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4Jun

Coquitlam mayor renews call for ride hailing after report of bad taxi ride | CBC News

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Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart is once again calling for an end to the taxi monopoly in the Tri-Cities area and urging the province to quickly allow ride hailing services like Lyft and Uber after a local woman recounted a negative cab ride that left her feeling like a captive.

The taxi ride happened more than a week ago, but it wasn’t until Stewart wrote a post on social media titled “Held hostage by a taxi” that it started to get attention.

Gayle Hunter was taking a routine taxi ride from her home to Birchland Elementary School, where she works. Hunter, who doesn’t drive and lives with a disability that limits her mobility, said she always pays $7 for the trip, after the tip.

But, in her account, the driver failed to start the meter, and as she approached the school, she told the driver that technically, if he didn’t start the meter, she didn’t need to pay.

Hunter claims she was fully intending to pay the usual rate, but her comment sent the driver into a shouting rage.

Then, she said he turned away from her destination, despite her protest, and began to drive her in the wrong direction.

“It was essentially an altercation that resulted in her being driven against her will for some period of time, and it really angered me,” said Stewart.

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart said a local woman’s account of a bad taxi ride was just the latest in a long list of complaints he’s heard from people about the area’s taxis. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

“It frustrates me to no end, the length of time and the number of times we’ve had to speak with the Transportation Ministry, the Passenger Transportation Board and with this company about the behaviour of the drivers,” he said.

‘It was scary’

“Well it was, first of all, shocking, and then it was scary,” said Hunter. “It was scary. It was — and then it just made me really angry.”

Hunter said she phoned the company, Bel-Air Taxi, as the driver continued to refuse to take her to the school. She said she put the manager on speaker phone to have him tell the driver to take her to her intended destination — she says the driver continued shouting throughout.

Once Hunter got to Birchland elementary, she claims the troubling episode still didn’t end. She said the driver hurt her by aggressively ripping the cash out of her hand.

“When I got into the school, I was shaking, like I was a little — I went straight to the principal’s office,” she said. “Even today, I don’t feel safe getting into a cab.”

Gayle Hunter says she’s scared to take taxis after a bad ride in late May. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Hunter contacted Coquitlam RCMP to file a report, but doesn’t expect any criminal charges to arise from the incident. She also sent the company a written complaint, but said that she hasn’t heard anything back.

CBC News phoned and emailed Bel-Air Taxi for a comment, but nobody from the company replied to the request.

Manager Shawn Bowden told CTV News that he spoke to Hunter and apologized for the incident. He said the meter should have been turned on, but he added that, based on GPS records, the taxi didn’t deviate from the intended route to the school.

For both Stewart and Hunter, the incident is a reminder that, as a matter of safety and convenience, passengers need more choice when it comes to ride services in the Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody.


Do you have more to add to this story? Email [email protected]

Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker




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4Jun

‘This shouldn’t be happening’: Coquitlam cab ride ends with customer calling RCMP

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A Coquitlam woman with a disability said she recently had to call the RCMP after a cab ride that had her questioning her safety.

Gayle Hunter said she booked a Bel-Air Taxi online on May 24, for a ride to work at a school not far away.

“I have problems with my legs some days and I wasn’t feeling up to walking,” Hunter told CTV News Vancouver.

She said during the ride, the driver informed her he hadn’t turned the meter on.

“I wanted to kind of inform him if you don’t have that on, your customer doesn’t have to pay, so you know, something you should be aware of,” Hunter said.

She said the driver then started yelling and driving away from her route.

“I said where are you going? Like, where are you taking me? And he’s like, I don’t have to take you there, I can take you anywhere,” Hunter said.

Hunter said she insisted the driver turn around, and called the cab company. When they eventually arrived at the school, she said the driver grabbed the cash fare she had in her hand.

“My hand flies back, he’s got the bill, the change goes flying, and I yell, because it hurt,” Hunter said.

