Over 100 people have fallen sick following a suspected norovirus outbreak at two Richmond hotels over the weekend.
Claudia Kurzac, Vancouver Coastal Health’s manager for environmental health, says the Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel and the Hilton Vancouver Airport Hotel were affected although a confirmation of norovirus won’t come until test results are back next week.
Steve Veinot, general manager of the Sheraton at the airport, says it is sanitizing all hard surfaces, kitchens, public spaces and guest rooms.
He says the hotel will not open until they are confident it is safe and the health authority gives them the go ahead.
Veinot says the source of the virus hasn’t been identified.
The Hilton hotel could not be reached for comment.
Vancouver Coastal Health says noroviruses are a group of viruses that cause severe gastroenteritis, commonly referred to as the stomach flu.
During the fifth month of her wrongful imprisonment in a tiny, perpetually lit jail cell in China, Julia Garratt scribbled in her Bible that she was feeling hopelessness and was longing for heaven.
Julia and her husband, Kevin Garratt, had spent 30 years in China as teachers, entrepreneurs and Christian aid workers. Then, in 2014, they were accused by the Chinese government of being spies, in retaliation for Canada’s arrest of a Chinese businessman. Julia spent six months in jail; Kevin was locked up for nearly two years.
Since then, relations between China and Canada have grown even more tense, with Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in December. Today, China is impeding the import of Canadian goods and there are several high-profile cases of Canadians languishing in Chinese jails.
The Garratts — who share a similar story because it is now known they were seized in retaliation for a Chinese businessman’s arrest in Vancouver — have a unique perspective on how Spavor and Kovrig may be feeling five months into their captivity.
While incarcerated, the Garratts kept up their spirits by reading the Bible and writing inspirational thoughts, but also fought off despair — especially as time wore on, as it has for Spavor and Kovrig, who have now been imprisoned for 145 days.
“’If this is my new life, am I going to give up or am I going to somehow live it in here?’ I think those are the questions (we) wrestled with in an ongoing way, especially in month 4 and month 5. Because you never know what is coming the next day,” Julia said during an interview in New Westminster, where the couple now lives.
“Now that it is happening to (Spavor and Kovrig), I can totally relate to what they must be feeling and going through,” added Kevin.
Meng, who was arrested in Vancouver at the request of the U.S. government, is free on bail while waiting an extradition hearing, which could send her to the U.S. to face accusations of violating trade sanctions on Iran.
“China is likely to hold on to (Spavor and Kovrig) until Meng is released. This is the sad reality,” said Yves Tiberghien, a UBC political science professor and executive director of the UBC China Council.
It is unfortunate that Canada arrested Meng, he said in an email to Postmedia, arguing this country “became a pawn” when it detained the executive on behalf of the U.S. “(But) this point cannot excuse China’s arrest of the two Michaels and their harsh conditions. The whole situation is very unfortunate and painful.”
The men, who have been accused of stealing Chinese state secrets but have not been charged, are kept in isolation with little contact with the outside world and in cells with the lights constantly on, which some experts say is equivalent to torture.
Tiberghien believes China’s recent clampdown on importing Canadian canola seed was also in retaliation for Meng’s arrest. “It is unfortunate that such further escalation took place,” he said.
The diplomatic dispute worsened this week, with Canadian sellers of soybeans, peas and pork hitting obstacles at Chinese ports and with a second Canadian on death row for drug crimes — a sentence Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland called “cruel and inhumane.”
Two former ambassadors to Beijing are urging Canada to take a harder stand against China but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters this week he had no plans to retaliate, saying his government is working for resolutions.
Today, the Garratts are saddened to see other Canadians face fear and uncertainty behind bars in China.
“There is such a human cost to all these political things. And after all the dialogue that happened back and forth between our countries over our case, I was so disappointed that another similar case erupted,” Julia said. “I was really hoping that wouldn’t happen, that (we) would have paved a new pathway to another solution to some of these political problems.”
As they reflect on their imprisonment with a remarkable lack of bitterness, the couple would like their survival and eventual release to provide encouragement to those in a similar situation.
“We would say, ‘You have to hold on to hope,’” Kevin said. “I’m hoping that maybe we offer a little bit of hope that you can get through it, although it is incredibly difficult.”
In 1984, after graduating from university in Ontario, newlyweds Julia and Kevin Garratt went to China for a “big adventure,” planning to teach English there for a year. Instead, they stayed for three decades.
“We just loved it,” Kevin said.
They thought China was a good fit for their passions for teaching, starting new businesses and providing aid to needy people.
They taught at universities, developed a model kindergarten and started a small NGO that helped to expand an orphanage.
