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30Sep

Gambling addict says B.C. government lacks will to set limits on billion-dollar industry

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Lora Bertuccio is calling out the B.C. government for falling down on a promise to help prevent severely addicted gamblers like her from spending money they can’t afford to lose.

“They’re cashing in on mental illness,” said the 47-year-old from Victoria, who also suffers from bipolar disorder and severe anxiety.

Bertuccio said she has lost thousands of dollars gambling in B.C. casinos. Sometimes, even while crying, she can’t help but keep putting money in the slot machines, she said.

“It’s like a volcano that’s building in your gut. It compels me to go to the machines.”

It’s estimated that Canadians spent about $17.3 billion last year on government-run gambling, but provincial governments only funnel a small portion of those revenues back into programs to help people with gambling addictions.  

Bertuccio said casino loyalty cards need to allow players using slot machines to set time and spending limits to help prevent gambling problems from spiralling out of control.

The B.C. Lottery Corporation said it would introduce such a “pre-commitment card” program by 2015. Limited testing has only recently begun.

“They talk and talk, and never do anything,” Bertuccio said. “Without this, I’m doomed.”

Gambles in ‘trance’

A “gambling disorder” is defined by the American Psychiatric Association as a behavioural disorder that causes people to suffer significant problems or distress because of repeated gambling.  

Bertuccio says her bipolar disorder sometimes causes her to go into a manic state and lose track of her actions — a particularly dangerous situation sitting at a slot machine.

“I go into a trance,” she said. “I lose track of time and space.”

Lora Bertuccio made a video to demonstrate how quickly she can lose money. She sometimes plays two or three slot machines at the same time while in what she describes as a ‘manic state.’ (Submitted by Lora Bertuccio)

She said a medication adjustment this past spring caused her to become manic and gamble away almost $20,000 — money she had won in a settlement after injuring her back at work.

She is now on disability welfare, due to her back injury and bipolar disorder.

‘It’s unacceptable’

In an interview with Go Public, B.C. Attorney General David Eby, who is responsible for the B.C. Lottery Corporation, said he agrees with Bertuccio that the government should be doing more to protect people like her.

“It’s unacceptable that this was recommended in 2015 and it’s still not been implemented,” he said of pre-commitment cards.

He acknowledged there have been “horrific examples” of tragedies in B.C. where people with gambling addictions have stolen from employers, stolen from sports leagues, and even killed themselves.

His NDP government came to power in May 2017 but has yet to act on its Liberal predecessor’s promise to introduce a voluntary system to help control how much gamblers lose at the slots.

“We’re behind,” he said.

Gambling addicts boost bottom line

Governments across the country are reluctant to implement programs that curb problem gambling, said Robert Williams, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Lethbridge, as well as a researcher at the Alberta Gambling Research Institute

“Too much money is at stake for them,” said Williams, a leading expert in the field of gambling and addiction.

Across Canada, research has found that people with mental illness and gambling addictions are small in number but contribute disproportionately to gambling revenues.

According to the Problem Gambling Institute of Ontario, about three per cent of Canadians are severely addicted to gambling, but they are responsible for approximately one-third of all gambling revenues.

“This would be problematic if it was a commercial provider, where a third of all your revenues came from vulnerable people,” Williams said. “But when it’s government, it’s actually kind of scandalous.”

Gambling researcher Robert Williams says most prevention programs for gamblers are ‘window dressing’ — ineffective and designed to make governments look as though they’re helping addicts. (CBC)

Williams said research shows that pre-commitment card programs would help some gambling addicts and would also be useful for people considered “at risk” of developing a gambling addiction.

But it is just one of many changes needed to effectively curb problem gambling, he said.

“Gambling should not be allowed to happen 24 hours a day,” he said, referring to the rules in B.C. “It’s clear that people gambling at two or three in the morning are not your recreational gamblers.”

Alcohol on the gaming floor should also be limited, he said.

Placing bank machines in inconvenient locations would help as well, he said, as would having an effective — the key word — self-exclusion program that would allow addicts to sign up to be turned away at the casino door. 

