At the Montreal International Auto Show, it’s estimated two-thirds of the 200,000 visitors are “habitués” — aficionados who come out of a love for cars, but aren’t looking to buy. At Toronto’s car show, by contrast, two-thirds are there because they’re in the market.
Montreal’s show, featuring more than 500 cars from 38 carmakers and now in its 77th year, is in some ways geared more toward dreams than practicality, which is perhaps an apt way to describe the difference between the two cities.
Herewith, some of the multi-hued dreams on display.
Attendees were lined up to get in Saturday morning, and most rushed to the seventh floor to see the electric cars. One took out folded pieces of cardboard, assembled them, and placed them in the trunks.
“He has kids,” spokesperson Denis Talbot explained. “He wanted to see if their hockey bags would fit in the car.”
Four years ago, there were only about five electric models on display. This year, there were more than 20.
Maxime Gauthier eyed the Toyota Prius Prime, a plug-in hybrid going for $35,000, less several thousand dollars in government rebates, while his one-year-old sat in the driver’s seat. It might be his next car.
“With the cost of gas, and the environment, it’s starting to make sense,” he said. One booth featured electric bicycles, another growing trend.
Two dozen protesters from Extinction Rebellion gathered outside the show, chanting “they stink, they pollute, they kill.”
A study released this week by HEC Montréal on the state of energy usage found Quebecers bought a record-breaking number of light trucks and SUVs and are using more gas than ever before. Electric cars represented three per cent of new car sales in 2018. Light trucks and SUVs made up 64 per cent. “It’s time for car culture to come to an end,” protesters said.
The mighty Model T
Guy Dufresne’s car is 108 years old. Last year, he drove his 1912 Ford Model T, with its original engine, more than 1,000 kilometres on Quebec roads, at a top speed of 80 kilometres per hour. He found it in Pennsylvania, bought it for $4,000, and spent 10 years rebuilding it, restoring its brass kerosene lamps and doors made of oak. It sold originally for $690 — today, it’s worth about $50,000, but it’s not for sale. Dufresne’s father was an auto mechanic, and Dufresne was a machinist technician. Now he rides with the Model T club of Quebec. The only changes needed to make it roadworthy were to install disc brakes and turn signals.
Next car over, in the Classics section, Daniel Jean’s 1929 Ford Model A, built in Ontario and assembled in Montreal, sold for $495 in its day, cheaper than the 1912 Model T. During the Depression, Henry Ford dropped the price of his cars and increased salaries of his workers so they could buy them. Unlike many car makers of the time, Ford didn’t go bankrupt.
After a search of many years, Jean found the car, sitting in a barn for decades in St-Paul-de-Joliette. He paid $4,000, and spent close to $50,000, and 3,000 hours restoring it. In its earlier life, it logged 55,000 kilometres in Sherbrooke.
Is it for sale? “Never,” said Jean, showing pictures of his grandmother sitting on a Model T back in the 1940s “I restored this with my son, my daughter. They drive it. This was a work of love.”
Prancing horses in the field of dreams
Over at the Ferrari corral, the 488 Pista, hot red and 720 horses, retails for $458,000. The 812 Superfast, top speed of 340 km/h, is cheaper at $422,000, but its gas mileage is not as good. The price tags elicit sarcastic comments of “That’s in the budget,” and “Oh, not too bad.” Ferrari rep Roberto Soccio notes those are base prices, however, and extras will bring up the price.
“You don’t need a Ferrari,” he said. “You want one.” There’s a one to two year waiting list for the Portofino Ferrari at his Jean-Talon dealership, a relative steal at $246,000 — without the extras.
Car as self
Jose Mendes estimates he’s spent $50,000 upgrading his tricked up 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart on display at the “My Car” section of the show. The passion for cars was passed on by his father. He races it against other car nuts, who express themselves through their cars, he said. What does his say about him?
“It’s loud,” Gomes said. “But it’s also charming.”
Over at the Porsche section, the tagline for the 718 Porsche Spyder two-seater convertible, $110,000 and 414 horsepower, is: “Perfectly irrational.”
Which sums things up nicely.
The Montreal International Auto Show runs until Jan. 26 at the Palais des congress. General admission tickets are $17 for adults.
Thousands of B.C. Hydro customers remained without power Thursday after a winter storm whipped across the South Coast Wednesday, causing road and school closures, travel alerts, and ferry cancellations.
By 9:30 a.m., B.C. Hydro said crews were making good progress, with just over 6,000 customers without power in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island. Earlier in the morning, more than 15,000 customers were without power.