Hunter said she called the RCMP and contacted the city’s mayor, Richard Stewart, who posted about her complaint online. Stewart said it’s an example of why people need more options, such as ride-hailing.

“It is outrageous that a disabled person could be actually held in a cab,” Stewart told CTV News Vancouver.

“It scares me for other residents who might not have had the wherewithal she had,” Stewart said.

Bel-Air Taxi manager Shawn Bowden does not agree the driver deviated from the route.

He says their GPS records show the cab made a series of right hand turns to get to the school.

“It wasn’t taken on a wild goose chase or something like that, no. But maybe she just didn’t understand that,” Bowden said.

However, Bowden said the meter should have been on.

“I apologize for the service. And I have talked to the customer, and I have apologized, it shouldn’t have happened,” Bowden said.

Hunter said she has taken cabs since then, but the experience has made her more cautious.

“This shouldn’t be happening,” Hunter said.

The RCMP said charges are not being pursued in the case.


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4Jun

‘This shouldn’t be happening’: Port Coquitlam cab ride ends with customer calling RCMP

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A Port Coquitlam woman with a disability said she recently had to call the RCMP after a cab ride that had her questioning her safety.

Gayle Hunter said she booked a Bel-Air Taxi online on May 24, for a ride to work at a school not far away.

“I have problems with my legs some days and I wasn’t feeling up to walking,” Hunter told CTV News Vancouver.

She said during the ride, the driver informed her he hadn’t turned the meter on.

“I wanted to kind of inform him if you don’t have that on, your customer doesn’t have to pay, so you know, something you should be aware of,” Hunter said.

She said the driver then started yelling and driving away from her route.

“I said where are you going? Like, where are you taking me? And he’s like, I don’t have to take you there, I can take you anywhere,” Hunter said.

Hunter said she insisted the driver turn around, and called the cab company. When they eventually arrived at the school, she said the driver grabbed the cash fare she had in her hand.

“My hand flies back, he’s got the bill, the change goes flying, and I yell, because it hurt,” Hunter said.

Hunter said she called the RCMP and contacted Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart, who posted about her complaint online. Stewart said it’s an example of why people need more options, such as ride-hailing.

“It is outrageous that a disabled person could be actually held in a cab,” Stewart told CTV News Vancouver.

“It scares me for other residents who might not have had the wherewithal she had,” Stewart said.

Bel-Air Taxi manager Shawn Bowden does not agree the driver deviated from the route.

He says their GPS records show the cab made a series of right hand turns to get to the school.

“It wasn’t taken on a wild goose chase or something like that, no. But maybe she just didn’t understand that,” Bowden said.

However, Bowden said the meter should have been on.

“I apologize for the service. And I have talked to the customer, and I have apologized, it shouldn’t have happened,” Bowden said.

Hunter said she has taken cabs since then, but the experience has made her more cautious.

“This shouldn’t be happening,” Hunter said.

The RCMP said charges are not being pursued in the case.


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4Jun

Housing co-op’s policies ‘oppressive and unfairly prejudicial’ to young family: B.C. judge

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A B.C. Supreme Court judge has found that a Vancouver housing co-op’s policies toward a young family of four struggling to get by in a two-bedroom unit to be harsh and unfair.


Arlen Redekop/Postmedia/File

New policies implemented by a Vancouver housing co-op are “oppressive and unfairly prejudicial” to a family of four struggling to get by in a two-bedroom unit as well as to other co-op families considered to be “under-housed,” a judge has ruled.

The family was on a waiting list for seven years before being accepted as members of the Vancouver East Cooperative Housing Association in 2013 and being offered a two-bedroom basement suite in a rancher-style house built in the 1940s.

At the time the couple’s oldest boy was six and their youngest two and with only two bedrooms in the home, the family, who cannot be identified due to a publication ban, were considered to be “under-housed” members of the co-op.

