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Doctor sued for negligence in death

Martin van den Hemel, Staff Reporter

A Richmond obstetrician has been named in a wrongful-death civil suit.

According to documents filed last Thursday in B.C. Supreme Court, Sandy Yuk Lo died 12 days after a caesarean section last August performed by Dr. Timothy Ng.

After Ng delivered Lo's twins on Aug. 19, she began to complain of "severe breathing difficulties and dizziness," the lawsuit states.

Lo was discharged three days later and was still exhibiting severe breathing difficulties.

On Aug. 24, Lo went to Ng's office complaining of breathing difficulties, but she was not treated and sent home. In the early morning hours of Aug. 26, Lo went to the emergency department at Richmond Hospital because of her breathing problems and suffered a heart attack several hours later while she was undergoing a CT (computed tomography) scan.

The lawsuit alleges Lo suffered from a venous air embolism, which is the entry of air into the venous system, something that can occur following various surgical procedures.

While being transferred to Vancouver Hospital, the lawsuit claims Lo suffered a brain injury, from which she never regained consciousness. She died Aug. 31.

The lawsuit alleges that Ng was negligent in failing to properly recognize or diagnose the seriousness of her condition, failing to treat her condition over several days, failing to properly treat the venous air embolism and the symptoms arising from it, and failing to exercise reasonable care in discharging her from the hospital.

The lawsuit also names Dr. Edgar Lau, a specialist, claiming he was negligent in proceeding with a hospital transfer while Lo was too unstable, and failing to exercise reasonable care. Also named in the suit are a nurse, respiratory therapist Kevin Ford and Richmond Hospital.

Lo's husband, Andy Chun-Wah Chan, filed the suit claiming general damages, special damages and loss of economic support and companionship.

In December, The Richmond Review reported that Ng is the subject of two other civil suits. Another suit was settled, while a fourth was dropped.

Ng's privileges at Richmond Hospital and Surrey Memorial Hospital have also been suspended.

MP backs Chretien

Chris Bryan, Staff Reporter

Former finance minister Paul Martin was booted from his post for trying too hard to be the prime minister of choice, according to Richmond MP Joe Peschisolido.

"You can only have one prime minister at a time," Peschisolido said Tuesday, two days after Martin was ousted from cabinet.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Martin were rivals in the Liberals' 1990 leadership race and Martin has been waiting to succeed Chretien ever since.

But it's clear the Richmond MP supports the man who welcomed him into the Liberal fold in January after he left the Canadian Alliance.

"I support the prime minister. I think he's done a great job on a variety of fronts," he said.

Delta-South Richmond MP John Cummins said he's not a big fan of either Chretien or Martin, but he knows one thing: Chretien wants a fourth term.

"He plays the aw, shucks guy from Shawinigan to his advantage," the Canadian Alliance MP said. "You mess with him at your peril. I think he's trying to create the right conditions for a four-peat."

And, he says, Chretien stands a good chance of putting his leading Liberal adversary out of contention with Sunday's move.

"Personally, I think Martin's done for," he said. "I think Chretien's will will prevail."

RCMP merger still months away

David Marsh, MetroValley News

Lower Mainland municipal RCMP detachments are still at least several months away from a partial merger that was originally supposed to take effect in April.

The plan to integrate a wide range of the detachments' police services and administration has proven much more onerous than anticipated, Sgt. Grant Learned said.

Efforts have also been sidetracked by the missing-women investigation at a Port Coquitlam pig farm, he said.

"Everything trickled to a stop at that point," Learned said.

The plan was to regionalize a number of specialized services such as homicide, emergency response teams, forensic identification, police dog teams, a regional helicopter patrol, and some traffic services.

Administrative changes were also anticipated. One bid is to split the region up into an unspecified number of large sub-regions overseen by new "Area Commanders," whose authority would include municipal detachments within their area.

B.C. Solicitor General Rich Coleman had asked the RCMP to start implementing the plan in April, saying the current system can be "disjointed."

But so far only the traffic service merger of the former freeway-patrol sections such as Deas Island have gone ahead.

"It is a massive project, when you're going through it fairly with all the stakeholders," Learned said. He declined to estimate how long the changes would take, except that it would be at least several months.

Coleman, who had said "we should be moving a lot faster" even before the recent delays, did not return calls.

City's top boss stepping down

Chris Bryan, Staff Reporter

The City of Richmond's top job will soon be empty, and there will be some big shoes to fill.

Chief administrative officer George Duncan has tendered his resignation effective Aug. 1. He will assuming the same role in London, Ont. in August.

"While I'm excited to be taking up a tremendous new challenge, my decision to leave Richmond is not without regret," Duncan said in a prepared statement. "I've had the opportunity to work with a great team of elected leaders, staff and community partners. Together we've been able to create a great organization in a city that is second to none."

The accolades for the man who has helped transform Richmond into a city that draws the admiration and respect among its peers was no less complimentary this week.

"He's the best administrator we've ever had," said Coun. Harold Steves, who's seen his fair share over the 30 years he's been on council.

Duncan, 52, started on with the city as a maintenance worker in the late 1980s and rose through the ranks at a stunning pace. This year he was recognized this year with an Award of Excellence from the B.C. Human Resources Management Association. He also played a central role in helping the city achieve the distinction of one of Canada's top 100 employers in Maclean's magazine this year.

It's not surprising that Duncan's skills were recognized early, according to Steves.