At the height of the storm Wednesday, hurricane force winds of up to 150 km/h blew across Howe Sound, knocking down trees and power lines, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada.
“Crews made good progress overnight restoring power to most customers affected from yesterday’s heavy snow and winds. Crews will continue to work to restore remaining customers throughout the morning and the rest of the day,” B.C. Hydro said, in a statement Thursday.
B.C. Ferries has resumed sailings between Horseshoe Bay and Nanaimo after some were cancelled earlier Thursday because of the wind.
Most public schools, universities, and colleges in the region were open again Thursday after a rare snow day Wednesday, with some districts reminding parents that if they felt it was not safe to drive then to keep their kids home. Some remained closed, however, including all public schools in Chilliwack and Mission. Many private schools also remained closed.
TransLink said early Thursday that conditions have improved and crews worked overnight to fix some of the problems that occurred Wednesday.
TransLink spokesperson Ben Murphy said transit users should expect service to be slower than normal, and budget extra travelling time.
He also said that because the streets remain icy, HandyDART will remain at essential service levels only.
As of 2:15 p.m., a snowfall warning was still in effect for parts of the Fraser Valley, including Abbotsford. Environment and Climate Change Canada said bands of heavy snow could bring up to 10 centimetres of snow. Once the bands move through, a chance of flurries continues in the afternoon.
A snowfall warning has ended for the rest of Metro Vancouver.
A blizzard warning for the Sea to Sky Highway also remained in effect Thursday, with authorities warning drivers to avoid the highway unless necessary.
As temperatures are expected to warm up this weekend, with rain in the forecast, and highs of around 6 C or 7 C on Saturday and Sunday, there are concerns about flooding.
David Campbell, head of B.C.’s River Forecast Centre, which issues flood advisories, said they are monitoring the situation closely but don’t anticipate any serious flooding in the Lower Mainland.
There will likely be issues with street drainage, water pooling on roads, and maybe some minor flooding of basements, he said.
Campbell said there are more concerns, however, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, where significant rainfall is in the forecast.
B.C.’s Ministry of Transport late Wednesday warned that conditions may lead to bridge closures given the weather conditions on the Port Mann and Alex Fraser bridges.
Transit users are asked to go to alerts.translink.ca to check which routes are closed or delayed.
Wednesday’s wild weather led to several major routes being closed as travellers faced dangerous driving conditions, delays and heavy crowding on SkyTrain. Buses jack-knifed, snarling traffic, and B.C. Ferries cancelled afternoon sailings because of anticipated high winds.
It was a busy day for ICBC, with 1,882 dial-a-claim calls in Metro Vancouver on Wednesday, though that number was significantly down from the day before, when 2,773 people placed calls. The highest number of calls over the last week was on Friday, when 5,075 customers called in a claim. ICBC notes that not every call represents a claim.
Emergency crews were also stretched over the last few days. Though Emergency Health Services said it responded to a higher number of motor vehicle accidents in Metro Vancouver on Monday (77 incidents) and Tuesday (43 incidents) than during the big snow storm on Wednesday, when it responded to 34 car accidents in the region.
There was an uptick, however, in the number of cold exposure calls. BC EHS said they responded to 11 such incidents on Wednesday, compared with six on Tuesday and five on Monday.
Many commuters waited for buses that did not show up in freezing weather, with wind chill factors forecast at – 11 C, while others swapped their bikes for a pair of skis to get to work.
The conditions prompted TransLink and the B.C. government to issue rare statements early Wednesday asking people not to travel unless necessary.
On Thursday, however, the message was downgraded, with a statement asking motorists in Metro Vancouver to exercise caution on the roads and to be prepared for winter driving conditions.
Icy sidewalks, curb ramps, and bus stops were being cleared of ice and snow Thursday by Vancouver city crews. The city said it feared the roads would become icy once the snow turned to rain. Staff were also busy clearing catch basins in anticipation of possible flooding on the weekend.
Vancouver has spent approximately $1.5 million on snow response, with approximately $500,000 spent on salt, according to a statement from the city Thursday.
The next snowfall is expected Friday evening through Saturday morning, but accumulation is expected to be washed away with rain by the end of the weekend.
Last night’s system brought some very strong winds to the South Coast – up to 150 km/h through Howe Sound! Lots of power outages & trees down. Winds are gradually easing this morning.#BCStormpic.twitter.com/Z2ASBrdgIh
Here’s a rundown of what happened across the region on Wednesday, Jan. 15.
