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Construction of Trans Mountain pipeline expansion still faces hurdles

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VANCOUVER — Barbara Gard calls her three-hectare property, nestled below the forested peak of Sumas Mountain, a “miniature Stanley Park.” Its lush trees and flowing creek reminded her of Vancouver’s majestic park, and she immediately knew she wanted to call it home.

But she said her peaceful retreat in Abbotsford, B.C., now feels more like a nightmare. Gard is among thousands of landowners along the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion route who have not yet granted the Crown corporation access, and she said her dealings with the project’s owners over the years have shattered her mental health.

“It’s caused me emotional devastation,” said Gard, a 64-year-old school psychologist on medical leave from work. “They are killing me through stress and legal fees.”

Numerous hurdles remain before significant construction can begin on the massive project. Trans Mountain Corp. has not signed agreements with 33 per cent of landowners, no part of the detailed route has been approved, about half of the necessary permits are outstanding and it must meet dozens of conditions with the Canada Energy Regulator, formerly the National Energy Board.

Further, it faces resistance in southwest B.C., where landowners are digging in their heels, Indigenous groups are filing legal challenges and protesters are planning to ramp up activity.

The federal Liberal government bought the pipeline for $4.5 billion last year. The parliamentary budget officer has said that if the expansion is not complete by the end of 2021, it would be fair to conclude the government overpaid for the asset.

The government said the expanded pipeline will now be operational by mid-2022.

“If all goes according to the government’s plan and hopes, then that is a realistic timeline,” said David Wright, an assistant law professor with the University of Calgary. “But there’s the significant caveat that not a lot has gone as hoped or planned from the government’s perspective in the last couple years.”

There are more than 2,500 tracts of private, Crown or Indigenous land to which Trans Mountain must gain access to build the expansion. As of July, some 1,730 — or 67 per cent — of owners had signed agreements granting the corporation entry.

Eighty-three per cent of landowners in Alberta and eastern B.C. have signed, but in the B.C. Interior and Fraser Valley, that number drops to 54 per cent. In the Lower Mainland, just 14 per cent of landowners have signed agreements.

The current Trans Mountain pipeline already runs through Gard’s property. Her frustration with the pipeline’s owners began in 2011, when she alleges workers sheared some 232 trees on her land, 80 of which they cut down entirely. The corporation denied any wrongdoing and the debate over the damage has dragged on for eight years, she said.

Gard said the corporation has not offered her fair compensation for the risk that the expansion poses to her property’s delicate ecosystem or has it explained how it will restore vegetation and protect wildlife. The process feels extremely unbalanced, where she’s facing off against the corporation’s trained negotiators and legal team, she added.

Robin Scory, another landowner in the Fraser Valley who has not yet signed an agreement, said that the pipeline’s owners have offered him “lowball” sums that are only a fraction of the property’s value. Streams on his land run directly into the Fraser River and the corporation has not explained how it would mitigate the impacts of a spill, he said.

“It’s a disaster waiting to happen. I’m not against the pipeline and I’m not a ‘pay me millions of dollars’ kind of guy, but it’s just so badly run,” Scory said.

Trans Mountain said its key objective is to treat each landowner along the route fairly and it bases its compensation on a formula related to market value, but the landowner retains ownership. The corporation also strives to be a leader in emergency preparedness and has plans for quick response in the event of any spill, it said.

In cases where Trans Mountain can’t settle with a landowner, the Canadian Energy Regulator provides a process to address differences of opinion, it said, and the regulator may ultimately grant right of entry to allow the corporation to build the pipeline.

Before a court decision last August halted the project, a process was underway to confirm the detailed route of the expansion. After the project was approved a second time in June, the regulator said the corporation must redo that process.

It means none of the detailed route has been approved. Trans Mountain has begun notifying local communities of its proposed route and is waiting for statements of opposition from affected people over 30-day periods. The energy regulator then reviews the statements and decides — segment-by-segment — whether detailed route hearings will be held and when.

The lack of route approval is already having an impact. Trans Mountain noted in an Aug. 19 letter to the regulator that it must begin construction of the Burnaby Mountain tunnel portal immediately and earth works must occur prior to the start of the peak rainy season in November. The regulator responded that it could not start work because the route is not approved.

“It’s hard to see the (detailed route approval) happening before the rainy season that they’ve cited,” said Wright.

The corporation has begun work on its two terminals in Burnaby. But Sarah Buehler, a spokeswoman for protest group Protect the Inlet, said activists aren’t staging demonstrations right now because major construction has not begun.