In the early 1990s, Duncan took over the city's public works division at a time when productivity and morale was low, and the budget was high.

Through Duncan's efforts, $1 million was cut from the budget while morale and productivity soared. A few years later, the city was conducting a nationwide search for a new head administrator, and Duncan's name was included in the mix.

"He stacked up better against all the other applicants," Steves said. "I believe our confidence in him wasn't wasted. He came through with flying colours."

During his time on the job, Duncan has been credited with creating a strong working relationship between the city and its unions. Duncan has also won strong respect among councillors of all political stripes.

"George was an excellent employee who brought tremendous cohesion to the city organization," Mayor Malcolm Brodie said. "It wasn't just that he was well liked. He was able to facilitate communication between everyone who worked inside and outside the city."

Brodie said under Duncan's leadership, the city became a "customer friendly organization."

A concrete example of Duncan's abilities is the replacement of the City Hall, opened in May 2000, which he planned with then public works manager Chuck Gale.

"The city faces a great challenge to replace a person that is of that calibre," Brodie said.

Duncan will also face a significant challenge in his new job in London. The position has been the subject of scandal recently. When the long term chief administrator left the job at the end of 2001, the deputy was appointed in the interim and was widely believed to step into the job, said Mary-Jane Egan, the city hall reporter with the London Free Press.

The public was outraged when it was learned his salary package was $284,000, and further aggravated when it was learned he was drawing $1,000 a day in overtime during a civic workers' strike.

Shortly after, he resigned.

"We were stunned that anybody would want to walk into the job here because it's been one scandal after another," Egan said.

But there will be perks.

The city has budgeted $200,000 for the new adminstrator's salary, an increase of about $40,000 from Duncan's current salary.

London has a population of about 400,000 compared to about 168,000 in Richmond.

Richmond will soon engage a corporate headhunting company as part of its search for Duncan's replacement.

Rush hour road race nets pair driving prohibition

Martin van den Hemel, Staff Reporter

Two Richmond teens were fined $430 each and were suspended from driving for three months after allegedly racing down No. 4 Road during rush hour Thursday afternoon.

According to police, speeds exceeded 110 kilometres per hour in a 50 kilometre-per-hour zone.

The pair were driving a 2002 Mazda and a 2001 Subaru and were successfully stopped by a Richmond RCMP officer on No. 4 Road near Granville.

The Superintendent of Motor Vehicles was immediately contacted and both drivers were suspended.

They were also issued tickets for excessive speeding, having an open muffler and operating a vehicle contrary to restrictions.

The driver of the Mazda was a new driver but failed to display his "N" sign as required.

Both cars were towed away, but were later released to the parents who were the registered owners.

Richmond RCMP Const. Peter Thiessen said police are taking a strict no-nonsense enforcement policy to street racing

Summits team begin Denali assault

Chris Bryan, Staff Reporter

The climbers in the Summits of Hope team arrived in Alaska Tuesday and plan to begin their assault on Mt. McKinley tomorrow.

The team, which includes Richmond High grads Russ Barstow and Chris Stiegelmar, looked relaxed as they awaited their flight to Anchorage Tuesday morning.

"My only concern is we've got a lot of gear," said team member Malcolm Bruce, the oldest member of the team at 48, as he surveyed the large bags around him. "But we'll need it because we'll be on the mountain three weeks." Bruce hails from Vancouver, and the fourth climber, Jason Stevens, is from Victoria.

This is the second mountain for Summits of Hope, a group organized by Barstow to climb four mountains in four years to raise money for kids with cancer. The team climbed Africa's Mt. Kilimanjaro (19,340 feet) last year, raising $46,000 for the Oncology department at B.C. Children's Hospital, and will climb Mt. Aconcagua (22,834) next year and Mt. Everest (29,034) in 2004.

Unlike the Kilimanjaro climb, this time the team will have no guides.

"It's just the four of us on our own," Bruce said. People will be able to follow the climbers' progress via the web site ( where they will post daily updates.

Stiegelmar said Mt. McKinley, also known as Denali has a lot of technical climbing involved, but it's the conditions that often prove the biggest challenge. Temperatures can drop to minus 50 C and winds can get well over 100 kilometres an hour, which explains the need for plenty of food and gear. Weather can hold climbers up for several days.

Stiegelmar said after months of planning, it felt good to be on their way.

Barstow said the mountain will be a challenge, and poses an excellent dry-run for their final goal: Everest.

"Basically what we've done to get here today is what a crew going to Everest would have done," Barstow said. That's not to say he's not taking McKinley very seriously.

"You try not to get overwhelmed, but at the same time it's a huge mountain that's killed a lot of people," he said.

If weather cooperates, the climb is expected to take 20 to 25 days. On arrival in Alaska, the group was expected to be flown up to the glacier at 7,200 today and begin climbing tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Steveston resident Gord Denhoed, who participated in the Kilimanjaro climb, is actively organizing the next team for the Aconcagua climb, planned for next February. Denhoed said personal commitments prevented him from participating in this climb.

"It just sucks," he said, as he saw the others off at the airport. "It's really tough to watch these guys go."

Stepping into the spotlight

Chris Bryan, Staff Reporter

Elena Steele is a singing teacher, but her specialty is human potential.

Since arriving in Canada 10 years ago as an immigrant from the Ukraine, Steele has helped countless students unearth a voice within that most never knew they had.