In 2007, the Garratts, who had three children and adopted a fourth while living in China, moved to Dandong, a large city on the border with North Korea.
While Julia taught at the local university, the family opened a popular coffee shop that offered English-speaking nights, business dinners and talent shows.
By 2014, three of the Garratts’ grown children were studying or working in Canada, while the fourth was in university in China.
Nothing seemed amiss until that August.
When a mutual friend asked them to have dinner with a couple whose daughter was going to the University of Toronto, the Garratts’ alma mater, they agreed. When they arrived at the restaurant, the other couple said their daughter had a toothache and could not come.
“But we weren’t thinking anything sinister about it because they were friendly and nice,” Julia said.
After dinner, the Garratts rode the elevator to the lobby. When the doors opened, the lobby was packed with people with cameras, and Julia told Kevin they should leave through a side door because it must be a wedding or other event.
“But it wasn’t an event. It was an abduction,” Kevin said.
“I thought, ‘They’ve made a mistake. They’ve taken the wrong people,’” Julia recalled. “In an instant, everything changed.”
The husband and wife were taken out different doors and into waiting cars. The couple would later learn the officers who snatched them worked for the Chinese ministry of state security, which is responsible for counter-intelligence and political security.
Speaking in Mandarin, Julia asked one guard what was happening.
“He said, ‘Don’t worry, you’re safe.’ I was thinking, ‘I’m not safe,’” Julia recalled. “You have a part of your brain that is panicking and a part of your brain that is praying.”
They drove Julia to a police station and examined everything in her briefcase, from teaching documents to paper clips. It took her a long time to understand she was accused of espionage because she hadn’t learned that word in Mandarin.
She was shocked but believed they would quickly realize they had the wrong person. It was when they ordered her back into the car that she became terrified. “At this point you think: ‘China has become extremely unpredictable. I have no idea what they are going to do next.’”
Kevin was in another room, surrounded by eight or 10 “intimidating” officers with cameras.
“They’re saying we think you’re spies, and I’m thinking, ‘How can you think that?’” he said. “After quite some time, I heard Julia crying, screaming down the hallway.”
His frantic wife was yelling, “We just came to help.”
Shaken, Kevin signed a document that gave the police permission to investigate him. He had no idea what would come next or why.
The couple had never heard of Su Bin, a Chinese businessman arrested in B.C. in July 2014. Bin was arrested at the request of the United States, where he was wanted for hacking the data bases of American defence contractors to steal military secrets. One month later, the Garratts were arrested by China.
“When we were released, then I was told the reason we were taken is because Canada arrested Su Bin here in Vancouver, and China wanted to trade us for him, and that didn’t work out because he was later extradited to the U.S., and China was stuck with us,” Kevin said in a recent interview.
After being dragged out of the police station, a terrified Julia was driven for an hour to an unknown destination.
“I thought, OK this might be my last night.” she recalled. “When I was going out in the middle of nowhere, I started worrying about my family, my parents, my son, because I thought this is one of those China-makes-you-disappear things.”
Kevin was taken to the couple’s rented apartment, where he watched 18 officers ransack the place. They tore the sockets out of the wall, pulled photos out of their frames, and cut open a pillar in the middle of the room. They found no evidence of espionage.
At 5 a.m., the officers told Kevin to gather some clothes. He also grabbed his and Julia’s Bibles, which would become a lifeline for the religious couple during their months of isolation.
For the next 775 days, Kevin existed in a grim room where he ate meagre meals and endured hours of daily interrogation, with only occasional visits from Canadian embassy staff or his lawyer.
“There were 14 people in my cell. And the cell was not very big. So basically the beds were all together and there was a small aisle down the middle and a washroom in the corner,” he said. “There was absolutely no privacy.”
Julia’s tiny cell, where the lights were on 24/7 and she was under the eyes of two guards, was in the same facility as Kevin’s, but she didn’t know that.
“They wouldn’t give me any information about whether Kevin was alive or dead,” she said.
Seconds felt like minutes, minutes like hours.
Besides 15 minutes of outdoor time in the dark, she left her cell only to walk a few steps to an interrogation room, where she faced six hours a day of questioning.
The words in their Bibles sustained them. For Kevin, it was Romans 8:28: “All things work together for good.”
“At times I don’t think I could see how this was going to work for good, but you think: God, I have to trust you,” Kevin recalled. “Hopelessness and hope, they battle within you.”
Julia created a calendar in the front of her Bible and every day drew a picture of something for which she was thankful, like the time the guards replaced her heavy curtains with opaque plastic when she begged for sunlight, and then cut off a top layer of the plastic when she begged to see the clouds.
