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B.C. community opens solar farm 100 per cent owned and operated by First Nation

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WILLIAMS LAKE, B.C. — The chief of a small Indigenous community in British Columbia’s Interior says he expects the power to go on any day now for what will be among the first solar farms 100 per cent owned and operated by a First Nation in the province.

Chief Russell Myers Ross of the Yunesit’in in British Columbia’s Chilcotin region west of Williams Lake says the 1.25-megawatt hours per year project is also among the largest operational solar farms in the province.

The community began pursuing the project because the cost of living is so high in the remote community and members saw it as an opportunity to generate income while moving toward the goal of self-sufficiency, he said in an interview Sunday.

“We were trying to find ways to build out community infrastructure and supplement any higher costs with clean energy,” Ross said.

The Yunesit’in, which has about 250 members living locally and another 200 registered outside the community, is one of six communities that comprise the larger Tsilhqot’in Nation.

The Tsilhqot’in solar farm consists of 3,456 solar modules that will convert the sun’s rays into electricity, which will then be sold to BC Hydro to generate revenue shared by each of the member nations.

With capacity to generate enough energy to power between 130 and 150 homes, it’s small on a global scale but large for British Columbia.

The project is comparable to the SunMine solar farm in Kimberley, B.C., which calls itself the province’s largest solar project with 4,032 solar-cell module.

The Upper Nicola Band announced plans for a much larger project near Merritt, B.C., in 2018 that would generate 15 megawatt hours of electricity but has not been completed.

Other First Nations have tackled solar on a much smaller scale. The T’Sou-ke Nation on Vancouver Island initiated a 75-kilowatt project in 2007, for example.

But the Tsilhqot’in believe that it’s the first solar farm of its size to be fully owned and operated by a First Nation. Ross notes that even the construction phase was almost entirely completed by members of the community.

“It was almost all First Nation-built, which is a feat in itself,” he said.

Beyond creating local jobs and giving community members a sense of ownership over the solar farm, the fact that it is an Indigenous project also means it qualified for additional grants and funding. Ultimately, about $2.3 million of the project’s $2.6 million construction budget was covered, which means it will be generating profits in a much shorter time frame than initially expected, Ross said.

In the five years since Ross first spoke with green-energy manufacturer EcoSmart about the project, it has come with significant hurdles including financing, authorization, training and harsh weather conditions — including a snow storm last year that blew down much of the infrastructure.

“It almost looked like vandals had come in and destroyed the place,” Ross said.

But it is finally almost complete. Ths Tsilhqot’in announced the grand opening of the project in October and Ross said power will start flowing into the grid when BC Hydro completes the hookup.

“I feel pretty good that after five years the project is finished,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2019.

— By Amy Smart in Vancouver.

The Canadian Press

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Appeal denied: Man who killed couple, their grandson wanted conviction quashed

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CALGARY — Alberta’s top court has upheld the conviction of a man who killed a couple and their grandson, dismissing objections to the warrantless search of his farm, disturbing photographs shown at trial and comments the judge made to jurors.

Douglas Garland was convicted in 2017 of first-degree murder in the deaths of Alvin and Kathy Liknes and Nathan O’Brien more than five years ago.

He is also appealing his life sentence with no chance of parole for 75 years.

The couple and the boy vanished after an estate sale at the Liknes home in Calgary. Five-year-old Nathan was there for a sleepover.

The victims’ bodies were never recovered, but bone fragments, burned flesh and teeth were found in ash from a burning barrel on Garland’s property.

“On arriving at the farm on July 4, 2014, the police had a decision to make: to enter without a search warrant with the hope that the victims may still be alive but in need of medical assistance, or wait to enter until a search warrant authorizing a search of the property could be obtained,” the panel of three Appeal Court judges wrote in its decision released Friday.  

“They chose the former.”

The officer in charge told his colleagues to only search buildings and receptacles that were large enough to hide a body.

“Significantly, it was not alleged the police had an ulterior motive for entering into the appellant’s property and searching it, other than to find the victims, hopefully still alive,” the judges wrote.

“We see no basis to interfere.”

The judges also took no issue with the information provided for the search warrant that was later issued.

“All told, (it) was a thorough document that went into great detail in summarizing the evidence known to the (Calgary Police Service) at the time,” they wrote.

“It provided a detailed account of witness interviews, crime scene photographs and analysis, expert opinions, CCTV video analysis and an extensive summary of the findings at the Garland farm during the warrantless search.

“We can see no error or reason to interfere with these conclusions.”

The Appeal Court also dismissed an argument that the trial judge erred when he allowed jurors to see gruesome photographs found on a hard drive in Garland’s basement, including ones depicting dismembered, diapered and restrained women.

The judges wrote that decisions on evidence that is clearly prejudicial but also affords proof of something are difficult.

“They are best left to the trial judge, who has a full appreciation of the nuances of the case, to decide. Absent a palpable or overriding error, such decisions are entitled to deference.”

Comments the trial judge made to jurors acknowledging the disturbing nature of the evidence they heard did not show bias, they added.

“With respect, viewed in the context of this difficult trial, we find nothing inappropriate about these comments.”

This report by the Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2019.

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press


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Feds vow to ban guns similar to one used in Ecole Polytechnique shooting

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OTTAWA — Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says the federal government will be ready soon to produce a list of semi-automatic weapons that will be banned in Canada.

His comments come the same day Canadians are marking the 30th anniversary of one of the worst mass shootings in Canadian history.

But Blair says until the list is approved by cabinet he won’t name any specific guns under consideration, including the one used in the Ecole Polytechnique shooting on Dec. 6, 1989.

He says he doesn’t want to create a run on gun purchases ahead of the ban.

The Ruger Mini-14 was used in the shooting where a gunman entered the Montreal school, killed 14 women and injured 14 people before killing himself.

Blair says the government will be clear about how certain weapons were selected when the list is made public.

While there is no firm date for its release, Blair said it will be done as soon as possible before noting it was only the second day of the new Parliament.

The Liberals promised during the federal election campaign to ban military-style assault rifles and give municipalities the ability to put limitations or bans on handguns within their own borders.

The party also said owners of legally purchased firearms that fall under the ban would receive fair-market compensations for their weapons as part of a buyback program. Blair said during the campaign about 250,000 semi-automatic assault rifles are owned legally in Canada.

The Liberals have been pressured by survivors of the Montreal Massacre to do more to restrict guns in Canada and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used his House of Commons speech marking the massacre Friday to say the government will be moving on its campaign promises.

“We will strengthen gun laws and ban the type of weapons used at Ecole Polytechnique,” he said.

“These weapons, designed to kill the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time, have no place in our communities, in our streets, in our country.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2019.

The Canadian Press

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