Tuesday July 29, 2014





Vote for 2013 Story of the Year

B.C. election; TRU law school; Proposed Ajax mine; Death of Jack Shippobotham; Starving horses seized; Red Lake cold case

Our reporters have chosen six stories they thought were the most compelling of 2013. They've made their pitches, and now it's up to readers to decide which deserves the title of Story of the Year. Vote by taking part in the Question of the Week in the sidebar to the left. Below are the six stories for you to consider:

B.C ELECTION: MIKE YOUDS

I have no doubt that the biggest news story of the year happened on the beach in Kamloops.

Off Schubert Drive, at the point where the North Thompson River meets the South Thompson, Earth Day 2013 arrived bright and beautiful, one of those crisp, blue mornings when the world seems young again.

I parked across the street from the NDP leader's campaign bus — Adrian Dix grinning larger than life on its side — and wondered where the party and its leader could have gone; they weren't on board.

They were down the bank at the river's edge. A semi-circle of local grassroots New Democrats in orange T-shirts were posed behind Dix for a campaign plug, complete with production crew, video cameras, audio and lighting equipment. Local media could only watch passively, waiting for the promotional tape to run.

It was clear that this was no ordinary whistle stop on the campaign trail, but a carefully choreographed setting for what was to be a policy platform announcement by Dix. It was timed to capitalize on the environmental theme of the day, a theme indisputably important to all and which was once a strong point for the B.C. NDP.

Those days were a distant memory, though. In key coastal ridings, the Green Party had emerged in 2013 to represent a not insignificant challenge as New Democrats groomed themselves for a return to power after more than a decade in opposition.

This threat was no exaggeration. Years before, a local NDP MLA blamed Green vote-splitting for costing him the election. In 2013, for the first time in B.C., the Greens were confident they could win a legislative beachhead. History was on their side, and no wonder.

Yes, Earth Day in Kamloops was illusory. Far from bright and beautiful, the world nowadays teeters on the brink of carbon-induced, runaway climate change, science tells us. Evidently, Dix saw an opportunity to reclaim political turf from the Greens on an environmental issue that had stirred opposition in the Lower Mainland. He seemed to overlook the fact that he was in the Interior, though.

"We are going to, as a party, reject the current approach by the current government," he said, local candidates by his side.

The NDP consistently opposed Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline proposal and would now draw a tentative X through the proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline. The NDP would withdraw from the equivalency agreement with Ottawa — which cancels the need for provincial environmental assessment on energy projects requiring National Energy Board approval — and adopt a new B.C. review process. Dix then questioned the Kinder Morgan plan to accelerate export of oil sands bitumen through Vancouver.

"Of course, we have to wait to see the formal application, but I don't think the port of Vancouver should become a major oil export port."

The Liberals wasted no time in characterizing the surprise announcement as New Democratic flip-flopping, consistent with Liberal criticism that an NDP government would be unwilling to support major economic development projects. In a time of protracted economic uncertainty, they succeeded in planting doubt in the minds of voters. Dix and party went down to ignominious defeat.

A party that had expected to waltz back into power, as most polls suggested, was suddenly flat on its behind, searching for some way to explain a reversal of fortunes. Yet as they danced, the NDP misjudged a critical move, one that may have alienated them from many voters, particularly in the job-hungry Interior.

No one, least of all the Liberals, were going to overlook the misstep. To the contrary, they were going to capitalize on what was instantly branded as Dix's "Kinder surprise."

It would be overstatement to suggest that the Kinder surprise decided the election outcome, but it came at a critical stage in the campaign and the NDP came to see it as one of their blunders.

Tied up in the political destiny of the province for at least the next four years — and the fate of the world indefinitely, some would add — this could only be the biggest story of 2013.

TRU LAW SCHOOL: SYLVIE PAILLARD

It was a coup for Thompson Rivers University when it was announced in the 2009 B.C. throne speech the creation of the first new law school in Canada in 35 years.

TRU's law school would attract bright young minds to Kamloops along with economic benefits and national and international recognition for both the university and the community.

It was off to a strong start after landing Chris Axworthy for the job of founding dean in 2010, opening its doors to 75 students in fall 2011 and successfully raising $10 million for an impressive new building in 2012. Then came 2013.

This past year, the law school went through Axworthy's resignation and a faculty complaint to the B.C. Labour Board. Both were protesting professor salaries, which are lower than the average $100,000 a year at other law schools because TRU compensation follows the same structure as all other academic departments.

This despite promises from top TRU representatives that the funding would be there, according to Axworthy.

"Law schools don't function in the same way as other departments," he said. "We have to relate to the profession. We have obligations toward the profession that other faculties don't have."

On the heels of his resignation in July, the law faculty unsuccessfully complained to the labour board.

It pointed the finger at TRU's faculty union for blocking the TRU administration's intention of paying law professors more.

TRU faculty union president Jason Brown said it was pointing to the wrong culprit.

"It's a problem with the B.C. government not funding us properly," said Brown.

