Joe Gallagher recommended in 2017 that the board create a new position of vice-president of policy, planning and quality to report directly to him. He also recommended that his ex-wife, Harmony Johnson, fill the role on an acting basis. Kelly claimed that Gallagher did not follow policy because he failed to formally disclose his interest in Johnson’s appointment.

In meetings and emails last April, Kelly raised concerns with Gallagher and others in the authority about Johnson’s hiring. In May, Kelly made a presentation to the board on good governance issues, including implications of a 2016 report by the Auditor General of Canada and Gallagher’s apparent conflict of interest.

Joe Gallagher (BC Pharmacy)

“The report pointed to gaps and inadequacies in the authority’s conflict of interest policy, and found that the authority did not fully comply with its policies on investigating misconduct and on staffing positions on the basis of merit,” Kelly’s lawsuit said.

The council met to discuss the issue in mid-June and struck a working group of five members, including Kelly and deputy chair Allan Louis. Later that month, the board directed Gallagher to fire Johnson. But, according to Kelly’s statement of claim, Gallagher refused to comply.

On June 28, the board advised the authority members by email that it acted on legal advice to rescind the resolution directing Gallagher to fire Johnson. The council met July 11 and, without notice, voted to remove Kelly and Louis as chair and deputy chair.

The statement of claim said Kelly’s $15,250-a-month contract was part written, part oral and part by conduct. His most-recent three-year term as chair began in October 2018. A fourth year was contingent upon his reappointment to the Sto:lo Tribal Council, which he achieved in March.

“Grand Chief Kelly reasonably expected his appointment as chair, and thus his contract with the authority, to last the entire term, and relied on that expectation to plan his affairs,” said the lawsuit.

Gallagher was dismissed as CEO on Oct. 9, but Johnson remains in her acting vice-president role. Chief operations officer Richard Jock took over as acting CEO.

None of the allegations has been tested in court. The authority has yet to file a defence statement.

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Bob Mackin An indigenous leader claims he was