“The problem we have in Canada is that we have a whole raft of so-called responsible gambling initiatives, but none of them work particularly well,” he said. “So it all looks very good on paper, but the money keeps coming in.”

‘There are people who’ve suffered’

In a report released five years ago, B.C.’s recently retired provincial officer of health, Perry Kendall, urged the government to spend more money on a range of measures to try to protect people with gambling addictions.

He recently told Go Public he was disappointed that many of the measures have still not been implemented — including a pre-commitment system like the one Lora Bertuccio says is overdue.

Former B.C. provincial health officer Perry Kendall, seen here with his report ‘Lower the Stakes: A public health approach to problem gambling,’ says governments have to increase supports for gamblers, instead of relying on revenues from an industry that ‘knowingly harms people.’ (Michael McArthur/CBC)

“I think it’s a shame,” Kendall said. “It’s a missed opportunity, and probably there are people who’ve suffered because of the absence of such a program.”

His report pointed out the B.C. government spent less of its gambling revenue on supports for gambling addicts than any other province, and recommended allocating at least 1.5 per cent of gaming revenue to responsible gambling initiatives.

Last year, the B.C. government allocated $5.6 million for those initiatives, representing .4 per cent of its $1.4 billion gambling take — far below Kendall’s suggested figure.

“I think there’s a moral and ethical question here,” Kendall said. “In your search for greater revenues, do you continue to knowingly harm people? Or do you decide there’s going to be a cut point?”


By the numbers:

  • B.C. Lottery Corporation generated total revenues of  $3.27B
  • Slot machines generated $1.37B
  • The province received a net income from BCLC of $1.4B
  • Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch contributed $5.6 million to problem gambling services

(Fiscal year 2017/2018, Province of British Columbia)


System tried elsewhere

Pre-commitment cards are already available in a handful of jurisdictions around the world, including in Ontario, where two casinos offer the cards and there are plans to roll out the system across the province.

Nova Scotia put a voluntary system in place in 2010 that allowed players to set spending and time limits on video lottery terminals, and then made the program mandatory for all players two years later.

But the program was scrapped in 2014. The government at the time said the program was a failure because people were using multiple cards, which defeated the purpose. Opposition critics and gambling researchers such as Williams said it was cancelled because the government lost too much money. VLT revenues dropped by $31.3 million from 2012 to 2014.

B.C. Attorney General David Eby, responsible for the B.C. Lottery Corporation, says the government is behind on increasing supports for people with gambling addictions. (Frederic Gagnon/CBC)

B.C.’s attorney general says he’s “willing to take a haircut” on gaming revenues to help those most vulnerable.

Eby also pointed out that his government moved responsibility for the gaming industry from the Finance Ministry to the Ministry of the Attorney General when it took power in 2017. 

“The B.C. Lottery Corporation should not be responsible for both revenue generation and regulation.”

More testing?

Meanwhile, a three-month pilot of a card system similar to the one Bertuccio is calling for wrapped up at two casinos in Kamloops in July.

The B.C. Lottery Corporation said a labour dispute with unionized casino workers interfered with the pilot and delayed the assessment of the data. It now says it’s considering doing more testing, and is reviewing findings from other North American jurisdictions with similar tools.

Slot machines generated a total revenue of $1.37 billion in British Columbia last year. (CBC)

Lora Bertuccio says the odds of seeing the system actually implemented in B.C. are slim.

“Every year they can delay is hundreds of millions of dollars more that they can take in… I need and want protection.”

— With files from Enza Uda

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29Sep

Surrey anti-crime group alleges absentee-ballot election fraud scheme

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Sukhi Sandhu, an organizer with Wake Up Surrey, said his group was informed of a voter-fraud scheme ahead of the Oct. 20 municipal elections. Surrey RCMP have been notified.



Sukhi Sandhu / Facebook

A Surrey anti-crime group has filed complaints of an alleged election-fraud scheme targeting South Asian voters in the city which sought to increase the number of absentee ballots cast this election more than 30-fold.