The oldest boy, who is now 12, has a disability which is sufficiently serious that he requires his own bedroom. The other bedroom is occupied by the parents and the younger boy.

“The evidence also establishes that the eight-year-old is negatively impacted by this situation,” B.C. Supreme Court Justice Francesca Marzari said in a ruling posted on the court’s website Tuesday.

“Furthermore, according to the petitioners, the 12-year-old’s condition is worsening. On any measure, including the Co-op’s policies, the petitioners have been and are inadequately housed. The Co-op does not dispute this.”

When the family moved into their unit, the same policies relating to unit allocation on the basis of housing need had been in place for well over a decade, court heard.

A member who was “over-housed” was someone living in a unit where there were more bedrooms than people and was responsible for self-reporting their situation to the co-op’s board.

Thus two people residing in a two-bedroom unit would be considered appropriately housed but two people living in a three-bedroom unit were over-housed.

Since moving into their co-op unit, the family has attempted to get permission to move into a larger unit to no avail.

When the co-op refused to act, the couple filed a petition in late 2017 to have the court rule that the policies were oppressive or unfairly prejudicial to their interests.

They challenged, in particular, a new policy that allowed non-member adults or housemates to move in with over-housed units, avoiding the requirement that over-housed members might have to move.

The policy, voted in by the membership in May 2018, substantially increased the co-op’s tolerance of over-housing by “essentially removing the problem of over-housing by nearly defining it out of existence,” noted the judge.

“The evidence suggests that the petitioners’ efforts have garnered them negative and increasingly hostile attention from the board and other members of the Co-op, particularly as a result of this litigation.”

The judge concluded that the changes were a marked departure from the reasonable expectations of the under-housed members of the co-op and were oppressive and unfairly prejudicial.

“I find that the effects of the identified portions of the New Policy to be harsh, burdensome, and inherently unfair, particularly in the context of a Co-op that has such a long-standing under-housed population.”

Marzari struck down several provisions of the policy and edited parts of others in addition to ordering disclosure from the board.

The co-op has 39 units in 13 buildings at six locations. The association has existed since 1979.

The members collectively own and support the co-op and its units and provide affordable and sustainable housing that “nurtures a diverse community,” according to the co-op’s website.

Deborah Labun, a lawyer for the petitioners, said Tuesday that she was “impressed” by the judge’s ruling.

“It’s so clear that she got down with these facts and really thought hard about what would be just. She really put in the work, defended her decision on a broad review of the law.”

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4Jun

Ottawa renews annual spending on women and children’s health, rights and ups it to $1.4 billion a year

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announces a $1.4-billion annual commitment to support women’s global health at the Women Deliver 2019 Conference at the Vancouver Convention Centre on Tuesday.


LINDSEY WASSON / REUTERS

The federal government is pledging to spend $1.4 billion a year “advancing the health and rights” of women, teens and children around the world.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement on the first full day of Women Deliver 2019, an international conference on gender equity being held in Vancouver this week.

The aid package renews Canada commitment to women’s health abroad by pledging to extend the current $1.1 billion a year aid beyond 2020, when it was set to expire, and increase it.

Maryam Monsef, the minister for women and gender equality, called the 10-year commitment “unprecedented.”

She said the announcement means funding is promised under her government until 2030, and the $1.1 billion amount will increase gradually to $1.4 billion a year by 2023.

A 10-year maternal, newborn and child health policy that expires in 2020 had been brought in in 2010 under the previous Conservative government.

Monsef and her staff said most of the extra funding of $300,000 a year would be spent on the “neglected” area of sexual reproductive health rights, including abortion.

When Trudeau announced the funding commitment at the start of Tuesday’s plenary, he said such funding was needed more than ever.

He noted there are 200 million women around the world who have no access to contraceptives, and he and several other presenters at the conference spoke of “pushback” to gains for women’s sexual and reproductive rights.

“The unfortunate truth is that we live in a world where rights are increasingly under threat,” Trudeau said in a brief announcement.