This Saturday, for the first time since coming to her new country, Steele will be returning to an old territory she knows well: singing solo.

Steele celebrates her 10th anniversary in Canada with That's the story of..., a concert at the Vancouver Playhouse that will have her singing ballads and folk songs in Russian. The renowned singing teacher will also alternate with six female soloists, who also happen to be her students.

"It's not just a concert," Steele says, seated in a large room in her Richmond house which she has converted to a music studio. "You will hear much more."

The walls of the studio are covered with photos from the concert, Festival of Voice, a showcase of her students' talents that she has staged annually at Gateway Theatre since 1997. The pictures show beautifully dressed women (and a couple of men) singing, and they all look as though they are having the time of their lives. Steele is in some of the photos, but off to the side, leaving her students in the limelight.

After years of encouraging others to dig down deep within themselves to find the spirit and confidence to sing without restraint, Steele now faces the same challenge. And she admits, it's a somewhat daunting task.

"I feel very nervous. Anyone who tells you no, this is a lie. I am just a human being."

But Steele exudes a powerful and genuine enthusiasm for music. She becomes breathless talking about it, as though it is boiling inside and needs somewhere to go.

To her, it's more than just music.

"The voice belongs to the body and the voice belongs to the spirit," she says. "When you learn about your voice, you learn about yourself."

In Steele's eyes, there is an unbreakable connection between the freedom of one's spirit and the ability to sing.

"When you are tense, when you are nervous, your voice stays there," she says. "When you are free, you let go. It means you are on a level where you can add to the performance your emotions. That's the cream of the cream. That's the top."

Steele is familiar with great heights: 25 years ago she was among the top singers in the Soviet Union-impressive considering her first start in singing was in response to a challenge from her Grade 7 teacher.

All her marks were good, she recalls but she was getting a C in geometry. The school was planning an upcoming concert and needed a singer. When the teacher said he'd raise her mark if she sang, Steele jumped at the chance.

"I said 'What would you like me to sing?'"

The song was a Russian folk song which translates as "The Fire on the Snow," and it went over well.

"Everyone was so in shock."

Steele got an A, even though she was so nervous she forgot the other verses and ended up singing the first verse three times in a row.

The boost inspired her to join an amateur choral ensemble, where she spent five years and received a firm grounding in the rigours or regular performing.

Then, after high school, she auditioned to be the soloist in a professional Ukrainian ensemble called Vodograi (Waterfall). The group performed at venues all over the then Soviet Union, in everything from grand concert halls to community centres.

"It's luxury, it's a lot of power and flowers and compliments and money," she says. "It was a lot of dreams come true." But for all the benefits, it didn't seem to fit.

"Nothing comes from nothing. If you want to get something you have to adapt to the system.

"You have to change you."

So, at 24, she quit. She wanted a "normal life," she says, one that centred on her husband and children. She committed herself to her husband and raising her two sons, Dmitri and Alexei, and taught at the University in Dnipropetrovs'k.

Despite her retirement from full-time professional singing, she remained in demand for special events. One such concert was staged on behalf of then-Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife, Raisa.

"I can tell you, everyone was shaking," she says.

Steele turned out to be a beneficiary of Gorbachev's policies of perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness), when her aunt, who lived in New Westminster, wrote to say she would sponsor her family in Canada.

Her family worried about the lingering contamination in the Ukraine from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 and also had a desire to be united with the Canadian branch of the family.

On arrival in Canada, Steele's aunt, Minerva Harding, provided unflagging support to help the family's transition to Canada, and housed them for the first three months. Because they knew little English, Steele and her husband were forced to take any job they could.

"It was the year to survive. To pay the rent and feed the kids."

Her first job was as a companion for seniors. Later she worked as a dishwasher in a cafŽ. "But as a reward I learned English. I needed to talk."

When the restaurant went out of business, Steele was forced to seek unemployment assistance. The advisor was shocked that a person with her experience was washing dishes, and helped enroll Steele in a course to become a teacher's assistant.

For the first half of the course, Steele struggled to understand the language used. But then, suddenly, things clicked, and the concepts became easy to grasp, and familiar.

"I realized, I am a teacher."

Rather than applying at a local school, she simply placed a classified ad in the local newspaper seeking voice students. Soon, she had her first student. Not so long after, another followed.

Five years later, she didn't need to place ads anymore. Her reputation brought her all the business she ever needed.

But now she's taking on a new challenge: even though she sings every day as part of her job, this will be her first time singing solo in front of an audience since coming to Canada.

"There's something inside that is much younger and it's something I still can do," she says. "It's a part of me I've put on hold for 10 years because I must make a living."

Now that she and her husband have forged successful careers in their new country and they have some security, Steele said she feels the time is right to dig down into her own voice again.

"Now I have the peace," she says.

That's the Story of... comes to the Vancouver Playhouse on Saturday, June 8 at 8 p.m. For tickets, call 604-280-4444.

Words of Victor Hugo inspire London students

Chris Bryan, Staff Reporter

At first it was the temptation of possibly winning a trip to France.

But the students in Marina Carter's French class at Charles E. London Secondary have since learned that author Victor Hugo was a pretty interesting guy.

The class has been meeting outside of school hours for the last month putting together a project inspired by a single quote from one of Hugo's novels.