In letters addressed to the Surrey RCMP and to Elections B.C., Wake Up Surrey alleges there has been a “well-coordinated election fraud scheme underway within the South Asian community” ahead of the Oct. 20 municipal elections.

The groups claims that absentee ballots are being fraudulently used and votes are being bought.

Wake Up Surrey believes that one or more political parties are behind the scheme, which involves requesting absentee ballots for voters and casting them without their knowledge, or obtaining absentee ballots from voters and either filling them in for them and forging their signatures, or telling them how to vote.

The group claims the political party (or parties) orchestrating the scheme are also paying voters to cast a vote for a specific candidate.

Sukhi Sandhu, an organizer with Wake Up Surrey, said his group was informed of the scheme by people who had been told by employers and business owners to each collect detailed personal information from 25 people in order to obtain their mail-in ballots.

Sandhu said 600 “poll captains” were asked to make the lists of 25 voters, so that an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 mail-in ballots could be cast for a single candidate, he added.

It would be a drastic increase over the number of mail-in ballots usually cast.

In order to vote by mail, a Surrey resident has to complete an application (available online) and mail, fax or deliver it in person to city hall.

They must make a declaration they have a physical disability, illness or injury that affects their ability to vote, or expect to be absent from Surrey on Oct. 20 and during advance voting. Their ballot is then mailed to them or they can pick it up at city hall.

Voter data from the 2014 municipal election shows that just 459 special-voting (mail-in) ballots were cast. It is unclear how many of the ballots have been requested to date.

Spokesman Oliver Lum said the City of Surrey is aware of the allegations and its chief electoral officer will be commenting further on Monday.

Sandhu said some of the people who were approached about casting absentee ballots will be filing complaints with police in the coming days. A Surrey RCMP spokesman not briefed on details of the allegations couldn’t confirm before deadline Saturday whether an investigation had been launched, but Global News and News 1130 reported the detachment has opened a case.

Sandhu said Wake Up Surrey has identified at least one political campaign linked to the scheme but said he would leave it to the RCMP to confirm that campaign’s identity. His group is not endorsing any candidate or party in the election, he said.

“Immediately when it came to our attention, we looked at the evidence and found that it was credible,” Sandhu said. “We felt a moral duty as Canadian citizens to phone the police and the chief electoral officer.”

Sandhu said his group and South Asian media have been intimidated and slandered by powerful groups who oppose their calls to expose and fight corruption, and said some are motivated by financial reasons to influence the election.

“This is not only voter suppression but it is also disrespecting voters in our community, thinking of them as illiterate,” he said.

Sandhu is a well-connected businessman and longtime community activist in Surrey regarded as a backroom player by politicians hoping to get support among South Asian voters. He worked on Dianne Watts’s recent bid for the B.C. Liberals leadership but left her campaign after he claimed she was not connecting with B.C.’s South Asian community.

Four parties running candidates in Surrey have issued news releases condemning the alleged voter fraud and supporting Wake Up Surrey’s effort to expose it, including Safe Surrey Coalition, Integrity Now, People First and Proudly Surrey.

But People First also criticized Wake Up Surrey’s release of the allegations to media, which the party believes will “help the culprits to hide their tracks,” and which “casts a shadow of doubt and shame on the South Asian community,” its news release said.

Proudly Surrey candidate Pauline Greaves is calling for an immediate suspension of all mail-in voting.

— With files from Mike Smyth

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29Sep

Walk in the park or road to ruin? New path in Kamloops park raises local concerns

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Some Kamloops residents are raising issues about a new $3.7-million multi-use pathway which connects a city park to a neighbourhood southwest of the downtown.

One concerned resident, Carman-Anne Schulz, describes parks as her passion and thinks the project is, overall, a good idea. However, she thinks the 1.7-kilometre walking and cycling path as built is too wide and takes up too much space of what she calls a pristine park.

She also thinks it will be too difficult for many people to use because of steep grades.

“One of the selling factors for the trail was a mother could put one of those bikes on the trail that could carry their children and could cycle up and down that trail,” Schulz told Daybreak Kamloops host Shelley Joyce.