Environment Canada re-issues snowfall warning, then issues wind warning
After cancelling an earlier snowfall warning around 9 a.m., Environment and Climate Change Canada issued another warning around noon. The latest warning forecasts up to 10 centimetres over higher elevations of the region late in the afternoon – just in time for the evening commute.
At 1 p.m., Environment Canada issued a wind warning, stating a deep low pressure system crossing Vancouver Island on Wednesday night would bring up to 90 km/h winds to Metro Vancouver. The winds are expected to ease by Thursday morning, however, damage to roofs is expected.
Overnight, there will be a slow transition to rain in areas closer to the water, however the cold air will remain in place over the North Shore, Coquitlam, Port Moody, Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge, as well as northern sections of Langley and Surrey.
The snow is expected to ease to scattered showers or snow flurries Thursday.
Meanwhile, a snow warning for the Fraser Valley was changed Wednesday afternoon to a winter storm warning as a combination of wind chill values, blowing snow, and the potential for freezing rain were expected to cause hazardous conditions. Environment Canada said the wind chill was expected to be around – 20 C in the region and that driving visibility could near zero with the blowing snow.
A wind warning remained in effect for Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island, with gusts of up to 90 km/h anticipated in some areas Wednesday evening.
The city of Vancouver reminded homeless people that warming centres would be open through the night, and that all pets and carts were welcome.
Meantime, much of the province was under a winter storm or extreme cold warning on Wednesday.
Wind, snowfall, and winter storm warnings were in effect for much of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, while some parts of the Interior and northern regions of B.C. were under extreme cold warnings.
Bitter Arctic winds in Dease Lake, for example, were expected to create a wind chill factor of – 50 C or – 40 C in other areas such as B.C.’s Peace Region.
B.C.’s Central Coast and Inland regions are under an Arctic outflow alert, with “severely” cold wind chill factors of – 20 C.
Buses delayed and SkyTrain stations closed due to track issues, crowds
Due to the heavy snowfall, TransLink warned of “significantly slower service” on the transit system Wednesday.
As of 7 a.m., there were nearly 200 transit alerts for buses, and an alert saying SkyTrain is significantly impacted because of the weather.
Commuters were told to expect crowding on trains and at SkyTrain stations. TransLink spokesperson Ben Murphy says station attendants will be on board trains to monitor guideways and limit emergency braking on the system, which can be caused by heavy snowfall or ice build up.
Several SkyTrain stations – including King George, Sapperton, Braid, and Bridgeport – were closed Wednesday morning for a brief time due to switch or track issues. Those stations were re-opened shortly after noon.
The Canada Line was also placed on hold for some time but was up and running again later in the day though at reduced frequencies, according to TransLink.
Transit users were told to expect lengthy delays because of switch and door issues caused by freezing temperatures. Trains were also moving at a slower speed.
TransLink said their 60-foot articulated buses have more trouble operating in the snow than the 40-foot buses. This is because articulated joints can cause jack-knifing in winter conditions, with the back end of the bus being more likely to get stuck while turning.
Photos on social media showed a group of people pushing an articulated bus that had jack-knifed at Hastings Street and Boundary.
Dan Mountain, a spokesperson for TransLink, said it was one of several buses that had trouble Wednesday.
“Road conditions are causing some buses to get stuck. It was a large snow event and we thank municipal crews for working hard to improve conditions,” he said, in an email.
Mountain said during extreme weather, TransLink implements a snow desk which liaises with municipal partners to recommend which roads most need snow removal and clearing.
The snow desk employees collect information from transit supervisors, support workers, and bus operators before sending that information to municipal partners as a recommendation, he added.
HandyDART is operating at essential service levels, meaning all trips other than those deemed essential will be rescheduled.
Murphy says customers are asked to consider whether they need to travel today, and if there is a need, whether they could consider travelling outside of rush hours, as commutes will take significantly longer than usual.
Snow snarls highway driving, Highway 1 closed
Severe whiteout conditions on Highway 1 forced authorities to close a section of Highway 1 from Lickman Road to Sumas in the Fraser Valley early Wednesday. Drive BC says Highway 7 can be used as an alternate route, but conditions are still extreme.
Also, some counterflow lanes were shut down early Wednesday at the Alex Fraser Bridge and Massey Tunnel, as was the Barnston Island Ferry.
The B.C. Ministry of Transportation warned drivers not to travel in Metro Vancouver and in the Fraser Valley Wednesday if possible. A travel advisory also applied to Vancouver Island on Highway 1 from Nanaimo south to Victoria, as well as Highways 14, 17 and 18.