The quote, paraphrased from the French, was "Taming the essence is the first step and realizing the idea is the second." The project is part of a nationwide contest sponsored by the French Embassy in Ottawa, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Hugo's birth.

The students chose to tackle the side of Hugo that was a proponent of human rights, and view the quote from that point of view. They read the quote as referring to changing people's points of view, and bringing them around, to recognize everyone's right to fair treatment, Carter said.

The work, a papier mchŽ collage, incorporates hands that represent "taming." The big hand is helping, the smaller hand, receiving help, Carter said.

The students were very enthusiastic about the project, she said, and many read Hugo's novels Les Miserables and Notre-Dame de Paris (also known as The Hunchback of Notre Dame) over spring break.

"They loved it," Carter said. "It was a lot of work but they were really pleased with the end result. We had a really good time."

And of course, there's also the contest, which will announce a winner by July.

"If they win, then they all get to go to France for two weeks," Carter said.

Council bets on expanded gambling

Martin van den Hemel, Staff Reporter

Richmond council is changing its current policy barring gambling expansion. But don't expect slot machines in Richmond just yet.

Council voted 6-3 in favour of expanded gambling early Thursday morning following public meetings that lasted nine-and-a-half hours in total. But councillors said they only want one full-service casino in Richmond, and they want it run by the operators of Great Canadian Casino.

And the city won't accept a full-service casino until after the resolution of a lawsuit between Great Canadian Gaming Corporation (the parent firm for the Richmond casino), B.C. Lottery Corporation and the province of B.C.

Great Canadian recently filed a civil suit after it was denied permission to either relocate from its Sea Island Way facility or to expand to accommodate slot machines.

The lawsuit, filed in B.C. Supreme Court, could take months to resolve unless Victoria rethinks its position.

After listening to eight hours worth of oral submissions and reading volumes of conflicting studies, reports and statistics, council voted in favour of changing its 1997 policy to deny expanded gambling. Council was unanimous at that time, but many of the councillors who made that decision and are currently on council have changed their minds.

Council also voted down a motion by Coun. Evelina Halsey-Brandt, who suggested that Richmondites be given the chance to vote on expanded gambling during the upcoming provincial election in November.

Although she voted in favour of expanded gambling, she believed that Richmondites should have the final word.

"I suggest that the citizens have the right to make that decision themselves. I believe a referendum is the way to go."

But other members of council said six months is too long to wait for a referendum and that would stall the process that they've already endorsed.

However several members of council said they may reconsider their position on a referendum depending on public feedback. And if it becomes apparent that the province's city selection process will extend beyond November that may also change their position on a referendum.

Only Mayor Malcolm Brodie, Coun. Sue Halsey-Brandt and Coun. Bill McNulty were opposed to the expanded gambling motion.

Coun. Kiichi Kumagai, responsible for bringing the gambling issue back to the table, said he only wants one full-service casino in Richmond. He said he didn't see the pro-expansion force back in 1997, when he voted against expanded gambling. But he wants to limit the expansion.

Coun. Harold Steves said that based on the submissions to council and a counting of the names, the number supporting expansion far outnumbered those who were against it.

Back in 1997, there was a fear about expanded gambling, he said.

"But the sky didn't fall and we were wrong."

Coun. Sue Halsey-Brandt said the debate boiled down to money and doesn't believe the city would have considered expansion but for the financial crunch that resulted in increases in property taxes this year and for the next several years.

"There is no hue and cry demanding casinos."

She applauded Vancouver, for having the "guts" to unanimously say no to slot machines.

She said she couldn't support a decision to expand gambling that would likely lead to an increase in levels of addiction.

Coun. Lyn Greenhill said she observed a significant shift in the attitude towards gambling and specifically slot machines. She said she would regularly run into residents who would pull her aside and question why there were no slot machines available in the city.

"I can't protect everyone who is around," Greenhill said of the prospect of an increase in problem gamblers.

Coun. Rob Howard, who said he didn't support a referendum on gambling because he felt he was elected to make those types of decisions, added that he believes in freedom of choice and personal responsibility.

"We can't dip into taxpayers pockets every time we need money."

Coun. Linda Barnes said people can gamble from the confines of their home right now, and believes the right approach is to regulate casinos.

Coun. Evelina Halsey-Brandt said her decision came down to a belief in freedom of choice.

"I don't think there's a right or wrong decision."

Coun. Bill McNulty said he doesn't want to see the city rely on gambling money for its operational budgets.

"I don't believe that's where we should go. I don't want to see expanded gambling in the community."

Mayor Malcolm Brodie said he believes Richmond should look up to Vancouver which opted against slot machines this week.

"Let's look to Vancouver which showed some fortitude," he said, drawing the loudest applause of the evening from the crowd, which was mostly anti-gambling expansion.

Howard Blank, Great Canadian Gaming Corporation's executive director, said his company was very pleased with council's decision and the ringing endorsement of his company.

"Obviously that was good news."

But he said the process of relocating the current casino, or expanding it, could take many months and as much as two years.

He said it's doubtful that Great Canadian could move to another location and open before the November municipal election.

But he feels confident that between now and November, some sort of progress will be made between his company and the provincial government regarding gambling expansion and slot machines.

Some 165 surgeries need to be made up

Chris Bryan, Staff Reporter

The doctors' pay dispute is over-but 165 surgeries now need to be made up at Richmond Hospital.

The B.C. Medical Association is recommending its members accept a deal with the provincial government, ending three weeks of job action that left thousands without non-emergency medical treatment.

