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Weapons stockpile confiscated

Martin van den Hemel, Staff Reporter

Before he was disarmed in January, Richmond’s Jeff Chen was ready to strap on bombs or fight for Islam at the word of his Muslim leader.

But an alarming e-mail the young Steveston High graduate sent to Sheik Younus Kathrada led the RCMP’s national anti-terror team to a large cache of powerful weapons in January, a seizure that made Chen view the world differently.

Before the police’s intervention and his subsequent enlightenment and more moderate view of Islamic teachings, Chen said he was willing to sacrifice his life if Sheik Kathrada had ordered that.

“At that point, I believed whatever the Sheik told me, ok, because I didn’t have any other information, another view of Islam...I didn’t know better than that.”

Acting on behalf of the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team, the Richmond RCMP found Jeffrey Chung-Ping Chen, 28, in possession of a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun, a U.S. M-1 gauge rifle, a M-1 carbine module rifle with a scope, a Winchester magnum, rifle shells, two ammunition belts, five rifle cartridges, a 15-inch dagger and two 14-inch daggers.

The police were alerted to Chen by Kathrada, who first made national headlines late last year for calling the assassins of Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin the “brothers of the monkeys and the swine.”

When contacted by The Richmond Review Thursday, Kathrada, a Richmond resident, acknowledged that he knew Chen, who attended Kathrada’s lectures a few times a week initially last year, but then was seen less often.

“In the past I had received some e-mails that I saw as potentially, I guess, dangerous if you will, so I passed them on to the authorities basically.

“I did what I thought was right.”

In a Dec. 13, 2004 e-mail to Kathrada, the leader of the Dar Al-Madinah Islamic Society which operates out of a hall in East Vancouver, Chen wrote that he was willing to become a “die hard” and that he was “itching to use the rifles that I have in actual combat (jihad in Middle East and elsewhere).”

Asked what he meant by being a “diehard,” Chen said: “Like do whatever he says.”

Kathrada said the e-mail made him feel “uneasy” and that’s why he alerted the authorities.

Chen and his lawyer, Carlos Charles, appeared in Richmond provincial court on Thursday morning, where Chen consented to the Crown’s request that he be banned from possessing any firearms for the next three years.

But Chen wanted his weapons back, and that was denied, however he will have the opportunity to sell them.

Chen has not been charged with any criminal offence.

RCMP Insp. Lloyd Plant, of INSET, would not comment on the Chen case although he said he was familiar with it.

Crown Counsel Vanessa Soon also chose not to comment.

Asked if his client is a danger to the community, lawyer Carlos Charles said: “He is not a danger to the public. We have what you call freedom of religion in this country and he was just searching for something I guess. He is not a dangerous person, nothing happened. It’s just that he wanted to get his firearms back.

“I think the police made a mistake, but in any event we solved it.”

Charles said his client is an English-as-a-second-language teacher who last taught in Japan and doesn’t teach locally. He said his client has some job prospects in other countries.

“He was born and grew up here. He’s a local boy.”

Chen, who lives with his parents and has younger siblings, said he doesn’t believe he’s a danger to the public, and called terrorists who bombed London’s transport system last month “ignorant, because they followed the leaders blindly. They just took orders and destroyed themselves.”

But before the RCMP took his weapons, which he described as novelty items, Chen said he was ready to take arms if Sheik Kathrada had told him to do that. He noted two Lower Mainland men who regularly attended Kathrada’s lectures (Vancouver’s Rudwan Khalil Abubaker and Maple Ridge’s Kamal Elbahja) disappeared, with one of them reportedly killed in Chechnya and described as an explosives expert by Russian special forces.

In his Dec. 13, 2004 letter, Chen wrote: “Asalaam Alykum (peace be upon you), while at Haji you will meet some brothers that made Dawah (invitation to Islam) to me in Japan. If you should meet and talk to them and convince them of true Islam, then I will return to Daral Madinah and become a diehard. Btw (by the way) I also am itching to use the rifles that I have in actual combat (jihad in Middle East and elsewhere).”

