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3Aug

REAL SCOOP: Murdered sailors linked to botched cocaine load

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UCLUELET, B.C. — The small craft harbour here in this stunning spot on Vancouver Island’s west coast is a hub of activity.

Tourists from all over the world board sport-fishing charters and whale-watching boats to check out the rugged coastline. Commercial fishermen tend to their vessels. And visitors sail in for a day or two on boats based in Vancouver, Victoria or farther away.

But all is quiet on the Astral Blue — a 14-metre sailboat whose last two crewmen mysteriously disappeared in the mid-afternoon of May 16, 2018.

The bodies of Squamish resident Dan Archbald and his close friend Ryan Daley, of Jordan River, were found less than a month later on a rutted decommissioned logging road about 12 kilometres from the harbour.

Fifteen months have passed and no one has been charged with their murders.

But a Postmedia investigation has found that the two men were likely casualties of a botched cocaine-smuggling job that they were recruited to do by a Lower Mainland biker.

The bodies of Daniel Archbald, 37, and Ryan Daley, 43, were found 15 months ago, near Ucluelet. RCMP / PNG

RCMP Supt. Sanjaya Wijayakoon, who oversees the Vancouver Island Integrated Major Crime Unit, told Postmedia that the police investigation is still extremely active.

“They are absolutely continuing to investigate both of these deaths. Right now, they are in the process of analyzing physical and digital evidence. They are still speaking to potential witnesses and they are trying to figure out a timeline leading up to both Daley and Archbald’s deaths,” Wijayakoon said in a recent interview.

Key to that timeline is figuring out what the two men did between their landing here on Sunday, May 13 — Mother’s Day — and when they made a final eerie appearance on the harbour security camera three days later, lugging heavy duffel bags out through the parking lot.

Wijayakoon said investigators still need the public’s help to put together all the pieces of the puzzle.

“I know my guys are still hoping that people in the public are able to come forward and that something triggers their memory and they come and talk to us. We are still hoping for that,” he said.

The 14-metre Astral Blue has been moored at Ucluelet’s small craft harbour since May 13, 2018, when its two crewmen arrived from Panama. Boat owner Dan Archbald and his friend Ryan Daley disappeared three days later and were found murdered in mid-June of 2018. KIM BOLAN / PNG

The Astral Blue looks much as it did when it arrived here. The deck is strewn with yellow, red and blue plastic containers. There’s a small rusted-out barbecue tipped over near the stern. A rubber dinghy is upside down over the cabin.

Some fibreglass on the starboard side is damaged. There is no indication of anything untoward.

The white and blue sailboat, built in Taiwan in 1979, was registered with Transport Canada on July 25, 2016, listing its home port as Vancouver, despite then never having landed in Canada.

The boat’s owner remains a B.C. company called Astral Ocean Expeditions Inc.

Corporate records obtained by Postmedia show Archbald and a friend registered the company in B.C. on May 10, 2016. Its address is listed as a Richmond lawyer’s office.

The friend, who asked not to be identified, told Postmedia that he owned only a one-per-cent share of the company and had no direct involvement with the purchase of the Astral Blue.

“Technically, I suppose I’m an owner,” he said, adding that the boat is really owned by Archbald’s widow, who is trying to sell it.

He said he and Archbald had talked for years about running a charter business on the west coast.

“I am also a sailor and if I had the opportunity to do some trips, it would have been great,” he said. “But it wasn’t meant to be a business I was running.”

He confirmed that as he understood it, the boat was purchased in Ecuador, then moved to Panama, where it was moored until Archbald and Daley began their fateful eight-week journey last year.

“I wasn’t even tracking it,” the friend said.

He would have been surprised if Archbald had got mixed up in a drug-smuggling operation, he said, though he admitted that is now the rumour circulating around Squamish and here in Ucluelet.

“I have talked to the police a few times. I didn’t have much to offer them,” he said. “Dan was one of my better friends and I miss him a lot.”

Archbald, a 37-year-old father of two, sometimes worked in construction. And sometimes he worked in the film industry.