And that's what makes the law school's troubles a top story for 2013 — they reflect the
increasing tensions over funding constraints at post-secondary institutions in B.C., which only promise to get worse.

In May 2012, B.C.'s then Finance Minister Kevin Falcon announced $70 million in funding cuts to post-secondary institutions over the next three years.

This was merely year one. Is the strain at TRU's law school a harbinger of things to come?

PROPOSED AJAX MINE: CATHERINE LITT

The New Year's Eve clock had barely ticked over to 2013 when the name Ajax was in the headlines again — foreshadowing, perhaps, a year that would be dominated by debate over the proposed copper and gold mine.

And what a year it would be.

Like a blast of explosives to a deep bed of ore, the proposed mine's new owner KGHM International entered 2013 with a bang: securing employment of the city's top cop, Yves Lacasse, as its manager of external affairs.

It was an unlikely pairing — an RCMP superintendent trades his red serge for a corporate suit and the unenviable task of winning public opinion on the most contentious project in the city's history — yet Lacasse was up to the challenge.

"I am the right person to bring clarity to the issues that people have on their minds," he said.

Depending on which side of the mine debate you stood, the hiring of a well-respected RCMP veteran was either a sign of KGHM's strong moral compass or a sign the company was simply out to win votes by attaching a trustworthy, familiar face to its corporate logo. (Hey, if we couldn't trust the Polish-based KGHM International, we sure as heck could trust our former top police officer, right?)

One thing was clear: Lacasse wouldn't have an easy ride.

By springtime, mistrust and fear over the proposed mine was spreading faster than the fuse in a detonation cord.

Opponents continued to question everything — from the possible effects of rock blasting to a potential drop in air quality.

And they generated support from distant places, too. City council received a visit from a Utah mother — Cherise Udell — who suggested there were parallels to be found between the Rio Tinto mine in her community and the proposed Ajax mine.

Then, a Utah doctor and former Harvard medical school professor told 300 people at Interior Savings Centre about the destructive effects of air pollution caused by mines. Dr. Brian Moench pointed at the Rio Tinto copper mine as the source of his two battles with cancer.

And then there were the polls, surveys and petitions. Supporters and opponents both launched Change.org surveys, gathering votes for their sides of the debate.

There was also a Survey Monkey poll in March in which three out of four respondents indicated they would oppose the mine if a referendum were held. A TRU instructor challenged the results of that poll, saying it wasn't a valid sampling of the community.

An Oraclepoll Research survey commissioned by The Daily News discovered that more people were in favour of the proposed mine, although support was not overwhelming.

Wherever you turned, the conversation was about Ajax. People talked about it at the barbershop, in the grocery store lineup, at the bus stop, everywhere.

During provincial election campaigning in the spring, NDP candidate Tom Friedman pledged he would take a petition on the mine proposal to the floor of the legislature if elected. Liberal challenger Todd Stone called it political pandering.

All the while, the public continued its demand for more answers and more clarity from KGHM. Among the loudest voices: a group calling itself Kamloops Physicians for a Healthy Environment, which grew out of the visit from Dr. Moench.

Some answers arrived in May in KGHM International's 18-page package to City council.

Then, just when we thought the debate couldn't get any more controversial, KGHM announced its newest hire: Daily News editor Robert Koopmans, a move that surprised both the community and newspaper staff.

Summertime offered little reprieve, with the news in early August that a newly discovered ore body could change the scope of the project, shifting parts of it away from its closest residential neighbours, while also enlarging the pit and extending the life of the mine.

That meant the company's long anticipated environmental assessment report, which was expected in September, wouldn't be submitted until at least 2014.

And there was more to come.

In September, the leader of one of B.C.'s largest mining unions reversed his stance on Ajax, saying damage from the proposed mine would last "forever" while economic benefits would be temporary.

Richard Boyce, president of Steelworkers Local 7619, dropped the bombshell at a Kamloops Rotary meeting. The union later distanced itself from Boyce's opinion.

Not long after, Kamloops businessman and international mining equipment supplier Ed Collett said he agreed with Boyce that the proposed mine was too close to town.

Also in October, Kamloops Physicians for a Healthy Environment released an email, written in the summer by Dr. Peter Barss, a former medical health officer for Interior Health, in which he called the mine "a serious public health hazard" to Kamloops.

Was the anti-Ajax movement gaining strength?

That remained open to debate.

But, one thing was clear as 2013 rolled to a close: Ajax was the most-dominant headline generator of the year.

DEATH OF JACK SHIPPOBOTHAM: MICHELE YOUNG

Most of us will grow old.

Most of us have watched or will watch our parents grow old.

So what happened to Jack Shippobotham, a gentle man with dementia who was beaten after he wandered into another man's room at Overlander Extended Care Hospital, is something that could affect any of us.

Shippobotham was 79 years old and left with a broken nose and shattered hip in the wake of the attack. After he got out of hospital, he was confined to bed rest and returned to the Blueberry unit of Overlander. His attacker was still just two doors down.