“If I focused on some of the kindnesses, it really helped me in the interrogations.”
There were also dark days, which she’d mark in her “Daily Thanks” calendar with a sign for sleeping as she tried to make it through by staying in bed. “There were times I couldn’t peel myself off the floor because of the overwhelming loneliness.”
In her Bible, which also became her diary, Julia wrote about her feelings. In month 1, she remained optimistic, writing she was innocent and safe. In month 2, she expressed surprising compassion for her female guards, who were ordered to spend day after day with her in that tiny room. By month 3, she said, “the human part of you starts to despair.” In month 4 came anger and feelings of guilt over family and friends left with little information.
In month 6, when she describes leaning on God to get through the day, Julia was released on house arrest, but still endured daily interrogations while awaiting a trial on charges that would eventually be dropped. She was allowed to visit Kevin only once, when Canadian embassy staff told her his health was deteriorating.
“My next meal will either be with Julia or Jesus,” Kevin told the embassy workers.
“They really panicked because it sounded like he was very much giving up,” recalled Julia, who fought hard to visit her ailing husband.
“I walked into that room and saw Kevin in handcuffs and he’d lost a lot of weight, and he looked extremely pale as if he was not going to be able to survive. … It was very very difficult to see him because I couldn’t do anything to help him,” she said. “I gave him messages from our family to encourage him. And said people haven’t forgotten you.”
The visit helped immensely, Kevin said. “You go back to the same cell, but you hold on to that hope that it’s going to be OK. But you just don’t know when.”
In April 2016, Kevin was found guilty of being a spy, and that September was handed an eight-year prison term. Two days after his sentencing, he was suddenly deported to Canada — to his family and to freedom.
“I think it takes some time to feel, if you want to call it, “normal’ again. But I think really from day 1 of being released and being back together, we were happy and grateful for so many people who helped us,” Kevin said.
The couple, who continue to do aid work overseas, saw a psychologist and were careful about their integration back into society. But just enjoying regular life has been cathartic, said Julia.
“All of a sudden, the sky is amazing, food is amazing, everything you appreciate in a different way. So that kind of joy has incredible healing power also,” she said.
They just wish history wasn’t repeating itself.
“We feel sadness that this is happening again,” said Julia. “As far as we know, (Spavor and Kovrig) didn’t do anything. But they are being held in probably a very similar situation to what we were.
“We would say to them: You have to hold on to hope.”
Postmedia asked Global Affairs Canada for updates on the cases of several Canadians being detained in China. This information was provided Wednesday:
Ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor
Arrested Dec. 10, presumably in retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Hauwei executive Meng Wanzhou.
• Canada continues to call for their immediate release and has raised concerns with Chinese authorities.
Richmond winery owners John Chang and Allison Lu
Arrested March 2016 in China, for allegedlyunder-reporting the value of the wine they export to China.
• Canada is “closely following the case.”
Arrested in 2014 for drug-related charges and sentenced to 15 years in prison in November 2018. A new trial on more serious charges was ordered after Meng’s arrest and in January he was sentenced to death.
• Canada is concerned China has “arbitrarily” applied the death penalty, has sought clemency for Schellenberg, and has asked Chinese authorities to ensure his appeal of the sentence is “fair and transparent.”
Sentenced to death this week for his role in a methamphetamine ring.
• Canada has asked China to grant clemency to Fan, calling his sentence “cruel and inhumane.”
Until recently, The Centaurs were one of those classic 1960s garage-rock bands that seemed lost to time.
“All that is known about The Centaurs is that they came from The Hague,” said the liner notes to compilation of Dutch bands from the “psychedelic sixties,” Flight to Lowlands Paradise. “Their only single came out on Polydor in 1967.”
The band did live in The Hague in the ’60s, but they were actually from Richmond, B.C.
After forming in 1964, the quintet played most every type of local gig you can imagine. They opened for movies at the Lougheed Drive-In, attracted 1,400 teenagers to the Peach Bowl in Penticton and were headliners at Vancouver’s first psychedelic hotspot, The Afterthought.
But they grew frustrated at being a garage-rock band in a rhythm and blues town. So in November 1966 they moved to Europe.
In Holland they were billed as the “Topgroep uit Canada,” opened for The Troggs and had a hit single. In Germany, they were offered a residency at the Star-Club in Hamburg, where the Beatles had honed their craft.
“They said, ‘We’d like you to stay, we want you to play here like The Beatles — but we’re not going to pay you,’ ” recalls drummer John Gedak.