Sometimes he was “tight for money,” the friend said, adding that he did not know Daley, a 43-year-old former Squamish resident.

Messages left for several relatives and friends of each man asking for comment for this story were not returned.

The remains of Dan Archbald and Ryan Daley were found in mid-June on E Road, a rutted decommissioned logging road off of the Pacific Rim Highway that is barely more than a trail. KIM BOLAN / PNG

Postmedia has learned that the pair agreed to sail from Panama to Canada with a load of cocaine, believed to total several hundred kilograms. The person behind the smuggling operation is a full-patch Hells Angel, the sources said.

As the men got closer to the B.C. coast, they encountered a U.S. government vessel and panicked. They dumped most of their illicit cargo overboard.

The problem is that they kept some of the cocaine for themselves without telling the person who hired them. Their plan was to dump it at the last minute if they saw anything suspicious as they approached Ucluelet, the sources said.

While authorities didn’t intercept Archbald and Daley, and the remaining cocaine, when they arrived in Ucluelet, associates of the Hells Angel did.

Postmedia has learned that Hells Angel Chad Wilson — a friend of the person behind the cocaine shipment — was tasked with taking care of “the problem” in Ucluelet. Wilson, who was murdered last November, was on Vancouver Island at the time that Archbald and Daley went missing, sources confirmed.

Wijayakoon, the RCMP superintendent overseeing the investigative team, wouldn’t comment specifically on the information obtained by Postmedia.

“My guys are looking at all avenues and it is very, very active still,” he said.

Retired Mountie Pat Convey is all too familiar with the situation in which Archbald and Daley likely found themselves.

When he was a senior member of the RCMP’s Vancouver Island drug squad, he investigated similar cases along the coast here where drugs were smuggled aboard sailboats and fishing vessels. Organized crime “absolutely” sees marine transportation as a tried and true method to move drugs, Convey said.

The largest bust came in February 2001 when U.S. agents intercepted the Western Wind in the Strait of Juan de Fuca off southern Vancouver Island. The fish boat carried more than two tonnes of cocaine destined for Canada.

Boat owner John “Phil” Stirling and three crewmen were arrested and turned over to the RCMP. But they were never charged despite the record drug haul.

“As far as contraband, it was the biggest,” Convey said of the Western Wind.

Stirling continued to sail in troubled waters for years afterwards.

“He is a pretty infamous old bandit as far as bringing stuff in,” Convey said.

In May 2006, Stirling and four others were arrested again — this time here in Ucluelet — after police found $6.5-million worth of marijuana aboard a 47-metre fish boat registered to Stirling. The men were all charged with drug-related offences, but all counts were later stayed.

The Americans captured the notorious B.C. skipper off the coast of Colombia in 2011. His sailboat carried 381 kilos of cocaine. He pleaded guilty in 2013 in Florida and was sentenced to seven years. Less than a year after his 2018 release, Stirling, now 65, was found alone on another vessel off the coast of Oregon this past April. The boat carried 28 seven-gallon jugs containing liquid methamphetamine. He goes to trial in Portland later this month on drug smuggling charges.

Convey said that once someone agrees to sail a shipment of drugs for organized crime, they are responsible for any loads lost — meaning they usually have to continue transporting the criminal contraband to pay off the debt.

“You will be told that whether you like this or whether you don’t like this, you are going to go do this,” Convey said. “If you don’t comply, your chances of survival are not good.”

Like Archbald, Stirling would register a company in B.C., then purchase a vessel in the company’s name. He once told a Province reporter that the record Western Wind shipment was done for the benefit of some B.C. Hells Angels.

Convey said even people without criminal records are willing to take the risk, hoping for a big payoff. Maybe they think they can get away with it just once.

“There is a lot of money involved,” he said. “Just the investment put into it for purchasing the drugs is a large amount of money. So it is not something where one individual would just go down there and pick up a load and come up here and distribute it. It is all taken care of a long time before they set sail from here as to what they are going to do, what their plan is. And also who is going to be involved along the way.”