“Those who must travel are asked to use extreme caution and drive to the conditions. The ministry advises travellers to expect winter conditions for the rest of the week,” a travel advisory stated.
Several other highway alerts are in effect, including a blizzard warning for the Sea to Sky Highway.
“Blizzard conditions with gusty winds and visibility frequently near zero in snow and blowing snow are expected or occurring, warned Environment and Climate Change Canada on Wednesday.
Cold Arctic air will continue to funnel through Howe Sound producing strong northerly winds of 90 to 110 km/h near Bowen Island into the evening, the agency said.
The agency says drivers should postpone non-essential travel until conditions improve.
“If you become stranded in a vehicle do not leave. The vehicle offers a form of protection from the cold. A single person walking through the snow is harder to find than a stranded car or truck. Protect yourself from wind, cold and disorientation by staying sheltered, indoors or with your vehicle,” the warning stated.
BC Ferries cancels sailings
BC Ferries cancelled many of its Wednesday afternoon sailings, including routes between Vancouver and Victoria and West Vancouver and Nanaimo, because of heavy snow and high winds in the forecast.
Southeast winds of 70 to 90 km/h will develop in Greater Victoria early in the evening and spread to the Southern Gulf Islands, East Vancouver Island – Duncan to Nanaimo, southern and western sections of Metro Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast later in the evening, BC Ferries said, in a travel alert.
While BC Ferries cited “hurricane force winds” as the reason for cancelling its sailings, winds must be sustained for one minute at 119 km/h to be classified as a hurricane.
The company asked customers to avoid travel is possible, and to check the website for travel advisories.
Horgan picks snow blower over wood chipper
On a lighter note, B.C. Premier John Horgan tweeted out a photo showing the fountain frozen at the B.C. Legislature, saying that he hoped everyone was taking extra time with their travel and joking that the Legislature should have “got a snow blower instead of a wood chipper.”
With more snow on the way for much of BC, I hope everyone is taking extra time when they head out.
At the Vancouver International Airport, crews worked to clear and maintain runways, taxiways and aprons to ensure planes could take off safely.
Passengers were advised to check their flight status before attempting to make their way to the airport in case of delays and cancellations, and to allow extra time when making the journey.
Don Ehrenholz, vice president of engineering at YVR, said there were about 30 to 35 flight cancellations on Wednesday, but mainly regional airlines flying to Victoria or Seattle, where there was also heavy snow. International flights were unaffected by the snow storm.
He said they have crews working 24/7 to keep the runways clear, and they are ploughing and de-icing every hour.
Airline passengers were advised of delays because all planes had to be de-iced before takeoff, and Ehrenholz said anyone travelling through the airport should check their flight schedule and budget extra time.
Metro Vancouver school districts closed for the day
All schools in the region were closed Wednesday because of extreme weather, including all universities and colleges. Many daycares shut their doors as well.
ICBC provides tips for drivers
While authorities were asking people not to drive Wednesday, ICBC said those who do need to drive should follow these tips:
1. Slow down. Posted speed limits are for ideal conditions only. Adjust your driving in winter conditions. Allow yourself at least twice the normal braking distance on snow-covered or slushy roads.
2. Headlights on. Use your headlights in poor weather and reduced visibility – not only at night – to help you see ahead and be seen by other drivers.
3. Watch for other road users. Look twice for pedestrians crossing the road particularly when visibility is poor.
4. Prevent a skid. Black ice is commonly found on roads with shaded areas, bridges, overpasses and intersections where car exhaust and packed snow freeze quickly. If you drive over black ice and start to skid, ease off the accelerator, and look and steer smoothly in the direction you want to go. Don’t brake—this will make the situation worse. You may need to repeat this manoeuvre several times until you regain control.
5. Check your vehicle. Prepare your vehicle for winter driving. Make sure your tires are properly inflated. Check the condition of your windshield wiper blades and replace them if they’re worn out. Top up wiper fluid for clearer visibility and carry extra washer fluid in your vehicle. Fill up your gas tank. Pack an emergency kit and make sure it includes a flashlight and extra batteries.
6. Plan ahead. Check road and weather conditions on drivebc.ca before heading out.
BC Hydro prepares for possible storm events
While power outages in the Metro Vancouver area were at a minimum on Wednesday, BC Hydro is preparing for possible storm events heading into the remainder of the week.
“While we prepare for storm season year-round, we’ve taken extra measures ahead of this particular storm, and crews are on standby to restore power should the lights go out,” the company said in a statement.