“We said, ‘Why?’ They said, ‘We will make you famous.’ I looked at him and said, ‘Well, we’re already famous. We have a hit record in Holland with Polydor, we’re booked there as Canada’s top band.’ ”
The band was in Europe 18 months before they got homesick and came back to Vancouver. Gedak stayed behind to play with a German band, and The Centaurs broke up.
Fast forward five decades. Gedak is living in Tsawwassen and sells a drum kit to someone who wants to give it to a kid as a birthday present.
“He goes over to Victoria to this party, and who’s at the party but our old road manager, Don Moss,” says Gedak. “So I call (Moss) and he says, ‘By the way, I’ve got this box … I opened it up and there’s this tape in there.’ And I’m going, ‘Oh my God.’ ”
Before leaving for Europe, The Centaurs had recorded several songs from their stage show with legendary local producer Robin Spurgin.
They pressed about 20 cheap “acetate” copies to send overseas to try and get gigs, but the whereabouts of the original tape were a mystery until it turned up in Moss’s box.
Last week, their debut album was finally released, 53 years after it was recorded.
The four remaining band members got together at Gedak’s house to autograph copies of the vinyl album, and to reminisce about their unique career.
“We were one of the first bands in Vancouver to have long hair,” recounts guitarist Hugh Reilly, 76. “We had numerous confrontations where these greaseballs, for want of a better term, wanted to beat us up.”
“The Knight and Day on Boundary and Lougheed, they wouldn’t serve us,” says Reilly.
“There was another occasion where we walked through The Bay downtown and we literally stopped conversations, dead in their tracks. Walking down the sidewalks we had people with grocery bags walking into parking meters because they couldn’t take their eyes off us.”
Singer Ron Williams was a handsome buck and a snappy dresser, which made him a magnet for the women in the audience. But this didn’t always sit well with their boyfriends.
“There was one time Ron got into a confrontation with somebody, at a little disco club in Richmond,” says bassist Al West, 75.
“Oh that was a bad one,” says Gedak.
“After we packed up we were heading out to the parking lot and this circle was gradually forming around us,” says West. “It was getting pretty scary.”
“It was like West Side Story,” said Reilly. “There was a big circle of guys closing in on us, so we grabbed mic stands and stuff like that (to defend ourselves). The next thing the cops arrive, and escorted us all the way to Burnaby.”
“You beaned somebody’s car with a mic stand,” says keyboard player Bob Brown, 71. “They were pulling out and it went bang!”
“That was a different time,” says Reilly. “That was the rowdies from Prince George.”
Gedak was still in high school, and the principal threatened to boot him out unless he cut his hair. He argued he needed long hair for the band, so the principal relented, as long as he greased his hair down and combed it back.
“All the guys would come into the washroom and go, ‘Comb it down, we want to see what it looks like!’ ” says Gedak. “I’d comb it down and they’d go, ‘Wow, that’s so cool!’ ”
Originally they dressed in matching suits and turtlenecks, but quickly they adopted the mod look, picking up bright, snazzy clothes from the Bad Boys Ragge Shop in downtown Vancouver.
As cool as they thought they were in Vancouver, when they got to Amsterdam the scene was something else.
“It was a shock,” says Reilly. “Even in ’67 when the Retinal Circus (club) and the psychedelic thing was kicking off, compared to what was going on in Holland … (Vancouver was) a backwater.
“We felt like country bumpkins over there. Unisex was everywhere, the mini-skirts, the hair down to the butt, male, female, it didn’t matter.”
Initially, the band was scheduled to go straight to Germany. But the night they arrived in Amsterdam Gedak went out to see the sights.
“First music I heard, a club, I walked in and it was live,” he says.
“I said I want to talk to the manager, I’m in a band from Canada. This guy come out and says, ‘I’m Hans Van Oosterhaut.’
“He was manager of a band that had a hit called Ma Belle Ami, the Tea Set. He freaked out. ‘You’ve got a van and you’ve got your gear? I’ve got to hear you play!’ ”
Van Oosterhaut became their manager and in a short time they found themselves opening for The Troggs, who had recently topped the charts with Wild Thing.
“When we went onstage we came on really powerful,” says Gedak.
“So when (The Troggs) came on, they cranked everything up. Back then they didn’t have big sound systems like they do now. So they cranked their little amps up, but couldn’t keep up with our stuff, and the lead guitar player blew his amp.
“So here’s Hugh, our lead guitar player, having to lift his Vox amp over all the crowd to get it up to (The Troggs’ guitar player) so he could play his amp. I’ll never forget that.”
The band rented an apartment “on the main drag” in Scheveningen, a seaside town near The Hague, and six months of fun ensued.