Speaking in French, he said only women should have the right to determine what is best for their bodies and that abortion “must be accessible, safe and legal.”

“We can’t talk about sexual and reproductive rights in isolation from the rest of women’s health because, just as there are 200 million women who don’t have access to contraception, hundreds more die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth,” he said.

The Canadian Partnership for Women and Children’s Health (CanWaCH) called the federal promise of funding an “historic day.”

“The investment will not only ensure that Canada’s long, proud tradition as a leader in women and children’s health continues, it comes with a purposeful approach that addresses critical gaps in the health needs of women and adolescents,” the organization said in a news release.

It said it renews funding for reproductive, maternal, newborn and children’s health and nutrition and adds aid for the “most neglected areas of sexual and reproductive health and rights.”

Its acting executive director, Julia Anderson, said in the release that the funding comes at a critical time “when rollbacks on women’s health rights are being acutely felt around the globe.”

Soon after his election in 2016, U.S. President Donald Trump reinstated and expanded Ronald Reagan’s Mexico City Policy, which bars international non-governmental organizations that deliver any counselling or abortion services, no matter what nation pays for that service, from receiving U.S. government support.

A number of U.S. states have recently or are considering abortion bans.


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4Jun

B.C. Ferries’ new ship a nightmare reno of surprises and expenses

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VICTORIA — When B.C. Ferries’ newest ship, the Northern Sea Wolf, left the dock at Bella Coola for the first time Monday, there was little sign amid the bright new paint and spaciously redecorated interior that the public was sailing on one of the most problem-plagued renovation projects in the ferry corporation’s history.

But the 35-car, 150-passenger, vessel was a renovation nightmare for B.C. Ferries.

The Northern Sea Wolf was purchased used in 2017 from a Greek shipyard. It’s retrofit finished a year late and with a $76 million price tag that was more than 36 per cent over budget.

In short, the little Greek boat turned out to be a big fat Greek lemon for B.C. taxpayers.

“I think it’s fair to say that we were, at various times, shocked and surprised at the issues we were running in to,” B.C. Ferries CEO Mark Collins told Postmedia Tuesday.

“I liken it to a house reno. You survey a house and inspect it and all the rest. It looks pretty good for a reno, and then when you start taking off the drywall and you get a few surprises. That’s exactly what happened to us.”

B.C. Ferries had retained a broker and the ship was certified “in class” under marine standards by a third party independent group. There were only three or four ships in the world that met the size, ocean-readiness, and closed deck specifications B.C. Ferries wanted for the Port Hardy-Bella Coola route, and the Greek vessel was “not perfect, but as close as we are going to get,” said Collins.

B.C. Ferries sent staff to survey the ship — originally called the Aqua Spirit — in addition to the third-party inspection. “She needs work, but she’s good enough,” was the opinion at the time, Collins said.

But when the Aqua Spirit arrived in Victoria in December 2017, B.C. Ferries engineers were aghast. There was no fire protection insulation, a key safety measure. “We’d take off the panelling and find no insulation there, I mean literally just missing,” said Collins. “There’s no way a ship should have been approved with that missing.”


The Northern Sea Wolf. Photo: B.C. Ferries

B.C. FERRIES /

PNG

Under the ceiling tiles were sprinklers that didn’t work. “We found some of the sprinklers were not even connected,” he said.

The propeller shafts were “worn beyond allowable specifications.” Some metal was corroded below acceptable minimum steel thickness.

The heating, venting and air conditioning system didn’t work. The elevator didn’t meet code. And the stern door was a problem.

B.C. Ferries had budgeted to overhaul the main engines, install new generators, upgrade the navigational equipment and improve overall safety — but the scope of problems far exceeded the original plan.

“This is what started to put pressure on the budget,” said Collins. The original price tag of $55.7 million grew to $63.4 million in early 2018, and finally $76 million in 2019.