“Because it is difficult to predict how much damage a storm may cause to the system and how long a power outage will last, it is important for customers to be prepared for an outage.”
Residents were reminded to check their emergency kits and ensure they are stocked with a flashlight, extra batteries, first-aid kit, three days’ worth of ready to eat non-perishable foods and bottled water.
Anyone who sees a downed power line is reminded to stay back and report it to 911.
However, only eight per cent of first-time-buyer clients got more than half of their down payments from parents, compared with 19 per cent in 2015.
“While more first-time buyers are getting financial help, they appear to be getting a lower proportion of their down payment over the last four years,” the report states.
Fifty-nine per cent of notaries said their clients typically get less than 25 per cent of the down payment, while a third said their clients typically got between 25-50 per cent of their down payment.
The survey, released Monday, found 74 per cent of notaries thought house prices were an issue in their communities. Only notaries in northern B.C. and the Okanagan indicated “house prices were not an issue in their community.”
Notaries also reported increased mortgage restrictions and lack of supply were making it harder for first-time buyers than in previous years.
In the Fraser Valley, notaries reported more first-timers were buying strata units compared with other years.
Northern B.C. was the standout in the report, with 40 per cent of notaries saying there had been an increase in first-time-owner activity — provincially it was reported to be flat. This was attributed to resource sector growth. The multibillion-dollar Site C dam and LNG Canada projects are underway in northern B.C.
Northern B.C. is also expected to be one of the few areas in the province that will see climbs in assessed values when the 2020 assessment roll is released Jan. 1, 2020.
You know your day can only get better when you start off by getting run over by an Uber Eats bicycle.
Montrealer Theodore Ushev was out for his morning jog Monday in Paris when the incident occurred. He emerged relatively unscathed, and by evening his NFB-produced film The Physics of Sorrow had been shortlisted in the Oscar category of best animated short.
“I still cannot realize if it’s real or not,” he said, reached on his cellphone shortly after the news broke. It was past midnight for Ushev, but he had already written off sleeping.
Fellow Montrealer Meryam Joobeur was in her family’s hometown, Seyada, Tunisia, when she learned her film Brotherhood had made the shortlist for best live action short. She, too, was having trouble processing her good fortune.
“It’s really surreal,” Joobeur said. “I feel like the whole journey of this film is very surreal. When I was making the film, my only intention was to be able to show it to the community who helped make it. I didn’t think about how it would impact others. The fact that it has gone this far is pretty crazy, to tell you the truth.”
Ushev and Joobeur are now halfway to the Oscars. The Physics of Sorrow and Brotherhood were culled from pools of 92 films and 191 films, respectively, to reach their respective 10-title shortlists. Each now has a 50-50 chance of ending up in the group of five nominees in their respective categories.
Ushev has been here before. His eight-minute film Blind Vaysha was nominated for an Oscar in 2016.
“That year, we lost to Pixar,” he said. “Luckily this year Pixar didn’t make it, so we are going to lose to someone else.”
Jokes aside, his previous Oscar experience didn’t make the wait any easier.
“This year, I felt like it was much more difficult, because this film is much more personal,” Ushev said.
A brooding exploration of love, loss and the meaning of home, The Physics of Sorrow is the first animated film made using the encaustic painting technique. Ushev, a Bulgarian immigrant who came to Quebec in 1999, says it’s dedicated to his father, who died in December 2018.
Fittingly, he recruited another father-son team for the project. The filmmaker convinced Rossif Sutherland to lend his striking baritone to the film, and Sutherland in turn convinced his father, Donald, to contribute a secondary voice-over.
Launched at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, The Physics of Sorrow has been racking up the accolades since.
“Up to now, it has won 16 (festival) prizes in only three months,” Ushev said. “It’s going extremely well.”
There’s still a way to go before the Oscar nominations are announced Jan. 13, and Ushev isn’t getting ahead of himself.
“No one knows what’s going to happen,” he said, “but I’ll be very happy if we end up speaking again in a month.”
Monday was a doubly good day for Joobeur. Just a few hours before the Oscar shortlist announcements, Quebec funding agency SODEC announced that her feature film Motherhood was among the new projects it had chosen to support.
Joobeur was in Tunisia doing research for the Motherhood, which is based on Brotherhood’s dramatic tale of a Muslim couple in the Tunisian countryside who must adapt to the return of one of their sons from fighting in Syria.