“I’m a very strong cyclist, I’m 61, and I have to work hard. I have to back-and-forth a bit in my best hill-climbing gear… I’ve tried it.”

The path is in Peterson Creek Park and connects downtown Kamloops to the Sahali neighbourhood.

Carman-Anne Schulz says there are some problems with the soon-to-open cycling and walking path. (Shelley Joyce/CBC)

Schulz is also critical of the city for going $350,000 over the path’s original $3.35 million budget and is also concerned the park is too close to a marsh that she says is leaking water into retaining walls.

City believes project will be embraced

But officials with the City of Kamloops are defending their work on the project.

Liam Baker, the project’s manager, said the park’s larger footprint is for safety purposes: engineers, he explained, wanted cyclists and pedestrians to feel they had enough space to safely enjoy it.

“I think everyone will understand that it’s a really positive project once they get up here and walk it and bike it,” Baker said.

“Once they see how many people are using it and how much more access it grants to the whole parkland area, I think it’ll be really heavily used and appreciated.”

As for the budget overruns, Baker said those weren’t “too far out of line” for a project of this size. Council approved the extra spending, he added.

He admits the cycling grades could be considered a little steep but engineers had to contend with the existing topography of the park.

He believes water leaking issues have been sorted out but groundwater will be monitored.

The pathway is officially opens at the end of October.

Listen to the full story:

Some Kamloops residents are not happy about a new 1.7-kilometre, $3.7-million multi-use pathway in Peterson Creek Park connecting downtown to the Sahali neighbourhood. They are raising environmental, safety and accessibility concerns. 13:28

With files from CBC Radio One’s Daybreak Kamloops


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27Sep

Man accused of killing Japanese student told brother where body was, court hears

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Weeks before being charged with the murder of a Japanese student he was dating, William Schneider was “sad” and “upset” over the inability to have a relationship with his teenage son in Japan, his murder trial heard Thursday.

The revelations were part of the testimony from his older brother, Warren Schneider of Kelowna, the Crown’s main witness in the second-degree murder trial.

William Schneider also faces a charge of committing an indignity against a human body. He has pleaded not guilty in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver. Thursday was the fourth day of the trial before judge and jury.

Warren told court that William had travelled to Japan in June and July of 2016 to visit his teenage son, Ricky, and was upset that his estranged wife wouldn’t return to Canada with their son or let the boy take his surname.

“The vacation didn’t go the way (William) wanted,” said Warren. “He was sad and lost and didn’t succeed in keeping a steady relationship with his son.”

A week after returning from Japan, William moved in to a men’s hostel, where he lived for the next six weeks, during which time he met Natsumi Kogawa.

Her body was found in a suitcase in Vancouver’s West End on Sept. 28, 2016, about two weeks after friends reported her missing.


The body of Natsumi Kogawa, a 30-year-old Japanese student, was found Sept. 28 at the abandoned Gabriola mansion on Davie Street.

Warren Schneider, according to prosecutor Geordie Proulx’s opening statement on the first day of the trial, overheard his younger brother telling his estranged wife in Japan on the phone that “I did it” or “I killed her.”

But the eight-woman, four-man jury on Thursday didn’t hear Warren testify about that phone call.

He did testify how he learned William was being sought as a suspect in the case of a missing Japanese student in Vancouver.

After police posted a photo from CCTV footage showing Kogawa and William walking together, Warren’s daughter in Kelowna contacted Warren to ask if it was Willie, as he is called, in the photo.


William Victor Schneider, is pictured here alongside Japanese student Natsumi Kogawa.

RCMP

It was a week after William had shown up in Kelowna, telling Warren and their half-brother Kevin that “he had done something bad” before leaving them shortly after arriving.

“What did you conclude?” Proulx asked Warren after he saw the photo.

“The worst,” replied Warren.

He called William in Vernon, at their father’s home, and told him about the photo, and William hung up without a word, he testified.

He drove to Vernon that night and then walked with William to buy beer.

During the walk, William said “that it’s true,” said Warren, adding he was “referring to (an) article on the Internet (about) the missing Japanese student. He brought it up. I didn’t pry.”