“At this stage, there is not enough significant construction going on for us to try to stop it. … When the time comes, you’ll probably see something like Burnaby Mountain in 2014,” she said, referring to protests that drew hundreds and led to arrests.

Trans Mountain also isn’t allowed to start work on its Edmonton terminal because a variance is still being processed and some pre-construction conditions haven’t been met. The company said it plans to begin work at the site this month and will soon start construction along the right-of-way between Edmonton and Edson.

— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

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Father’s testimony at murder trial like plot of ‘bad low-budget movie:’ Crown

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VANCOUVER — A father accused of murdering his two daughters has told his trial a “yarn” about the day the girls were killed, a Crown attorney argued Friday.

Patrick Weir alleged in his closing arguments in the B.C. Supreme Court that Andrew Berry is responsible for the deaths of his daughters on Christmas Day in 2017 in Oak Bay, near Victoria.

As Christmas Day loomed, Berry was “so destitute he didn’t even have food for the girls” and he had no one he could turn to for help, Weir told the jury.  

Berry has testified that he owed thousands of dollars to a loan shark named Paul and that he was attacked in his apartment by a “dark haired, dark skinned” man on the day of his daughters’ deaths.

He has pleaded not guilty to two counts of second-degree murder in the stabbing deaths of four-year-old Aubrey Berry and six-year-old Chloe Berry. 

In his testimony, Berry told the jury that two henchmen connected to the loan shark visited his apartment and stored a bag of drugs there in the months before the attack on Christmas Day.

Weir said Berry’s testimony was “like the plot from a bad low-budget movie.”

“Like everything in his life, he wouldn’t accept his responsibility,” he said. “There was no Paul … no dark-skinned child murderer… .”

Weir alleged Berry’s “entire story of Christmas Day is a lie.”

“It’s self-serving, illogical and at some points defies the laws of physics,” he said. “Ladies and gentlemen, this attack simply didn’t happen.”

How is it that Berry could remember a doctor’s exact words when he was in the hospital after he says he was stabbed but cannot provide more than a “generic” description of Paul than “tall, Chinese, and in his 50s,” Weir asked.

“He has no explanation of things that cry out for explanation,” Weir told the jury. “Andrew Berry’s evidence is selective and it’s self-serving.”

Weir said evidence presented during the trial showed the father tried to kill himself after killing his daughters, but “in the end, Mr. Berry was destined to survive this nightmare he created.”

When Weir cross-examined Berry, he suggested the accused had stopped opening mail, paying bills and ignored a Christmas invitation from his sister in 2017 because he had decided to end his life.

Berry denied he was planning to kill himself.

“He cannot be believed, and his evidence cannot raise a reasonable doubt. His story has conflicts at every turn,” Weir said.

It is an “elaborate yarn,” he said.

The only person who knows what happened on that Christmas Day in 2017 is Berry, Weir told the court.

But the only reasonable conclusion is that “Berry took the lives of his girls,” he said.

Weir said the motive for the murders was Berry’s “long-simmering animosity” towards his estranged wife, Sarah Cotton.

Berry believed she wanted to get him out of their daughters’ lives, he said.

Weir said Berry believed he would lose custody of the girls after that Christmas.

“If he couldn’t have them, Sarah couldn’t either,” he told the jury.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2019.

 

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press

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Trudeau was only one in dark makeup at 2001 party but nobody took offence: attendee

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VANCOUVER — A man who attended an “Arabian Nights” gala held by a private school in Vancouver says no one besides Justin Trudeau attended in skin-darkening makeup, but no one else there was dressed as Aladdin.

Wayne Hamill, who is white, says he doesn’t recall anyone expressing any offence over Trudeau’s costume or “brownface” makeup at the time.

Hamill went to the 2001 party because his kids were West Point Grey Academy students and he says the future Liberal leader’s costume was in keeping with the theme and others were dressed as belly dancers or wearing saris or veils.

He says he’s not a Trudeau supporter but he believes the uproar over a photograph showing Trudeau made up in brownface is unfair because it’s applying today’s standards to yesterday’s context.

Trudeau has apologized for the image and others that have emerged of him wearing skin-darkening makeup, saying he had a blind spot because of his privilege and he deeply regrets behaviour he now recognizes as racist.

He says in his 2014 book, “Common Ground,” that teaching at West Point Grey Academy gave him new insights into the “privileged lives” of private-school students that he didn’t glean from his own advantaged upbringing.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2019.

The Canadian Press

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september, 2019

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