Sometimes a relatively small vessel carrying cocaine will sail right into a harbour in a place like Ucluelet, which doesn’t have a Canada Border Services Agency post.

And sometimes it will be a “mother ship” operation “where they will come up and they will be met offshore, right out in the international waters, by offload boats that will come right up and meet them and then distribute (the drugs) to several different places or one place depending on what they contracted,” Convey said.

“I have been out of the game for awhile, but I don’t see anything changing significantly. I got involved in it as far back as the ’70s and it didn’t change a lot even in the 2000s when I finally retired.”

Stirling is not the only “bandit” using the open seas to smuggle narcotics into Canada.

In March 2010, Vancouver Island commercial diver Scott Pederson and Mexican citizen Vincente Serrano-Hernandez transported 1,001 one-kilogram bricks of cocaine from Panama to Port Hardy via Ecuador aboard the sailing vessel Huntress. Both were convicted and sentenced to 16 years.

Both have since been released. Parole documents obtained by Postmedia say Pederson now owns two food carts, which prompted some concern from the parole board in July 2017.

“While there may be some concerns with respect to the idea of a convicted drug importer operating a business that is based primarily in cash and therefore would be a good front for drug trafficking or money laundering, there is no reliable and persuasive information indicating you are involved in any illegal activity,” the board’s written decision said.

As for Hernandez, he continued to deny knowledge of the tonne of cocaine he sailed into B.C. waters, claiming he was “to be paid $2,000 to accompany the lone captain to Canada and that once in Canada you would be offered a job,” the parole board noted in 2016. “In Mexico, you lived in the Sinaloa region which is well known for drug cartel activities. You have denied any involvement with gangs or Mexican cartels.”

He has since been deported.

The drive from the small craft harbour through the Ucluelet-Tofino junction then east along the Pacific Rim Highway to the entrance to E Road takes less than 15 minutes at the posted speed limit.

The killer or killers would have driven through the dense coastal forest, past Lost Shoe #1 Creek, then Lost Shoe #2 Creek before turning right on the gravel road where Archbald and Daley were dumped.

After about 300 metres, the unmarked logging road is barely more than a trail, suggesting the suspects would have had to turn around in the only small clearing to escape back to the highway. A woman walking her dogs found the remains of Archbald and Daley four weeks later.

The double murder — an extremely rare occurrence in this part of B.C. — has not really set the locals on edge. They don’t feel a strong connection to the case. They didn’t know the victims. They don’t believe that any suspects are in their midst.

The last person slain here was Shirley Ann Taylor-Seydel, who was bludgeoned to death on the docks on July 6, 1991, by fisherman Steven Hillairet, a stranger with mental health issues. There is a small picnic area in her memory overlooking the harbour.

The Astral Blue remains moored here for now. A brokerage company has been contacted and the boat, estimated to be worth about $100,000, will soon be sold.

At the Cap’n Hook, a unique shop selling fishing tackle and cappuccino, patrons sip their coffee, look out over the harbour and speculate about whether the boat will go for a bargain price.

Caleb Cameron, who was born and raised in Ucluelet, owns Cameron Ocean Adventures – a whale watching and sports fishing company.He says locals assume that the Astral Blue was smuggling drugs at the time the two crewmen disappeared and were later killed. KIM BOLAN / PNG

Caleb Cameron, who was born and raised in Ucluelet, is down on the docks every day operating his whale-watching and sports-fishing company — Cameron Ocean Adventures.

“When the murders happened, it seemed like a very isolated incident. There have been drug busts here in the past but not anything like this,” he said. “It seemed like a major case — a larger case than we usually see — because of all the police resources that were brought here.”

He didn’t see the two men at all between May 13 and 16, though he noticed the Astral Blue after it docked as a boat he wasn’t familiar with.

“It was fairly shocking. From the rumours that had been circulating that it was a drug boat that came up from Panama, it made sense,” he said. “I do have some people come down and ask about it. It is known on the dock as ‘the drug boat.’ ”

Ucluelet Mayor Mayco Noël said the murders have had “zero impact” on the community of 1,800.