The film has screened at 150 festivals in 48 countries, winning 63 prizes since its premiere at TIFF in September, 2018, where it was named best Canadian short.
For Joobeur, all the accolades are confirmation that she’s on the right path.
“Going into Brotherhood, I decided to change my way of approaching filmmaking,” she said. “I decided to listen to my instincts, to let go of any pressures I had regarding success or festival acceptance, and just enjoy the process.”
It’s potentially the second straight Oscar nomination for Brotherhood co-producer Maria Gracia Turgeon, who also produced Jeremy Comte’s Fauve, one of two Quebec films nominated for best live action short at the 2019 Academy Awards.
“Firstly, it’s due to the fact that both Fauve and Brotherhood are wonderful films,” said Turgeon, who is also working with Joobeur on Motherhood.
The two spoke Monday night.
“It’s a lot of excitement,” Turgeon said. “We were trying not to think about it, and to say it probably won’t happen so we didn’t have expectations. But when the news finally comes, it’s hard not to be excited.”
There is one other NFB co-produced film in the animated short category: Portuguese filmmaker Regina Pessoa’s Uncle Thomas: Accounting for the Days.
Montrealer Paul Cadieux, of Filmoption International, also had cause to celebrate, as Rachel Leah Jones and Philippe Bellaiche’s film Advocate, a film he co-produced about Israeli human rights lawyer Lea Tsemel, was shortlisted for best documentary feature.
The Vancouver School Board will revisit an anti-racism motion at Monday’s meeting before heading to a vote.
The motion, put forward by Trustee Jennifer Reddy and developed in consultation with parents and community groups, seeks to create a strategic plan for both the short, medium and long term on how the district should handle and prevent racism and discrimination in Vancouver schools.
An interim report on the progress of the plan is expected in June 2020.
The motion comes after multiple incidents in the previous school year, including one that involved a racist video that prompted a Black student to transfer out of Lord Byng Secondary.
Another aspect of the motion to be discussed Monday looks at hiring an expert to advise the school board on how best to handle such incidents in the immediate aftermath of hate-motivated acts.
The B.C. Community Alliance is among those in support of the motion and will be in attendance at Monday’s meeting, alongside members of the Byng community.
“As we have recently seen several racist incidents at Vancouver schools and the way these incidents are currently being handled, it is urgent that it passes now. If it doesn’t pass, racialized Vancouver students will not see any significant change in the 20/21 school year, as it will not make it into the budget,” read a statement shared by Marie Tate of the BCCA.
“These motions also benefit the broader spectrum of students who need support when incidents of hate arise, such as homophobia, anti-Semitism, gender violence and more.”
The meeting takes place Monday at 7 p.m. at the Vancouver Board of Education office’s boardroom.
MERRITT — When most Canadians come across “No Trespassing” signs, they stop in their tracks and turn around, often in disappointment.
But not everyone gives up.
A few enter into decades-long battles, like the one against B.C.’s giant Douglas Lake Cattle Company, owned by one of America’s richest people, Stan Kroenke. And the lesson these diehards have been able to pass on is that “No Trespassing” and “Private Property” signs in Canada, despite being posted almost everywhere, are often not worth the plastic, wood or metal they’re printed on.
“Most of the no-trespassing signs you see in B.C. are illegal,” says Rick McGowan, as we travel over a gnarled, grassy track on the magnificent Douglas Lake ranch. This is not just any path, however. McGowan and his allies in the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club have shown in court it is a public right-of-way, even though it crosses the billionaire’s property.
The track leads to peaceful Stoney Lake, one of dozens of public bodies of water in the Cariboo-Chilcotin that locals, including Indigenous people, were able to fish on not long ago, but which have since been blockaded off by landowners.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Joel Groves has ruled, however, that the American billionaire and his hired hands can no longer keep Stoney or nearby Minnie Lake, which are Crown property, behind locks, gates and no-trespassing signs.
The Nicola Valley club’s case against the Douglas Lake Cattle Company is a boon to Canadians who love the outdoors and seek rightful access to wild places.
McGowan, an easygoing but tough-talking man, is making a point of taking me over some of the long-obstructed public rights of way that lead to Stoney Lake on Kroenke’s ranch. The property is bigger than Metro Vancouver. It’s not only Canada’s largest ranch, it’s the biggest privately owned chunk of property anywhere in B.C.
“Pretty well all the no-trespassing signs around here are shot to s — t,” says McGowan, 67, who spent much of his career with the B.C. Highways Ministry mapping every metre of every road and right-of-way running through the stunning rolling hills southeast of Merritt.