‘Green’ review focuses on city’s growth

Matthew Hoekstra, Staff Reporter

Richmond is ordering an update of its state of environment program with a focus on managing a rapidly growing city.

Richmond’s population is now pegged at 180,860, according to a city estimate based on census information and new home construction. That’s up from a 2001 population of 164,345.

By 2021, the city estimates the local population will exceed 212,000.

The review could include recommendations to manage air quality, groundwater quality and quality of natural habitats, along with measures to maintain the city’s vision “to be the most appealing, liveable and well-managed community in Canada.”

Coun. Harold Steves, who requested city growth be added to the update, hopes the review will examine the need for parks and open space, noting the city is short 261 hectares (646 acres) of parkland for its current and future population of the next 15 years.

“We have to look 20 years ahead and start planning what we’re going to do,” he said. “Our growth has been so substantial in the past decade and in the next decade we really have to pay close attention to what we’re doing for the environment and for the public enjoyment.”

Steves said the city should look at creative solutions in creating open space, such as building rooftop parks and greenhouses, and adding community centres to ground floors of high-rises. He also envisions new waterfront boardwalks, fishing piers and an enhanced trail system to connect with city parks.

An environmental report card will also be included in the update, the second since the program’s inception in 1998. The final report is meant to assist city officials in policy and program development.

Successes in the last report of 2001 included the city’s drive to protect green space and agricultural land, the improvement in Fraser River water quality, a good air quality rating and development of cycling lanes and pedestrian-friendly streets. But it also had bad news. The report concluded Richmond residents continue to rely on their vehicles rather than use public transit.

“Current trends in automobile use and ownership are clearly not sustainable given our growing population,” the report states.

Richmond also performed poorly in water and energy consumption by consuming more of the resources per capita than most municipalities in the region. Resident complaints on air quality and noise were also discouraging for the report’s authors.

Gordon Kibble, co-chair of the city’s Advisory Committee on the Environment, which will take the lead role in guiding the update, said key environmental issues the city must grapple with revolve around a growing city.

“We can’t keep over-densifying. We can’t keep stuffing more people into a Volkswagen.”

Kibble said there isn’t much room left in the city for a huge spike in population growth, noting the city must preserve its farmland and open space while managing air quality.

A consultant has yet to be announced to conduct the update, which has a budget of $37,450. Design and final production of the report will be completed by the city, which is planning a public open house late this year or early next year. The final report is scheduled to be complete next April.

Pizza money to help sooth pain

Martin van den Hemel, Staff Reporter

For decades it sat untouched in a Royal Bank account, hundreds of dollars earmarked for fun.

But volunteer firefighters Les Inglis, John Lackner and John Plecas figured there were better uses for the social fund they’d set up 30 years ago at the Bridgeport Fire hall.

Instead of pizza and Christmas parties, the trio donated $1,000 to the B.C. Firefighters Burn fund, presenting a cheque Tuesday to Fire Chief Jim Hancock and Richmond Fire Fighters Association president Tim Wilkinson.

“It’s a fitting end,” Inglis said with a smile Tuesday.

Inglis served as the secretary for the Bridgeport Volunteer Fire Department from 1963 to 1970, and worked alongside Lackner (1962 to 1968) and Plecas (1964 to 1970).

Inglis said the social fund was topped up by them to an even $1,000.

In 1970, volunteer firefighters were phased out, with Plecas among those who for the first time became paid for their life-saving efforts. Plecas retired after a quarter century of firefighting in 1993.

The donation couldn’t have come at a better time, coinciding with the launch of a provincial fundraising campaign that has set a goal of $9 million to be used to build a facility like the Ronald McDonald House, providing families a place to stay while their loved ones receive treatment, said Wilkinson.

Climate change could be a factor

Matthew Hoekstra and Jeff Nagel, Staff Reporter

Federal fisheries officials will attempt to explain Monday why sockeye returns in the Fraser River could be “substantially lower” than first predicted.