His family was petrified about the proximity and went public with what happened. Relatives began hearing from scared, anonymous staff that this wasn't the attacker's first act of aggression.

Shippobotham was moved to another area of Overlander, but that didn't relieve the worry of the family members for others on Blueberry unit where their dad had been.

Three weeks after he was injured, Shippobotham died.

His death has prompted Interior Health officials to take another look at how secure their facilities are and what can be done to ensure staff and residents are safe.

Police became involved, bogging down the public release of information in the case. Then Shippobotham's alleged attacker, who was moved to Hillside Psychiatric Centre, died. The shroud of confidentiality continues around the case, but it's been disclosed that the man was hurt in some kind of accident like a fall.

So then there were two dead men and still no answers about what happened. The waiting continues. The coroner's service has yet to issue a report.

At some point, however, the information will be made public and this story will have a more conclusive ending.

For Shippobotham's family, no answers will bring him back. It at least might get some peace that the factors that led to his death have been changed.

The family presses for information but has received little. It is told changes have been made, but get few specifics. It has had anonymous calls of thanks for making the family's loss public for the greater good, but it still hasn't had a full explanation about everything that happened and everything that is coming out of it.

Right now, all we have is the blind reassurance from Interior Health that changes have been made. With no report forthcoming at this point, there's a need to keep on this story until we get more answers.

For those of us reading about the family and its loss, we can back it by making sure security changes happen so that we don't lose our loved ones in the same way. Or that we don't have to fear if or when the day comes, we ourselves have to go into residential care.

Shippobotham's death should concern us all. Many of us will be in similar circumstances some day. His family needs answers, the community needs answers and until that is all out in the open, this story is still ongoing.

But for opening our eyes to a huge gap in the safety of our seniors in care, Shippobotham's story should be story of the year.

STARVING HORSES SEIZED: JASON HEWLETT

The image of an emaciated horse named Lisa, so weak from starvation that veterinarians had to rig a hoist to lift her, speaks volumes.

The powerful photograph, and the story of 15 starved horses that accompany it, makes very clear the degree of suffering an animal can face at the hands of a human being.

Take into consideration several of the animals left in the care of Kamloops Large Animal Clinic were so ill they had to be euthanized, and an already sad story became a tragedy.

The SPCA seized the horses from four properties or owners in November. Three were euthanized early on to relieve their suffering. Three others were later put down.

Two of the starved horses were treated at the clinic and are now recovering in foster care. A horse on the brink of being starved to death can take several months to fully recuperate.

Some people might scoff at the suggestion that a tale of starving horses should be considered the story of the year, but animal cruelty is as pervasive a problem as spousal and child abuse.

Arguing against it because the victims are beasts of burden and pets — a lower form of life, some would way — doesn't wash.

Yes, our species uses animals for food and to perform hard, manual labour. They plough the earth, haul bricks and transport riders across difficult terrain.

We even turn to them for entertainment, watching a horse race around a dirt track or a dog perform amusing tricks.

But animals used for work are often loved as an extended member of the family. And there are many who consider their dog, cat and, yes, horse, like their own children.

At a time of year when human compassion is supposed to be at its peak, surely there isn't anyone who could argue a living thing deserves to be beaten so it can't walk, neglected to the point of contracting disease or starved into death.

Those who would are the reason stories like this are so important.

The treatment of these horses — and the inadequate care many animals find themselves in — is a story that should concern everyone. For if we can't treat the creatures left in our charge, which are devoted to and work for us, with decency, then how can we care for each other?

RED LAKE COLD CASE: CAM FORTEMS

When a Kamloops rural Mountie dug up a cold case on a missing child from 1960, The Daily News published a feature story on Bette-Jean Masters.

Media outlets across the country picked up on the story of the missing 21-month-old girl from the rural area of Red Lake.

Bette-Jean was playing with family and friends on July 3, 1960, at the house of a neighbour in the remote area north of Kamloops Lake. When the children came in early that evening, the little girl was not with her siblings and family friends. Family searched for hours for the toddler in sandals.

The next morning, local mills shut so workers, friends and family could look for Bette-Jean. One day later, experienced searchers from Kamloops were dispatched.

Authorities used a police dog and even a hunting guide who tracked bears and cougars, studying scat.

They found not a trace.

There was a report at the time of a 1959 Chevy that cruised the remote area, a car not seen before or after.

It seems inconceivable today, but RCMP quit searching after a week. The file was closed two years later. Family never heard again from RCMP — until this June.

That's when Cpl. Mike Mucha began digging into details of the case and meeting with the family, along with an RCMP missing persons investigator. The Daily News met with the investigator, surviving family and toured the historic area.

The subsequent publicity perked interest around the country. This fall, before snow set in, volunteers with Kamloops Search and Rescue scheduled a search of the area after Mucha found precise locations using GPS technology. When poor weather set in, the search was called off.

But police continued to field tips and the case remains active.

The story of Bette-Jean's disappearance 53 years ago remind us that children also went missing before the current era of helicopter parents, technology and suburban alienation.





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