“I’ve surveyed every road in the district. And I knew they were being locked illegally,” says McGowan, whose unique expertise is part of the reason Justice Grove called him an “impressive witness” and took him so seriously as an impartial “public-interest” litigant.
To put it another way, McGowan and his comrades are not in this for the money. Yet McGowan has been arrested three times by the local RCMP though never convicted. The judge criticized the police for their insidious collaboration with Kroenke’s ranch staff. B.C. government bureaucrats and politicians were also bitten by the judge’s rebukes.
Even though the Douglas Lake ranch conflict has huge implications in its own right for access to wilderness, the Nicola Valley club’s concerted response to the reclusive billionaire’s efforts to lock out the people of B.C. is part of a much bigger movement.
That movement has been called “the freedom to roam” or “the right of public access to the wilderness.” It’s a centuries-old campaign by walkers, fishers, recreational users and other ordinary people to gain justified access to lakes, streams, mountains and wilderness, while showing respect for private property.
Sometimes campaigners try to gain access to government-owned lakes and rivers that end up surrounded by private land, which is the situation in the Nicola Valley case. Other times they battle to forge designated trails through “uncultivated” private property itself.
The freedom to roam is well advanced in Scotland, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Austria, Switzerland and other nations, where it’s possible to walk pastoral routes that wend their way through a blend of public and private land for hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometres.
Will Canadians follow the European path?
‘Everything you can see … is owned by Stan Kroenke’
“Everything you can see for 30 miles is owned by Stan Kroenke,” McGowan says, standing at the top of a hill that surveys vast grasslands dotted with horses, cattle, rocks, birds and lakes.
The Douglas Lake Cattle Company is one of many B.C. ranches bought since 2003 by Kroenke, a Colorado-based real-estate baron who owns the Los Angeles Rams, the Denver Nuggets basketball team, the Colorado Avalanche hockey team, London’s Arsenal soccer club and other major-league sports franchises. He is married to Ann Walton, a scion of the family that owns Walmart, the world’s largest company by revenue.
The Douglas Lake ranch — together with Kroenke’s recent acquisitions of nearby Alkali Lake, Riske Creek, Dog Creek and Quilchena ranches — encompasses roughly 5,000 square kilometres of deeded and Crown grazing land. Metro Vancouver, by comparison, covers 2,700 square kilometres.
The Douglas ranch has its own airstrip and fishing lodges. It also surrounds Stoney Lake and Minnie Lake, which McGowan and friends used to fish in before they were blocked by Kroenke, the man often known as “Silent Sam” since he never talks to the media. Forbes Magazine estimates Kroenke is worth $8.5 billion.
Since he owns more gigantic ranches in the U.S., Kroenke put a Canadian, Joe Gardner, in charge of the Douglas ranch and the extremely costly court case against the Nicola Valley club, which has had to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight the non-resident magnate.
But Gardner, after 40 years at the ranch, stepped down as general manager in July, just six months after Justice Groves decided against the Douglas Lake Cattle Company, saying two of the Crown-owned lakes on the ranch must be reopened for catch-and-release fishing to the public, even if the lakes are stocked by the ranch. Gardner, who still works for Kroenke, was not available for comment.
The judge’s hard-hitting decision — which criticized Gardner for acting above the law and RCMP members for colluding with him — is a huge affirmation that the Canadian public has a right to cherished water bodies, at a time when many believe governments are failing to stand up to private interests.
Groves accused the B.C. government of failing to respond to Douglas Lake ranch’s unlawfulness. “Over 20 years, a privately held corporation, owning a large swath of land, prohibited the public from driving on the public road, and the province did nothing,” he said.
The judge also rebuked Victoria in a scorching epilogue: “It makes no sense to me that the Crown would retain ownership of the lakes, only for there to be no access.” He urged B.C. politicians to re-examine trespassing laws and “guarantee access to this precious public resource.”
The Douglas Lake ranch is appealing the judge’s decision.
McGowan, who acknowledges he’s “a bit of a pot stirrer,” has long found it both provoking and laughable that RCMP officers have arrested him and many others for fighting for the freedom to fish on public lakes. He’s supported by countless people in the Nicola Valley, Kamloops, Metro Vancouver, Victoria and farther afield.
Their donations arrive by many routes, including at Nicola Valley club picnics, where hunting rifles are raffled. “I’ve been fighting this for over 30 years,” including with Douglas ranch’s previous owners, says McGowan, adding how rewarding it is that he’s been joined in the past decade by the Nicola Valley club and people like his lifelong neighbour, retired school teacher Harry Little.