Test catches have driven officials to lower the estimate for the Fraser River sockeye summer run—the largest of four runs—from 11 million to half that amount. That has cast a dark cloud over the “bread and butter” fishery of commercial fishermen, who earn the majority of their income from the sockeye catch.

“I can’t even remember seeing a year this bad. It seems pretty bleak out there,” said Mike Sparrow, a Musqueam who fishes in the native fishery and holds an Area “E” commercial licence.

So far Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has kept most areas closed to fishing, with the exception of aboriginal fisheries for food, social and ceremonial purposes.

But the commercial fishery could be cancelled if returns are as low as some now predict, and Sparrow said the native fishery could also face the same fate if fish don’t show up soon.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen to tell you the truth. They’re just not here and they don’t seem to be on their way either,” he said. “It’s going to be a pretty sad year for all parties involved.”

The Fraser River Panel was set to meet yesterday afternoon to review the status of the Fraser sockeye. It has not formally agreed to change the estimated run size, as members feel they do not have enough data yet.

The bulk of summer run sockeye should have peaked this week, but biologists had yet to detect any buildup of the run in offshore areas of Juan de Fuca or Johnstone Straits.

Yet it is possible the run is simply late. Sparrow said the fish could be travelling deep to avoid the warm water and thus are not being caught in test fisheries.

On average, the summer run spikes between Aug. 14 and 20.

In 1993, officials recorded the latest run spike for the summer run of Aug. 23.

“We’ve seen a lot of the runs come in late this year,” said DFO spokesperson Lara Sloan. “We’re not thinking we’re too doomed at this point.”

The earliest run to head upriver—the early Stuart—arrived in weaker numbers and far later than normal. A similar pattern has been emerging up and down the coast, said Paul Ryall, head of the DFO salmon team.

“Marine survival would certainly seem to have played a role,” he said.

Enough salmon spawned four years ago at the start of this run’s cycle to indicate ocean survival is to blame, not the loss of juvenile fish in the rivers after hatching.

Other observers say it’s still too early to speculate on the fate of the Fraser salmon.

“There’s another week of wait-and-see before we write the epitaph,” said Vicky Husband, the Sierra Club’s B.C. conservation chair.

She said reports of very low return numbers are likely linked to warmer than normal ocean temperatures this year.

“We think climate change is a huge factor here,” Husband said. “And the temperature in the river is a worrying factor as well.”

She said DFO’s approach appears to be appropriately cautionary, adding it’s essential enough salmon get past the Fraser canyon to upriver spawning beds.

Phil Eidsvick of the B.C. Fisheries Survival Coalition said the season is far from over yet. He said reports of low return estimates are “alarmist” and don’t reflect the reality of the fishery.

“It’s going to take a couple more weeks to determine what’s going to happen. I’m not ready to jump off a bridge.”

Eidsvick said in previous years, an entire industry of 15,000 people worked off runs that were five million.

Preparing for a costume change

Philip Raphael, Staff Reporter

“Wait a second, I’ll be right back,” says Val Phillips as she disappears down a dimly lit, narrow aisle marked with a hand drawn sign “Southern Belles.” She’s walled in on both sides by seemingly endless rows of elaborately embroidered linen gowns you’d swear came straight from the set of Gone with the Wind.

“That’s my favourite movie. I must have seen it more than 20 times,” she admits, her voice muffled by the ceiling to floor drapery of fabric hanging from the double stacked racks. “The dresses were so beautiful.”

When she emerges Phillips is carrying a dress similar to the one Vivian Leigh wore in the Oscar-winning classic—a faithful reproduction of the famous dress fashioned from old drapes adorning the window in the home of a Civil War destitute Scarlet O’Hara.

“They were so elegant in those days,” Phillips says running her gaze over the finely sewn panels. “This one is special.”

So is her business, Dunbar Costume Rentals, which was moved lock, stock and clothes rack to Richmond from Marpole in May.