In Richmond, the system must now make up 165 surgeries that were postponed or not scheduled between May 13 and 31 due to the job action, in addition to the normal demand. Of those, 155 were elective and 10 urgent, Clay Adams, Vancouver Coastal Health Authority spokesperson, said.

How quickly these are made up depends on the surgeon, as they set their own schedules.

"The best estimate may be six to 12 weeks," Adams said. "Some may be done quickly, others may take longer."

On average, 30 to 35 surgeries are performed daily in Richmond, using five operating rooms.

Like many hospitals, Richmond Hospital's operating rooms are typically not used to capacity, but Adams said they won't be able to make more room to deal with the backlog.

"The reality is it's a resource issue," Adams said, saying the health authority was unwilling to dedicate the staff and financial resources necessary to do so.

Adams said surgeons would be back to work on Monday.

The doctors' recommended deal expires in April, 2004. It now goes to individual doctors for ratification over the next 45 days.

-with additional notes from David Marsh

Major strip mall planned for Queensborough

Chris Bryan, Staff Reporter

A major commercial development slated for Queensborough promises new services for East Richmond residents, but some are concerned about the traffic it will create.

On Monday, New Westminster city council rezoned the 36-acre site at the junction of Boyd Street and Westminster Highway, paving the way for a developer's plans for 400,000 square feet of retail space (half the size of Richmond Centre) supported by 2,100 parking spaces.

Richmond-based Townline Group says they have been working closely with the Great Canadian Superstore, as well as Costco and Home Depot. One of these companies will likely become the anchor tenant in the new strip mall.

Although many residents welcome the $70 million project for what it will bring to a notoriously underserved area, Brenda Fleming is concerned that the most direct route to the mall from Highway 91 is through a quiet area of Hamilton.

"What we're concerned about is the people will use the shortcut through our neighbourhood as well," said Fleming, a member of the Hamilton Community Association.

Richmond's chief planner David McLellan shares the same concerns, and forwarded them to New Westminster prior to Monday's meeting.

A consultant hired by Townline estimates the project will add only 32 trips per weekday peak hour to Westminster Highway, about a four per cent increase.

"We don't agree with their consultant's report," McLellan said. "We believe the impact will be much more substantial. If there's a Wal-Mart in there and not in the rest of Richmond, I think there could be a heck of an impact."

Fleming said had hoped the project would include a pedestrian overpass or set of stoplights for the children who cross Westminster Highway to Hamilton Elementary.

"We ultimately would like to see a safer way to get across," Fleming said. "I think what's happened is nobody wants to take responsibility at this point."

But Townline president Rick Ilich defends the consultant's report.

"I don't think Richmond put a lot of time into what we're doing out there," he said. "Westminster Highway and the Hamilton people's concerns have been taken into account."

Ilich said his company plans to invest $2 million in traffic improvements. This money would go to upgrades to the intersection at Boyd Street and Highway 91A, and the creation of one at Westminster Highway at Boyd, in front of the new mall. These would be designed to assist traffic flow.

"The Queensborough residents, I think, are feeling like the time has come where they're going to get their services and become more of a community," Ilich said.

Mary Pynenberg, New Westminster's planning director, said the project could actually result in a decrease in traffic in the Hamilton area.

According to a recent staff report, only one-third of the money New West residents spend in department stores is spent in their own community. Pynenberg said in the future, fewer residents may make the journey to Richmond, easing traffic pressures.

She was amused that New West could be accused of not adequately consulting with Richmond.

"Richmond can't tell us we haven't consulted them about big box," Pynenberg said. "Nobody ever consulted us. Burnaby hasn't. Coquitlam hasn't. So, as a courtesy, we actually notified other municipalities."

If all goes as planned, Townline will break grown on the project by next spring.

Pests strike community garden

Chris Bryan, Staff Reporter

The community garden on River Road near the No. 2 Road bridge was struck by vandals this week.

"It just makes you so frustrated, you wonder why you bother," said Anne Graham, who gardens a plot with her husband. A number of plots fell victim to the culprits, who systematically wreaked havoc.

Tomato frames were bent out of shape, plants ripped up, trees stripped of their leaves, ornaments broken, and two massive rain barrels were drained, flooding numerous plots.

"Just willful damage," said Graham, who was on a waitlist for three years before she received the garden space.

Graham said the vandals hit sometime between Tuesday afternoon and Thursday. They also stole a number of rakes and shovels housed on the property.

The garden is a godsend for the people who use it, many who live in condominiums and don't have their own space, Graham said. Her husband, who has been recovering after heart surgery, enjoys the gardening for the therapeutic value.

Fellow gardener Margaret Bergmann said thieves stole plants from the garden in March, but to her knowledge that was the only other time.

"It's an organic garden," Bergmann said. "We're fighting everything as it is, without pesticides."

GVRD tax break to reduce water rates

David Marsh, MetroValley News

Most ratepayers will benefit from a new tax exemption for the Greater Vancouver Regional District, says the GVRD.

The B.C. government has passed legislation ending the 75-year practice of the GVRD paying property taxes on regional facilities, largely water-system structures.

The change stops the flow of nearly $1 million a year going from the region to Victoria in school and other taxes, and will take pressure off spiralling water rates.

While the area's cities will also lose property-tax revenue from the GVRD, most will see a net gain because it will be less costly to buy their tapwater from the region, the GVRD says.