“It was a rotating door there,” says Gedak. “You’d be playing all these gigs, and all these (female) fans — let’s call them fans — would be coming in and out like they owned the place.”
“Well, we needed somebody to cook for us,” deadpans Reilly.
They headlined all over Holland, but after six months their work visas expired and they got the boot.
“Our fans wrote in to the Queen (of Holland), ‘please allow this band to stay, blah blah blah, they’re Canadian, they helped us win the war,’ all this kind of stuff,” said Gedak. “Didn’t work. They wanted gigs for their bands, not Canadian or U.S. bands coming through.”
So they went to Germany, starting with the Star-Club.
“The place was just a dive, honest to God,” said Gedak. “Black. The Beatles paid their dues there. They played their heart out and wrote their music and said to hell with everything, we’re just going to get our stuff together. We weren’t interested in that, so we packed up and went south into Bavaria, where we had a lot of gigs lined up.”
After a year in Germany most of the band came back to Canada, which hadn’t changed all that much.
“I came back from Europe and the same guys were in the same cars at the same drive-ins with the same girlfriends,” says Brown. “And I’d had guns pulled on me in Holland, been chased by seven different kinds of German police, and had all kinds of adventures with girls.”
Brown remained a musician, playing solo gigs all over town. Reilly became a computer programmer for the City of Surrey and West became an engineer for a company that built robotic submarines. Williams moved to Williams Lake, where he died in an accident in 2015.
Gedak thrived in business.
“I started an art gallery chain called The Picture Show Art Galleries, which turned out to be 37 art galleries within three or four years from Vancouver to Winnipeg,” he says.
“I had a store in every mall. Then I started Getaway Vans (with his family). They were everywhere.”
Indeed. In his home he has a framed letter thanking for his help during the Papal visit in 1984, when Getaway Vans built the Popemobile that ferried Pope John Paul II around the Lower Mainland.
“It was a white pickup truck that we completely converted in the back with blue and gold upholstery that matched the papal colours,” Gedak explains.
“It had four captain’s chairs and an aisle way down the middle, all done up in velvet and carpet. So he could walk in and sit down or stand up, we had a handle there for him to stand up.
“The neat part was when I built it at Getaway I drove around in it and blessed everybody.”
But he kept playing drums throughout and got The Centaurs to reunite a few times for gigs. Then he met Jaime Anstey, a young guy who’s so obsessed with ’60s music he formed Regenerator Records to release some of it. (The label is co-owned by Larry Hennessey, of Larry and Willie fame.)
It took a couple of years to put out The Centaurs album, From Canada to Europe. But it’s a fabulous little disc, a lost garage-rock classic that mixes originals like On Your Way and You Never Let Me Do Nuthin’ with covers like Heart Full of Soul (by The Yardbirds) and Kicks (by Paul Revere and the Raiders).
Gedak is a pack rat and kept all sorts of mementoes from their career, including posters, fan letters and photos. There’s a colour photo shoot for their Dutch 45 that’s so psychedelic you get a contact high just looking at it.
The album jacket (on both vinyl and CD) is packed with selections from Gedak’s horde, and is worth the price of the disc alone. Fifty-two years after they broke up, a new generation can discover the power and glory of the “Topgroep uit Canada.”
Health Canada is warning the public about a potentially dangerous eyewash product seized from a health store in Richmond.
In an advisory, Health Canada says consumers who bought “Kobayashi Aibon/Eyebon Eyewash” from Tokyo Beauty and Health Care on Westminster Highway in Richmond should stop using it because it contains a prescription drug called aminocaproic acid that may pose serious health risks.
The product is promoted as an eyewash for contact lens users and for the prevention of eye disease.
Health Canada has seized Kobayashi Aibon/Eyebon Eyewash from a health store in Richmond because it poses a potential safety risk.
Prescription drugs should be taken only under the advice and supervision of a healthcare professional because they are used in relation to specific diseases, and may cause serious side effects.
The unauthorized health product was packaged and labelled in Japanese. Health Canada says as a result information about ingredients, usage, dosage and side effects may not be understood by all consumers.
Health Canada previously warned about this product after it was seized at a different retail store.
The agency says it has seized the products from the retail location and is working with the Canada Border Services Agency to help prevent further importation.
Aminocaproic acid is a prescription drug ingredient used to decrease bleeding in various clinical situations. Exposure to aminocaproic acid in the eye may affect the eye itself, and the acid may be absorbed through the tear ducts into the blood.
Side effects may include watery eyes, vision changes, headache, dizziness, nausea, muscle weakness, and skin rash.
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