“We were very disappointed in some of the condition of the ship that shouldn’t have been there because a ship being in class should not have had these faults,” said Collins.

“We continue to make claims against the class society for compensation for the things that should not have been there but in fact were.”

B.C. Ferries also had a tight timeline. The direct Port Hardy-Bella Coola route had been cancelled by the Liberal government in 2013 due to financial losses at BC Ferries. Then Transportation Minister Todd Stone said the route was losing $7 million a year, with a taxpayer subsidy of $2,500 per vehicle.

B.C. Ferries sold the ship on the route, the Queen of Chilliwack, which had just undergone a $15 million upgrade. A former B.C. Ferries engineer in Fiji bought it for $2 million for his private ferry operation.

Tourism operators on the coast, Cariboo Chilcotin and Interior were outraged at the lack of consultation and said they’d lose millions in business and international tourism.


Mark Collins, president and CEO of B.C. Ferries, discusses operations in the control tower at the corporation’s Swartz Bay terminal.

Adrian Lam /

Victoria Times Colonist

Then Premier Christy Clark relented on the eve of the 2017 provincial election, announcing the route would be restored by spring 2018. B.C. Ferries was not consulted.

“We informed the government of the day that it was a very ambitious time frame and could only be met with a used vessel,” said Collins.

As problems mounted, B,C, Ferries missed the spring 2018 deadline, and then the fall window as well.

“It was very frustrating for the tourism industry,” said Amy Thacker, chief executive of the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism Association. “Our international visitors who very much enjoy that route are making plans and booking 12 to 18 months in advance.”

Collins apologized directly to the communities and businesses for the lack of communication.

The final version of the Northern Sea Wolf is basically a totally renovated ship, said Collins. There’s a new galley, dining area, lounge seating, outdoor viewing areas, paint, washrooms, chair lifts, elevators and First Nations art. It’s twice as fast as the Queen of Chilliwack.

It was money well spent, said Collins, even if it was far more than budgeted.

“Instead of being 30 per cent renovated for $55 million, we got a ship that’s 95 per cent renovated for $76 million. So, in that sense, the value is not lost.”

In the future, B.C. Ferries will demand a second independent inspection of ships, beyond whether the international maritime certification says a vessel is “in class,” said Collins. Had there been more time, B.C. Ferries would also have considered building new in B.C., but that likely would have cost as much as $110 to $140 million, he said.

The purchase of the Northern Sea Wolf in 2017 straddled the end of the Liberal government and beginning of the NDP.

Transportation Minister Claire Trevena blamed the Liberals for “making terrible financial decisions.”

“They backed B.C. Ferries into a corner with an incredibly tight timeline, leading to the purchase of a used ship which was well below Transport Canada safety standards,” she said. “The upgrades ran well over budget and cost people $76 million that shouldn’t have been spent in the first place.”

Former minister Stone said the cuts only occurred because B.C. Ferries was losing money and facing fare hikes.

“The cancellation was a very difficult decision,” he said. “It was always our intention to put back a direct link between Bella Coola and Port Hardy.”

Stone said “it’s a really good day” to see the link, though the cost overruns and delays are “very disappointing.”

Meanwhile, actual users appear pleased it’s all finally over.

“We’re just incredibly happy to actually have her out there and sailing,” said Thacker. “Now that service is here, I think there’s a lot of consumer confidence restored.”

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The history of the Northern Sea Wolf

2013: The B.C. Liberal government announces cutbacks to ferry routes, including direct service between Port Hardy to Bella Coola, due to B.C. Ferries financial losses. It says the route lost $7.35 million. Tourism operators are outraged at the lack of consultation.

2014: B.C. Ferries sells the Queen of Chilliwack (which had just undergone a $15 million retrofit) for a reported $1.8 million to a private Fiji ferry company.