Related

The brothers that evening drank together in the park and agreed to talk more the next day, Warren said.

The next morning, William bought some heroin with the intention of committing suicide by overdosing, Warren testified. He said William told him where to find Kogawa’s body in Vancouver so Warren could tell police after he was dead.

Warren said he took several photos of them and then called 911 to report a heroin overdose at the park.

But William didn’t overdose. “(William) realized he got ripped off. (The heroin) wasn’t strong enough and he didn’t die,” Warren said.

Later, the men’s half-sister called Warren, who told her that he was with Willie “and we were hugging goodbye because (William) had planned on getting some more heroin” to commit suicide.

The sister picked up Warren and drove him to the police station.

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26Sep

Murder trial heard friend, boyfriend concerned when Kogawa stopped texting

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The day Natsumi Kogawa was last seen alive, she was supposed to meet with a new Canadian friend who had promised to get her a job at a Japanese restaurant where his cousin worked.

Derek Manhas was going to pick up Kogawa at her North Burnaby homestay on Sept. 8, 2016, at 5:30 p.m., later changed to 6:30 p.m. They were planning to walk the Seawall and go to Miku near Canada Place so she could fill out a job application.

But the message the 30-year-old Japanese student sent to Manhas, 35, confirming their 6:30 p.m. meeting was the last time he ever heard from her.

When Kogawa didn’t show up, Manhas looked for her between her home and the nearest SkyTrain station, texting her along the way before finally giving up and going home.

A few hours before that planned meeting, Kogawa was captured on CCTV video walking with William Schneider west on Hastings Street toward Stanley Park.


Japanese student Natsumi Kogawa seen walking with William Schneider on Sept. 8, 2016. Schneider is accused of her murder.

RCMP /

PNG

She had just bought a mickey of vodka at a liquor store and some chips and crackers at the Dollarama store, both not far from Miku.

Two weeks later, Kogawa’s body was found in a suitcase on a lot of the old Gabriola Mansion, and the old Macaroni Grill, in the West End of Vancouver. The next day, Schneider was arrested in Vernon.

Schneider, an unemployed 51-year-old who at the time was living in a shelter and collecting welfare, has been charged with her murder and with interfering with human remains.

He has pleaded not guilty to both charges at his B.C. Supreme Court trial in front of judge and jury.

Manhas, who met Kogawa through mutual friends in mid-July 2016, told court he was immediately concerned about Kogawa’s no-show on Sept. 8.

That weekend he went hiking out of town and when he returned and realized that other friends hadn’t heard from Kogawa, he called police to report her missing.

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That evening, Jay Vergara, Kogawa’s boyfriend, also called police to report her missing after Kogawa hadn’t returned any of his texts or calls since they last communicated shortly after midnight on Sept. 8, 2016.

Vergara testified that he travelled to her Burnaby homestay on Sept. 12, 2016, to try to find her.

“I thought maybe she was sick, something had happened with her phone,” he said. “I was panicking and I was knocking on her door.”

Vergara said Kogawa “studied a lot to perfect her English” and wanted to find a part-time job and to extend her visa to allow her to remain in Canada because she “loved” it here.

He also said she was learning to play the ukulele.

Manhas described Kogawa as “happy, calm, peaceful, nice, genuine.”

Both men said she never exhibited any medical, emotional or mental problems and didn’t take any drugs, prescribed or otherwise. Vergara said she drank beer but didn’t drink vodka.

On Thursday, Crown will call as its witness Schneider’s brother, Warren Schneider.

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25Sep

Accused killer was homeless, penniless and sought anti-anxiety pills

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William Schneider, on trial for murder of a Japanese student two years ago, lived in a homeless shelter at the time, was broke and returned to his doctor weekly for anti-anxiety pills.

Schneider, 51, is accused of second-degree murder of Natsumi Kogawa, 30, and details revealed on the second day of the trial in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday before a packed public gallery painted a bleak picture of the middle-aged man’s life at the time.