"The region as a whole is a winner," said GVRD finance manager Gordon Ruth.

GVRD estimates say Vancouver will gain $708,000, Surrey $328,000, Richmond $226,000, Delta $164,000, Coquitlam $88,000 and Maple Ridge $65,000.

Not everyone will be happy with the change, however.

Four municipalities will lose money, topped by North Vancouver district at $478,000, and also include West Vancouver, Burnaby and New Westminster.

Ruth said the GVRD plans a five-year phase-in of the new system to reduce the impact on those communities.

Curtains close on amphitheatre bid

Chris Bryan, Staff Reporter

A proposal to build a 6,000-seat amphitheatre on a 20-acre parcel of city-owned land along Triangle Road directly behind the Riverport entertainment complex at Steveston Highway and No. 6 Road is dead, according to the city's chief planner.

"We're no longer negotiating for that," David McLellan said. "From our perspective we're not really prepared to go back and negotiate further."

Private discussions between the city and Sam Feldman, owner of Canada's largest talent agency Feldman and Associates, broke down a month ago with both sides very divided, city sources say.

McLellan would not comment on what problems caused the demise of the amphitheatre application. But, he said, the city has not asked the applicant to return for more discussions.

"We're not seeking that at this time," he said.

McLellan said the amphitheatre could co-exist with a residential development that is being considered for the area, but admits there would have been significant challenges. Canadian National Railway has also indicated that it hopes to extend its rail line through the area within five years, he said-a possible frustration for both the new residents and potential concertgoers.

"If I was listening to something like Sarah McLachlan and there were trains shunting next door, I wouldn't be too happy," McLellan said.

Coun. Lyn Greenhill said the "huge hurdle" for the amphitheatre was the amount of traffic improvements that it would require. The Steveston interchange at Highway 99, despite recent improvements, would require a significant upgrade, she said.

"That's an incredibly expensive fix," Greenhill told The Richmond Review.

"I don't think any proponent would have the money to do that."

The amphitheatre would have been the first of its kind in the Lower Mainland. The city signed an agreement-in-principle in spring 2001 to give the developer a lease on the property, and rezoned it (by a 4-3 margin) at a June public hearing. Several residents at the hearing criticized the plan as only adding to the existing traffic, noise and pollution problems in the area.

Besides Feldman, proponents included concert promoters Paul Mercs and Bruce Allen. Mercs did not return phone calls.

The proponents planned to build a partially roofed but open air theatre-similar in concept to the Expo '86 facility-catering to concerts.

In the fall and winter, when demand for sports fields is the highest, much of the parking lot was to be covered by a roll-out artificial athletic surface.

Charter to give cities more power

David Marsh, MetroValley News

Municipalities would get a range of new taxation powers under draft legislation introduced by the B.C. government.

Entertainment taxes, tax exemptions for businesses, and even another fuel-tax increase are among the possibilities in the Community Charter, the Liberals' long-promised new rulebook for local governments.

The charter "will be the most empowering legislation of its kind in Canada," said Ted Nebbeling, the Liberal minister of state for Community Charter.

In addition to revenue alternatives to the property tax, the charter would allow cities to conduct more of their business without needing approvals from Victoria. At the same time, Nebbeling said local governments would be held more accountable under the charter through tighter conflict-of-interest rules and the requirement to hold an annual public meeting.

The draft now goes to several more months of consultation before being targeted for adoption this fall.

That discussion promises to be heated, however, say civic leaders who have been involved in developing the charter. A new tax in one city, for instance on entertainment, could drive patrons to a neighbour that doesn't impose it.

Hans Cunningham, president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities, said it was matter of cities having the option to impose new taxes if they decide to make improvements, or voluntarily take up services hit by provincial cutbacks.

"Is it just more and varied ways to nail poor old Joe Taxpayer? Yes it is, but councils are going to have to look at whether they want to do that," he said.

Getting hitched in the job world

Philip Raphael, Staff Reporter

You could call Angus McPherson and his staff at the Richmond branch of Corporate & Career Development Inc. vocational match-makers.

That's because the private job-finding firm is helping provide lasting relationships between employees and employers.

Started last July, the Community Co-ordinating Program's goal is to link those seeking work with jobs that have the potential to become full-time careers. And while that might seem like what job agencies traditionally do, there is a twist. Because the program is funded by Human Resources Development Canada, the employer is provided with a subsidy of up to half of the new employee's wages for up to six months, or a maximum of $4,500.

But before there's a protest of irate taxpayers claiming improper use of federal money, McPherson points out there are a number of conditions both sides in this 'arranged marriage' of employment must meet.

Here's how it works:

  • To qualify as a prospective employee, a person must have received Employment Insurance (EI) benefits in the last three years.
  • CCD then assembles the applicants and matches them with a prospective business that is in need of an employee, but may not necessarily have the resources to acquire staff.
  • The job has to provide a minimum 30 hours of work a week, and the employer must demonstrate the position has the potential to become full-time work. To hold the employer to the program's conditions, they must sign a contract.

"There's absolutely no cost to the employer. The only thing they have to invest in is the time to hire the people and train them properly," McPherson said.

"So it's much more than an employment agency type of arrangement because, for one thing, the employer doesn't have to take the person that we send them."