2015: The new two-vessel journey from Port Hardy to Bella Bella to Bella Coola includes a nine-hour trip on the MV Nimpkish, a small 16-vehicle ferry with one washroom that government touts as having “potable water” and snacks. Tourist reviews are negative.

2016: Premier Christy Clark announces a plan to restore direct ferry service from Port Hardy to Bella Coola by the summer of 2018. B.C. Ferries is not consulted about the timeline, and scrambles.

2017: B.C. Ferries hires brokers to try to find a “rare” small ferry that can deal with ocean conditions, fit 35 cars and has a closed deck. Only three or four candidates exist. A Denmark ship looks promising by the buyer withdraws. The corporation pays $12.6 million for the 246-foot-long Aqua Spirit from Greek firm Seajet. It was built in 2000 and is certified by third-party maritime groups as being “in class” for sea use.

December 2017: The Aqua Spirit arrives in Victoria after a 10,097 nautical mile journey from Greece.

2018: B.C. Ferries starts stripping the ship down and discovers technical problems, sprinklers that do not work, missing insulation, corroded metal, elevator errors, heat and air conditioning that is non-functional, unusable propeller shafts, and more.

Spring 2018: B.C. Ferries misses its government deadline to be back in service. The budget rises from $55.7 million to $63.4 million.

Summer 2018: Technical problems continue to grow. The budget increases to $76 million.

September 2018: The Northern Sea Wolf, as it is now called, still isn’t ready. B.C. Ferries puts the Northern Adventure on the Port Hardy-Bella Coola run for one month.

May 2019: The ship starts trials. Operates the final two weeks of winter connector service.

June 3, 2019: The Northern Sea Wolf takes its first run from Bella Coola to Port Hardy. It is more than 36 per cent over budget and almost a year late.




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4Jun

Lawyer sparks workplace discrimination debate over Kamloops’ new Teenie Bikini Bistro | CBC News

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The recent opening of the Teenie Bikini Bistro in Kamloops, B.C., has an employment lawyer concerned about workplace discrimination but the restaurant’s co-owner maintains it’s nothing to worry about.

The bistro features pub-style food served by women wearing bikinis. Kelowna lawyer David Brown with Kent Employment Law says it’s disconcerting.

“I was surprised that this continues to be prevalent in this day and age … I kind of started thinking about the legal implications of this kind of a business plan,” Brown told Chris Walker, host of Daybreak South.

Hiring process 

Brown cites the B.C. Human Rights Code, which prevents discrimination in the workplace on a number of different grounds including gender, sexual orientation and disability. He is concerned that the Teenie Bikini Bistro’s hiring practices may be discriminatory toward men, older workers or workers with disabilities, among others.

Bistro co-owner Leeann Mcarthur says it’s simply not the case. She says she has no specific hiring process, nor is it mandatory that those applying look a certain way or even be female. 

“We have all shapes and sizes here. Most of us have stretch marks,” said Mcarthur.

“I’ve got four kids. I’ve got stretch marks. I’m wearing a bikini right now. And you know, I’m confident enough to do it and it doesn’t bother me.”

While Mcarthur has not had any men apply for serving positions at the restaurant yet, she says that as with women, she would hire men if they applied and were solid candidates.

Brown says that legally, imposing a dress code which has the potential to violate or create a different working environment on either the worker or on those workers who don’t conform to that model is problematic. 

But Mcarthur says she doesn’t force her waitresses to wear bikinis. They can work in whatever attire they choose.

“If the girl is confident enough, I don’t care what she looks like. If she’s willing to wear a bathing suit or bikini or she’s comfortable in shorts … whatever she’s comfortable in, wear it.”

Sexual harassment 

Brown says that while the women who work at places like Teenie Bikini Bistro may consent to wearing a bikini, they do not necessarily consent to some of the sexual harassment that might happen within the workplace such as crude jokes, unwanted touching or catcalls.

“It raises concerns about challenges toward the women who are serving the floors,” said Brown.