“There is nobody up in arms, racing to the RCMP detachment saying that there’s a problem. It is something very isolated and local to that event,” Noël said this week. “It is just isolated to those certain groups and those individuals. No one in the community is feeling threatened in any way.”

Ucluelet residents still “are just curious to know what happened,” the mayor said.

“Everyone has got their own theory, so it will be interesting to see what actually comes out of it.”

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Blog: vancouversun.com/tag/real-scoop

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22Apr

BC Interior warning on ‘trippy’ drug linked to ‘zombie’ outbreak in US

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KAMLOOPS — The B.C. Interior Health authority is warning street-drug users of a synthetic cannabinoid that has been linked to a so-called “zombie” outbreak in New York.

Chief medical health officer Dr. Trevor Corneil says tests at a Kamloops overdose-prevention site found the powerful drug mixed with heroin, fentanyl and caffeine.

The authority warns that users can look like they have overdosed on opioids, but they won’t respond to naloxone and they can experience “speedy” or “trippy” symptoms with possible hallucinations.

A 2017 article in the New England Journal of Medicine says the drug caused a mass intoxication of 33 people in New York City in July 2016 and was described in the media as a “zombie” outbreak because of the appearance of those who took the drug.

The journal article says the drug was developed by Pfizer in 2009 and it is a strong depressant, which accounts for the “zombie-like” behaviour reported in New York.

Corneil says they don’t like to use the zombie term because it can give people the wrong impression and what is important is they exercise caution when new substances come on the black market.


Dr. Trevor Corneil of B.C. Interior Health.

Corneil says they aren’t aware of any deaths where the cannabinoid is the only substance.

“Often overdose deaths are caused by a mix of different substance together and we’re not seeing any increase in overdose deaths related to this substance, relative to the impact of fentanyl, which is the major toxin we have in our drug supply right now.”

Corneil says the discovery of the drug is a good example of the level of sophistication that both harm-reduction workers and users have been able to access in the province.

“This is the problem with criminalization, in that it takes away any of the safeguards that the system puts in place to ensure that people get the product they think they’re buying and it hasn’t been mixed with something else.”

He says workers are seeing that users are becoming more aware that they need to have their illicit drugs tested and when they learn what’s in their drugs, they make better decisions.

The testing machines at safe consumption sites look at a large database of drugs, which Corneil says is used for both research and by police.

“Many of them are unusual and rare and we’re finding that manufacturers and suppliers are trying different new substances all the time … trying to make a buck off people who are quite marginalized by the criminalized setting around them.”

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7Mar

Measles: Latest case located in Fraser Valley, linked to outbreak

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9Feb

Measles case confirmed in Vancouver, not linked to Washington outbreak

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Reported cases of measles have spiked 30 per cent worldwide since 2016.


Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Health authorities have confirmed a case of measles in Vancouver.

The patient, a Vancouver resident, was diagnosed on Thursday as having the virus, but the period during which it is considered infectious has since passed, said Shaf Hussain, a spokesman for Vancouver Coastal Health. The patient is receiving care.

The health authority last released a measles alert in September, when a person who was infected attended the Skookum Festival.

The latest case is not believed to be linked to an outbreak of measles in the state of Washington, Hussain said. A surge in measles cases prompted Gov. Jay Inslee to declare a state of emergency Jan. 25. As of Saturday, 54 cases had been confirmed. Health officials are urging residents to get immunized. Four more cases have been confirmed in Oregon.

Measles is highly infectious and spreads through air when an infected person coughs or sneezes, according to the Vancouver Coastal Health. Complications can include inflammation of the brain, convulsions, deafness, brain damage and death.

Infection does not require close contact and measles can survive in close areas, such as a bathroom, for up to two hours after an infected person has left. It causes fever, red eyes, cough, runny nose and a rash. Most people recover within a week or two.

Vancouver Coastal Health recommends vaccinations. People who have previously had the infection do not need immunization.

B.C. children born in or after 1994 routinely get two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, one dose when they turn a year old and another before they start kindergarten.