Since the program got underway last summer it has provided full-time employment for approximately 60 people after an intake of roughly 400 applicants. Hopes are to increase that figure to 140 to 150 full time jobs this year as more businesses, and those looking for work, become aware of how the program could help them.

Locally, the types of matches have literally covered the spectrum of employment.

"One local farming couple applied for the program seeking some full-time help that required the employee to learn how to operate some of the heavy machinery on the farm," McPherson said.

"A similar thing happened with a high-tech company that needed someone to help drive their sales. The person they ended up getting didn't have all the knowledge of computers, but was certainly well qualified on the sales end of things. So, the training for that person came on product knowledge of computers."

To ensure the employer lives up to their commitment concerning the term of employment and the new worker's job responsibilities, staff from CCD make in-person visits on a monthly basis, and then follow up shortly after the six-month period has been completed.

"We want to make sure that someone who has been hired, for example as a janitor, isn't simply being taught to push a broom a certain way their new employer wants them to," McPherson said. "They have to be learning some new skills that will help them advance."

One of the local matches made recently involved the Richmond Foundation, a charitable organization that uses income derived from donated funds to provide grants to the community.

The foundation was faced with a two-pronged challenge: find a replacement for a long-time administrative employee who had amassed a great deal of experience, and do it on an extremely limited budget.

The foundation's vice chair Magdalen Leung said the program at CCD fit in perfectly with the organization's unique composition-a host of volunteers who have limited time to provide training to new employees.

"It really saved a lot of time," she said alluding to CCD's ability to screen applicants.

And the person CCD came up with was Therese Wong, who, after two months on the job, said she is enjoying the challenge of learning something new.

"Before, I was in a position where I was supporting staff," said Wong, 46, who in 1993 came to Canada from Hong Kong where she had done clerical work in a university. "For this job I have had to learn how to take minutes, make up agendas, and learn how a foundation operates in the community."

If there is a typical client for CCD's program, Wong would likely fit that description, McPherson said.

"Better than 50 per cent of the applicants in Richmond are from other countries and have English as a second language. They range wildly from very well qualified people who have come from other countries to labourers."

And that's one of the reasons why Richmond was chosen as a place to locate the program.

"Richmond also has great diversification when it come to employers," McPherson added. "We have mom and pop operations who are using it, plus charitable foundations, on up to large corporations.

"And I'm not sure why this type of program hasn't been better promoted because the people who come through and are hired are obviously very pleased they have a job. And the employer is happy because they have an employee who is really motivated."

nFor more information on the Community Co-ordinating Program, call Corporate & Career Development Inc. at 604-304-0023.

Supporting the invisible forces

Chris Bryan, Staff Reporter

Sometimes it's just as difficult to be left behind.

That's the message of the Invisible Ribbon campaign, a drive to provide support and solidarity for families of Canadian troops stationed overseas.

Residents of Rosewood Manor, located at 6260 Blundell Rd., have joined the campaign and are doing their part. About 20 residents, volunteers and staff were hard at work Thursday morning, clustered around tables, folding ribbons and pinning them with a Canadian flag.

"I think it helps everybody," said Nellie Howard, 86, as she worked alongside her friends.

Families left behind are often forgotten, added 99-year-old Dorothy Brown, but they make an important contribution and sacrifice of their own.

The idea to get Rosewood residents involved came from Suzanne Oliver, a recreation programmer at Rosewood. Her son, Corp. Chris Oliver, is a member of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (3rd Battalion, A Platoon) stationed in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

"I thought it was a great opportunity for the residents to contribute to the Canadian Forces," she said. "They're just so proud of it."

The Invisible Ribbon campaign is put on by the Mainland B.C. Military Family Resource Centre, an organization that supports military personnel and their families as they face the challenges that come when a family member is deployed overseas. In addition to Afghanistan, where Canada has more than 750 military personnel stationed, there are thousands of Canadians stationed abroad.

Military families face significant stresses when a family member is stationed abroad, said Al Warren, executive director of the resource centre. In addition to the fear for the member's safety, the family also deals with prolonged periods of separation.

"In a sense, the families are also wearing a uniform as well-except they're invisible."

By wearing the Invisible Ribbon, families can show their solidarity and be recognized for the important role they play.

To most Rosewood residents, this is easy to understand. Most have lived through the major conflicts of the last century, and have either served in the military themselves, or have had family members who have.

Howard worked in the "land army" in England during the Second World War, planting potatoes for the army and the people at home. Brown was married twice and both of her husbands were First World War veterans.

Brown said it's important to remember the sacrifices made by the military for our country, something that could not have been achieved without the families behind them.

"We want people to know," she said.

Forgotten Village

Stephanie Fast , Contributor

Finn Slough: an island on which boardwalks groan beneath a century of footsteps and threaten to send travellers tumbling into the muddy waters below.

Rickety boats lay marooned on clay beaches. Children laugh while fathers patch fishing nets and mothers nurse fires to keep their shanties warm.

Drenched in heritage, this place, one of B.C.'s earliest settler communities, teeters on the verge of complete obliteration. Residents can do little more than hope for the best and pray they may continue living in the place they cannot imagine leaving.

Caught in the crossfire between an ambitious Toronto businessman and the Fraser River Port Authority, Finn Slough's inhabitants have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal fees in an attempt to prove their ownership of the land. Finn Slough was under no ownership until Stephen Thomas Smith of Toronto bought the land in 1993 and tried, unsuccessfully thus far, to evict its residents.