Mcarthur says sexual harassment is an unfortunate reality of the restaurant industry in general.

“You get that no matter what kind of job you’re working,” she said. “Honestly, I think the men are a little more cautious here,” she said of the restaurant’s patrons. 

Health and safety

Brown also has concerns surrounding health and safety in the workplace.

“Are these servers going to be safe serving hot foods? … there’s a potential here for a personal injury by burning on their midriff or something like that,” said Brown.

For Mcarthur, the Teenie Bikini Bistro is no different then much larger businesses such as sports or cocktail bars.

“The lounges I’ve been to in Kamloops, those girls are pretty much wearing next to nothing. Are they safe serving hot food?” Mcarthur said, explaining that opening her restaurant was a smooth process.

“With health and safety, if it wasn’t OK, we wouldn’t have gotten our licence.”

Listen to the full interview with David Brown here

A new restaurant in Kamloops has caught the eye of a Kelowna employment lawyer, who says the business’s hiring practices and dress code could be considered discriminatory and increase the potential for sexual harassment. 6:00

With files by Daybreak South


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4Jun

‘Police have become part of the mental health system:’ B.C. Coroner studies deaths after police encounters

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Police across the province need to work closer with mental health officials in assessing vulnerable people with whom they have contact, a new study by the B.C. Coroners Services says.

The Coroners Service put together a panel of experts that reviewed the deaths of 127 people who had contact with police within the previous 24 hour and found two-thirds were struggling with mental health and addiction issues.

Their report – Opportunities for Different Outcomes – recommended improving coordination between health services and police, increasing access to mental health assessment and using findings from police encounters for ongoing professional development.

The deaths in the review occurred over five years from 2013 to the end of 2017 and included 56 suicides, 40 accidental or overdose deaths, seven deemed natural and 21 attributable to police used of force. Three deaths resulted from injuries caused by others.

The study noted that 84 percent of the people on the study were men and 61 percent struggled with illicit drug use.

Indigenous people were overrepresented in the numbers, making up 20 percent of the deaths reviewed despite being just six percent of the B.C. population.

The report noted that police have more than 400,000 encounters with civilians each year for criminal-code or traffic-related offences, “and the vast majority of police interactions are resolved without incident.”

Of those calls, more than 74,000 a year are related to mental health issues.

This review found that of the deaths studied, it was often a metal health or substance abuse issue that led to the original call to police.

Related

“More than half of the decedents were exhibiting mental health symptoms at the time of police contact,” the study said.

Many of the deaths were of people living in rural parts of the province.

Michael Egilson, of the B.C. Coroners Service, chaired the review panel, which included 19 experts in policing, police oversight, public health, health services, mental health and addictions.

Egilson said the report highlights the role of police in responding to mental health emergencies in the community.

“These are situations where police officers de-escalate crisis situations, and assess, triage and transport persons for emergency care to health services or to cells,” he said.

“We need to drive home the point that the police have become part of the mental health system and that their role needs to be acknowledged, supported and incorporated into the larger provincial mental health and addictions strategy.”

The deaths highlighted in the report were anonymized with no names or locations included.

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4Jun

‘Breathtaking’: Fake mortgage broker case reveals widespread problems | CBC News

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In a real estate market saturated with stories about money laundering, offshore conniving and even murder-related property depreciation — it’s easy for allegations against one unlicensed mortgage broker to get lost in the fray.

After all, British Columbia is used to stunning examples of greed and deception.

But the activity outlined in last week’s cease and desist order against Jay Kanth Chaudhary is something different entirely.

Not just because Chaudhary is accused of using fake financial documents to dupe lenders into giving out half a billion dollars worth of loans. But because an entire network of licensed professionals are being investigated for helping.

And because hundreds of customers were allegedly willing to turn a blind eye if it helped them get a mortgage.

“I guess to me what’s remarkable is the widespread apparent — there’s no word for it really other than ‘corruption’ — of licensed people,” says Ron Usher, a professor of property law at Simon Fraser University.