People born before 1994 or who grew up outside of B.C. may need a second dose. People born before 1970 are likely immune; but if they aren’t sure whether they have had the infection, they can safely get the MMR vaccine.

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control tracks child immunization and reports that 82.1 per cent of children aged seven had been immunized for measles in 2018, compared to 88.4 per cent in 2017 and 90.2 per cent in 2016.

Across Canada, only a single new case of laboratory-confirmed measles was reported between Dec. 30, 2018, and Jan. 26, 2019, according to Health Canada’s most recent measles and rubella monitoring reports.

The agency said there have been large measles outbreaks reported across Europe which have affected many countries.

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19Nov

Vancouver study shows air pollution linked to possibility of autism

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Prenatal exposure to air pollution has been linked to an increased likelihood of autism, according to a recently published Vancouver-based study.


Arlen Redekop / PNG

Prenatal exposure to air pollution has been linked to an increased likelihood of autism, according to a recently published Vancouver-based study.

Lief Pagalan, a Simon Fraser University researcher, conducted the birth cohort study in Metro Vancouver using birth data from 2004 through 2009.

The study analyzed air pollution to assess exposure rates over the same period and found that there was an increased risk of Autism Spectrum Disorder in children when their pregnant mothers were exposed to air pollutants such as particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and nitric oxide.

The impact, however, was small and not statistically significant.

“Our study, which indicates that air pollution is associated with ASD in a city with relatively lower levels of air pollution adds to the growing concern that there may be no safe levels of exposure to air pollution,” said Pagalan.

“While the causes of ASD are not yet fully known, this study suggests that reducing exposure to air pollutants in pregnant women could reduce the likelihood of their children developing autism.”

The findings are similar to those of previous studies conducted in the United States, Israel and Taiwan.

Pagalan noted that the study is important as it highlights that “there may be no safe levels of exposure to air pollution.” While the cause of autism is not fully known, researchers acknowledge that genetics and environmental factors play a role.

The study was conducted by linking pregnancy data with birth records in Vancouver from 2004 through 2009, alongside medical records of children up to the age of 5.

The study, Association of Prenatal Exposure to Air Pollution with Autism Spectrum Disorder was published in JAMA Pediatrics this year. It was conducted with the involvement of the following people and agencies:

• Celeste Bickford
• Whitney Weikum
• Bruce Lanphear
• Michael Brauer
• Nancy Lanphear
• Gillian E. Hanley
• Tim F. Oberlander
• Meghan Winters
• Faculty of Health Sciences, SFU
• Centre of Hip Health and Mobility
• School of Population and Public Health, UBC
• Department of Pediatrics, UBC
• Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children, BC Children’s Hospital
• BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute
• Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, UBC
• Population Data BC

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20Oct

Salmonella outbreak: 37 cases in B.C. may be linked to cucumbers

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The Public Health Agency of Canada says an investigation is underway into an outbreak of salmonella infections involving five provinces, with 37 confirmed cases in British Columbia.


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The Public Health Agency of Canada says an investigation is underway into an outbreak of salmonella infections involving five provinces, mostly in Western Canada.

The agency says on its website that the source of the outbreak has not been identified yet, although many of the people who became sick reported eating cucumbers.

It says that as of Friday, there have been 37 confirmed cases in B.C., five in Alberta, and one case each in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec.

The person from Quebec reported travelling to British Columbia before becoming ill, the agency says.

The cases occurred between mid-June and late-September, and nine people have been hospitalized.

The agency says it’s collaborating with provincial public health agencies, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada as part of the investigation.

“The outbreak appears to be ongoing, as illnesses continue to be reported,” the statement on the Public Health Agency of Canada website says.

No deaths have been reported.

The agency says there is no evidence at this time to suggest that residents in central and Eastern Canada are affected by this outbreak.

Salmonella infection usually results from eating raw or undercooked meat, poultry, eggs or egg products.

Healthy people may experience short-term symptoms such as fever, headache, vomiting, nausea, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. Long-term complications may include severe arthritis.

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