A few blocks away, many Richmond locals are not aware of the legal struggles their forgotten neighbours are going through. They are even less aware of just how different this community's lifestyle is from theirs.

Making do with the bare necessities of life has become routine for Gina Bastona, who moved into her 110-year-old Finn Slough home three years ago. Although her boyfriend bought the place nearly 30 years ago, it wasn't until many years later that the beauty and simplicity of the slough brought them there.

Crackling cheerfully in a pot-bellied stove, a fire wards off the chill in Gina's wooden home built on stilts. As the tiny house steadily heats up, she washes up the rest of the dishes and tosses her damp dishrag over a rustic wooden rack. As soon as the single room house is warm enough, she will haul a bright blue Rubbermaid container out of a corner and take her bath.

At the foot of her bed a computer sits on a makeshift desk. It only works, however, when everything else, meaning the lone lightbulb dangling over the sink, is turned off.

"I couldn't imagine living anywhere else," Gina says, drawing aside a blue checked curtain to reveal the picturesque surroundings. "It's the nature and the community that I love about the place."

A morning mist hangs over the river and birds twitter to each other in trees overhanging the aging buildings.

Thirty-eight of the village's original structures still stand, including a sauna on which Finn Slough's motto, "sisu," a Finnish word meaning perseverance, is written. Those living here boast of the tight-knit community that has survived since the late 1800s when the first Finnish settlers inhabited the island.

"Everyone looks out for each other here," Gina says.

Pitching in together to keep their shared boardwalks and drawbridge from collapsing is one of the many ways this miniature society is drawn close to each other. One of the main challenges of living on the river, however, is that the current's movements constantly try to carry the buildings, also known as scowhouses, away. Committed villagers struggle to preserve the heritage of the area despite its need for continual repairs.

Not only does the river bring silt and driftwood with it; water rats also thrive in this idyllic environment. But Gina says she doesn't usually see them around, that is, until her cat drags them up onto her patio.

Maintaining her house is similar to living out in the country, explains Gina.

"I guess one of the real big differences (from living in the city) is you got to chop your wood, you got to get your propane, you got to repair the path."

"How is it different from living in Richmond? I don't have a toilet."

While some residents have built outhouses for themselves, most, like Gina, have composting toilets which convert waste material into soil to help preserve the ecological heritage of the wetlands. They all also have some type of boat with which they navigate their watery backyards and collect driftwood to keep their homes warm.

Inside Gina's home, framed photos of her son dot the walls while brightly painted clown masks hang in clusters from the ceiling and rows of cue cards dangle in the window.

"I am a clown, you know that's what I do," explains Gina, pulling her dark frizzy hair into a braid.

She was working for the famous Cirque du Soleil until she moved to Richmond and took up teaching and performing comedy at local high schools and theatres.

Gina is not alone in her artistic pursuits in Finn Slough.

"Most residents do some kind of artsy thing," she says.

Although many work out of their homes, there are also those who commute to Vancouver and other outlying towns for their jobs. Their occupations range from musicians, painters and teachers to boat builders and captains of ships.

But however pleasant life on the river may be, when asked how she feels about the legal battle regarding the ownership of the land, Gina cringes.

"I plug my ears and shut my eyes and hope it works out."

It seems that this may be as much as can be done now to clear the difficult situation up.

The legal complications involving Finn Slough date far back to when the Finns first settled on the banks of the Fraser River over a century ago. In 1948 the river flooded and took a large section of the village along with it and the remaining land on which Finn Slough rested became known as Whitford Island.

No legal surveys were done of the island.

The Finn Slough residents, not all direct relatives of the original pioneers, continued to live in relative peace with the city until in 1993 a private developer from eastern Canada bought the area and attempted to evict the residents. He wanted to use the prime waterfront property to build condominiums and a marina. After extensive talks with the residents failed to rid them from the area, Smith's company, Smith Prestige Properties Ltd. appealed to the Fraser River Port Authority for help.

The Finn Slough Heritage and Wetlands Society was created by the so-called squatters to fight against the companies. Nine years have since passed and Smith has quit talks with the Society. The issue remains at a standstill, both sides not knowing how to proceed.

According to Kari Huhtala, a planner for the city of Richmond, the village owns the buildings, but not the land. Part of the island is Crown land, and is leased by the Fraser River Harbour Commission and another part belongs to Smith's company.

"The stumbling block here is that no one knows who owns what," Huhtala says.

"All talks are on hold right now because no one seems to know what they should be doing at this point."

The community is worried that they will be forced to leave their homes and surrender the unique heritage and ecological values of the wetlands to the developer.

"It's really too bad...He's way over in east Canada and has no clue," Gina says.

For Mary Mason who has grown up in the Slough, its preservation would mean the world. All of her 14 years have been spent here and she loves having a home plunked down in the middle of nature.

Although she and her younger sister Tina go to school on the mainland, they relish the freedom of their island home.

Mary and Tina often walk the few blocks to the city to visit their school buddies, but their best friends live in the shanties next door to them. In the summer months the number of children in the Slough swell to 10 and the sounds of bikes bumping up and down the paths mingle with the peals of laughter and excitement in the air.

Their favourite spot can be found by following a narrow dirt path through the wild berry bushes to the tip of the island. Here lays a tiny secluded beach, which they transform into a magical playground. They dream of being able to keep this hidden spot.

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