“To me, that’s a bit breathtaking.”

‘Tune-up to somehow fit new lending rules’

The case is by far the biggest allegation of so-called “shadow brokering” that B.C.’s Financial Institutions Commission has investigated to date.

But it’s by no means the only one in which investigators claim to have peeled back the layers of financing deals to reveal an unregistered puppet master pulling strings to get loans for people who wouldn’t otherwise qualify.

The consumers alleged to have used the services of a shadow broker appear desperate to get into the tight B.C. housing market. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

According to acting registrar of mortgage brokers Chris Carter, Chaudhary collected $6 million in fees from nearly 900 clients in the decade since his licence as a registered mortgage broker lapsed in 2008.

Carter says as many as 20 mortgage brokers and real estate licensees are currently under investigation for their ties to Chaudhary.

The case bears a striking similarity to the allegations against Vinita Devi Lal, an unlicensed woman facing a hearing for allegedly feeding altered tax documents through three licensed mortgage brokers to help secure loans for clients.

Usher, who is general counsel for B.C.’s Society of Notaries Public, says both cases are revealing for what they show about the desperation of people to get into the housing market.

And who is — and is not — able to get money without a little document doctoring.

“I suspect the bulk of this is going to be fraud for shelter,” he says. “People who don’t quite qualify in our tight market, who just need a ”tune-up’ to somehow fit new lending rules.”

Fish filleter, hairdresser, janitor

Usher notes that Blueshore Financial, the credit union that blew the whistle on Chaudhary, says none of the loans in question have resulted in loss or delinquency.

These are customers who are able to make the payments on a mortgage — they’re just not willing to tell the Canada Revenue Agency where most of their money comes from.

One of the people who allegedly used Vinita Lal’s services to obtain a mortgage was a janitor making around $10,000 of declared income a year. (Shutterstock)

The FICOM documents related to Lal included a self-employed fish filleter with an annual salary of $30,000, a self-employed hairdresser making $13,451 a year and a janitor earning $10,881.

All were allegedly able to qualify for mortgages with the help of phony tax documents.

In the Chaudhary case, investigators interviewed a woman and her father whose application for a mortgage was declined after it was submitted by a licensed broker accused of working extensively with Chaudhary.

The woman’s husband was unemployed and on disability.

And yet, numerous applications filled with false or doctored documents were allegedly filed on their behalf in the hopes of securing financing.

So who is to blame?

It’s not the first time regulators have investigated Chaudhary. His licence was suspended for nearly four months in 2008 after an investigation into a string of almost identical allegations.

In that case, FICOM staff received an email from a senior investigator at TD Canada Trust “advising that he had received information from an unidentified source who stated that Chaudhary was committing fraud by paying bank employees secret cash in exchange for deals.”

Both sets of allegations against Vinita Lal and Jay Kanth Chaudhary involve altered taxation documents. (CBC)

So who is to blame?

The would-be homeowners who don’t ask why one fixer can secure a deal for them where no one else could?

The licensed brokers or real estate agents who deliver challenging customers to so-called shadow brokers — if it will help secure a deal?

Bank employees who allegedly take tips for business?

‘A whole lot more conversations’

And what are the consequences?

The maximum fine for shadow-brokering appears to be $50,000. One of the brokers who assisted Lal was banned for 10 years and the other two still face hearings.

Chaudhary could not be reached for comment and a call to his wife went unanswered. He has a right to appeal the cease and desist order. He is not facing any criminal charges.

FICOM says it works with other authorities, and Vancouver police officers accompanied investigators when they obtained an order to enter Chaudhary’s home in February.

But Usher suspects the investigation won’t go beyond the regulator.

“Partly, it falls like many of these kinds of cases into the too hard pile, the priority pile,” he says.

“And so, there are just a whole lot more conversations we need to have.”

At least until the next real estate story comes along.


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