Kogawa’s decomposed body was found in a suitcase in the fall of 2016 hidden on a West End property in Vancouver, where Schneider told his brother it would be, about two weeks after friends reported her missing.

Schneider has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and to interfering with human remains.


Natsumi Kogawa, a 30-year-old Japanese student, was reported missing by her boyfriend in Vancouver on September 12, 2016. Her body was found Sept. 28 at the abandoned Gabriola mansion on Davie Street.

At trial Tuesday, Vancouver Police Const. Beatrice Chow described taking photographs of the badly decomposed body.

She said Kogawa’s naked body was in a fetal position in the wheeled suitcase, head down, with her arms across her chest, and that twigs, leaves and moss were stuck to her skin.

Kogawa was last heard from on Sept. 8, 2016, the day she was seen on CCTV video buying vodka and chips and walking toward Stanley Park with Schneider, Crown counsel Geordie Proulx told the judge and a jury.

Court heard Schneider was carrying a tent and he had told his brother they had planned to go to Stanley Park to have sex in the tent, but they never made it. They instead had some drinks and took drugs before she left for another engagement.


William Victor Schneider, is pictured here alongside Japanese student Natsumi Kogawa.

RCMP

Kogawa’s autopsy showed she had anti-anxiety pills in her system — Lorazepam, that had been prescribed not to her but to Schneider that summer —  said Proulx.

Court has heard Kogawa came to Canada in May 2016 on a student visa, found a place to live in Burnaby and took English classes until July 22, 2016.

A statement of facts agreed to by Crown and the defence lawyer read into court on Tuesday revealed some details about Schneider’s life around the same time.

On June 10, 2016, Schneider had flown to Japan to an airport near Osaka. Court heard that his wife lives in Japan.

Schneider returned to Vancouver on July 25, 2016, the Monday after Kogawa’s final English class.

That same day, Schneider visited a doctor and received a prescription for Lorazepam, Proulx told court.

The prescription was repeated three days later, then once a week during the month of August. He received two more prescriptions in early September, but the strength had been cut to half-a-milligram and the number of pills cut in half.

Less than a week after returning from Japan, Schneider moved into the Catholic Charities Men’s Hostel in downtown Vancouver, where he lived for the next six weeks.

Related

Court hasn’t heard how the two met, but hostel staff are expected to testify he told them about meeting a woman and that they had gone hiking and planned to go camping.

While homeless, Schneider’s banking records showed he was broke for most of September.

There were zero transactions on that account until Sept. 21, when a government cheque for $793.42 was deposited.

“Welfare Wednesday” cheques are typically deposited at midnight. By 6:30 a.m. that day, Schneider was on a Greyhound bus to Kelowna, where his brother lived.

A week after that, on Sept. 28, 2016, he was arrested and charged with Kogawa’s murder after being found, drunk, before midnight in an area frequented by homeless people in Polson Park in Vernon, court heard.

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25Sep

Watch the moment a tornado-spawning storm hit a Quebec convenience store

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The sudden onslaught of a storm that produced three tornadoes in eastern Ontario and western Quebec was captured on camera.

The video was recorded Sept. 21, by a security camera at a convenience store in Luskville, Que.

It shows relatively calm winds suddenly picking up speed and tossing large pieces of debris past the camera. Within seconds, the camera’s view is nearly obscured by the storm’s wrath.

When the picture clears a few seconds later, the camera has been knocked to the ground.

The video is timestamped 5:01 p.m. At that time, the most powerful of the three tornadoes produced by the storm was on the ground and nearing Gatineau, Que., about 30 kilometres southeast of Luskville.

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24Sep

Sketch shows man seen masturbating in UBC women’s washroom

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Mounties at the University of British Columbia have released a sketch of a man who allegedly exposed himself in a women’s washroom earlier this month.

According to police, a woman at a residence in the Lower Mall heard a man speaking to her while she was taking a shower on the evening of Sept. 14.

A second witness walked into the washroom and saw the man, who was allegedly naked and masturbating.

The suspect fled the scene on foot and police have not been able to locate him.