Forced out of her 7,000-square-foot Vancouver location because her landlord wanted to make room for a Hong Kong-based watch importer, Phillips has had to cram her 15,000-plus collection of costumes—most of which she made herself—into less than half the space amid high-tech and corporate offices on Parkwood Way near the Richmond Auto Mall.

But while the frail-looking, 78-year-old Phillips battles an organizational nightmare of arranging her stock, she reminisces about her time in the industry which started formally in 1967 when she opened her first store in Kerrisdale.

“My husband left and I had six children, three of whom were still at home, and had to support them,” she says, explaining how she got into the costume-making industry despite never having had the benefit of formal training.

A full decade before opening shop Phillips had been busy sewing in her basement, making costumes for her children to wear at Christmas, Halloween and other special events. So, when she hung out her shingle she’d had plenty of practice.

Her first costume for a paying client was a green pea—not elaborate by her current standards, but it was a start.

Since then she’s gone on to produce all manner of period and contemporary costumes that require her to do plenty of research to achieve an authentic look.

“I love history and I read plenty of books to look at the clothes. That’s why I personally don’t like the Star Trek stuff people request. That’s adult fantasy. I enjoy more the real things. Historical clothing.”

And that means getting the correct fabric for a Southern Belle’s formal gown, to approximating, as best as possible, a NASA astronaut’s spacewalk suit.

“That one (astronaut) had to be good because it was going to the local planetarium for one of their displays,” Phillips says, adding she ended up buying more than 60 official images of the real thing to get the details just right.

And that has made her the discerning customers’ choice over the years which has included off-the-street renters as well as film production crews.

Among the more notable items she has turned out include a priest’s costume that was destined for Christopher Plummer who was shooting a film locally.

The feature film version of Josie and the Pussy Cats requested a lobster suit. And the actress who plays the angel in the Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese TV commercials wears a Phillips creation—although the fluffy feather wings were outsourced from another costumer.

“They (Kraft) just called me up and asked if I could do it,” she says.

And that’s the way most of her business goes—word of mouth.

After 38 years in the industry she has served countless customers wanting to be an Egyptian Pharaoh, Roman Centurion, Barney the Dinosaur, Capt. Kirk, and Cinderella—just for the day.

But there have been the odd times when Phillips has had to decline a request.

“There was one young man who wanted to wear a Nazi uniform to his (high school) graduation in Abbotsford,” she says. “I asked him why, and he told me his family was from Germany, and his father was a Nazi during the war. But I told him that he was graduating from a Canadian school, and if he wanted to wear a Nazi uniform, why not wear his father’s old one.

“He said that his father was not allowed to bring it to Canada with him, and he left my store slamming the door so hard in anger I thought the roof would come down.”

So while she does have Nazi garb on hand, she allows her judgment to determine just where the costume, as well as others, go.

In the past, most rentals were earmarked for Halloween parties and New Year’s fancy dress balls. Today, events are sprinkled throughout the calendar that there is no longer a peak period. Customer traffic is now split evenly between regular clients, and corporate orders for promotional events such as the release of the feature film Space Cowboys which rented her space suit so its wearer could distribute promotional pamphlets in the downtown movie theatre district.

Phillips used to make nearly all of the costumes herself.

But battles with arthritis over recent years have turned her fingers into swollen, “nasty big sausages,” she laments, adding her current condition limits how much she turns out of her cramped sewing room that is piled high with bolts of material, countless spools of thread and rows of buttons and snaps attached to cardboard holders.

“Now I order some of the things like the big animals and the Scottish formal wear which is a really big favourite now for weddings.”

With a decreasing ability to do what she loves, Phillips said she is considering retirement. But first she needs to find a buyer for her business.

“I have 15 grandkids, and none of them want to take it over. So it looks like I’m going to have to sell. And hopefully, that’s sooner than later. I’d miss it, but I’m getting a little tired these days.”

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