He is described as South Asian or Middle Eastern and is in his 30s or early 40s. He is between 5-7 and 5-8 with an average build and has hair that’s dark on the sides and lighter on top. The suspect was wearing a light-coloured hoodie or long-sleeved shirt, grey sweatpants and a small diamond or crystal earring at the time of the incident.

Anyone who can identify the man in the sketch is asked to contact investigators at 604-224-1322 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-8477.

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24Sep

Do you recognize this man? RCMP release sketch of alleged UBC voyeur

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University RCMP have released a composite sketch of a suspected voyeur on the University of British Columbia campus.

RCMP say they were called to a residence in the Lower Mall, just after 9:45 p.m. Sept. 13 after a woman, who was showering in a woman’s only washroom, had a man speak to her from another stall.

A second woman walked into the washroom and saw the man, who was allegedly naked and masturbating. Police said that despite extensive patrols, the man was not located.

RCMP are now appealing to the public for help locating the individual.

Read more from CBC British Columbia

 

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23Sep

Barber fights to build compassion for DTES residents, 1 free haircut at a time

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Barber Alysha Osborne first decided to give free haircuts on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside after a troubling encounter with an acquaintance more than a year ago.

The two were getting out of a taxi when someone approached them and asked for spare change. The acquaintance laughed and told the person to get a job.

“It really pissed me off,” Osborne said, in the office upstairs from where she manages a downtown barber shop.

Osborne decided she wanted to do something to foster compassion for disadvantaged people living in Vancouver. She created 2 Paycheques Away, a non-profit that offers free haircuts and fundraises for Downtown Eastside residents.

“I want people to realize that it doesn’t take a lot to make a change,” she said. “Be humane to people, and compassion. It’s really not that hard.”

On Sunday afternoon, Osborne will be hosting a fundraiser and launch of her new book, which documents a year of giving free haircuts and shaves.

 

Osborne says her clients often seem brighter and more confident after getting one of her free haircuts. (Mihailo Subotic/2 Paycheques Away)

The organization operates out of a back room of a non-profit work clothing provider called Working Gear on Powell Street.

Along with the free haircuts, Osborne works with photographer Mihailo Subotic to get before and after shots of her clients — if they’re willing.

Osborne thought of before and after shots specifically because she wanted people to see how a simple change like a haircut can transform a person and how they’re perceived by others.

Of the roughly 200 free haircuts she’s given, Osborne says about 50 clients agreed to have their photo taken and sometimes share their story.

“Because of the purpose of the project,a lot of them gave me a lot of truth,” she said. “They want people to know how it goes.”

‘She cracks jokes’

Brad Bell, 57, first started getting haircuts from Osborne about a year ago.

Bell used to work as a fish culture technician, remediating river beds. But a congenital heart condition and bad arthritis means he now lives mostly off of disability cheques.

 

Brad Bell has been getting haircuts from Alysha Osborne for the past year. (Mihailo Subotic/2 Paycheques Away)

Bell went to Working Gear looking for rain gear — his had been stolen. While he was there, the volunteers at the shop told him there was a new barber working in the back giving free haircuts.

He and Osborne clicked. Since then, he’s been seeing her about every three months.

“She’s really sweet, funny — she cracks jokes,” Bell said. “She’s really nice, personable.”

Personal connection

Osborne says she knows from personal experience that most people on the Downtown Eastside don’t choose to end up there — her stepmother ran away from home as a teenager and ended up in the area as a sex worker and heroin addict by time she was 20.

“It’s really hard to know somebody and see that, but then see strangers and know that they’re going through the exact same thing,” she said.

 

Osborne also provides her clients with a free shave, if they want it. (Mihailo Subotic/2 Paycheques Away)

Osborne says she and Subotic had no idea what to expect when they first started their project. But in the past year, she has learned a lot from her clients — mostly about humanity and kindness.

“Everybody wanted to offer me something back, but these are people who have nothing,” she said.

Proceeds from Sunday’s fundraiser will go to Working Gear and the Downtown Eastside Women’s shelter. Proceeds from the book will also go towards supporting 2 Paycheques Away.

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