Little, a soft-spoken 73-year-old, has come along with us for the ride onto the Douglas ranch, where he describes how McGowan and he have frequently cut off illicit gate locks and explains that the overgrown road to Stoney Lake — which bizarrely remains under a highways maintenance contract — now dives under the surface of the lake, since Kroenke’s people have flooded it.
McGowan, leaning his big frame against his white Dodge Ram three-quarter-ton pickup truck, says people often ask him how he can keep going, since they worry the long conflict must be stressful.
But he laughs at the idea, saying: “This is therapy.”
Surveying the near endless hills of the Douglas Lake ranch, he says, “This was all locked for 30 years.” And now some routes are slowly being reopened.
Not that it is mission accomplished. McGowan says there are at least 30 more lakes in the Nicola Valley that landowners are illegally blockading behind gates, boulders and logs.
That includes the former access route to nearby Quilchena Falls, a spectacular waterfall south of the Kelowna Connector highway, which locals decades ago used to love to visit for swimming and picnics. But Quilchena Falls is now also blocked by Kroenke’s vast land holdings.
What, McGowan muses, does one of the world’s richest land barons want? “At the end of the day, I guess the true capitalist wants to own everything.”
The right to public jewels
I have had the pleasure of walking for days on end on trails through Scotland, Denmark, Italy and Wales, which at certain points traverse private land.
The remarkable European hiking and pilgrimage routes, many of which were in use for a millennium, have been reopened in many cases only because citizens fought complex battles for the right to enjoy them. Now they are considered public jewels.
One of the first crusades for the right to cross private land occurred in Manchester, England, in the 1930s. That’s when a rebellious group of young factory workers who called themselves “ramblers” showed just how determined they were to walk in a beautiful, privately owned area known as the Peak District.
The ramblers did so en masse and many, like in the Nicola Valley, were arrested. But over the long run they prevailed. And Britain is not alone in offering the public access to rights of way, including around the edges of farms. Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, New Zealand and many other countries make a point of offering ordinary people the freedom to roam.
Taking into account local context, each country has carefully worked out viable ways to protect landowners from irresponsible users, who owners fear might venture off designated trails, leave behind garbage, camp without permission, start a fire, damage the environment or sue for an injury.
In Canada, by contrast, private-property signs blocking access to public land abound, thoroughly intimidating the uninformed populace. The Nicola Valley club lawyer, Chris Harvey, says Canadians appear to expect governments to protect their access to the wild. But most governments are doing the opposite.
When it comes to property rights, Harvey says, Canadians are somewhere in between more open-minded European landowners and hypervigilant Americans, many of whom behave as if the right to protect private property, often with guns, is their nation’s most sacred value.
The right-to-roam movement in Canada is slowly gaining legs, however, including in B.C., where even city dwellers feel defined by wild places.
Two years ago, inspired by the Douglas ranch case, B.C. Green Leader Andrew Weaver launched private members Bill M223: The Right to Roam Act. Even though it died on the order paper, Green representative Claire Hume says it “remains an issue we think is incredibly important and one we would love to see government take on.”
Recognizing the right-to-roam discussion raises “some delicate decision points around traditional (Indigenous) territory and private property-trespass law,” Hume said Weaver didn’t expect his bill — which was intended to make nature “open to all, not just the privileged few” — to pass the way he had drafted it. But he does hope it will spark more discussion in the legislature.
Right-to-roam advocates have never sought unfettered access
The head of the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre, Calvin Sandborn, is one of many leaders of a loose-knit coalition determined to make it possible for citizens to experience nature by venturing onto private land.
Sandborn and law students Graham Litman and Matt Hulse have created a seminal report titled Enhancing Public Access to Privately Owned Wild Lands, which looks at some of B.C.’s most lively action fronts.
In addition to covering the Douglas Lake conflict, Sandborn’s team is monitoring an effort to create a 700-kilometre walking network on Vancouver Island, called the Island Spine Trail. They’re also tracking roaming disputes on Lasqueti Island, Galiano Island and in Comox.
The B.C. Wildlife Federation, the B.C. Federation of Fly Fishers and B.C. Outdoor Recreation Council have prepared positions on the right to roam. And they’re tracking the many ways recreational users constantly come up against landowners.
To ease landowners’ concerns, Sandborn emphasizes right-to-roam advocates have never sought unfettered access to property. “We don’t want people going through a hundred different trails on someone’s property. Access can be provided in a variety of ways.”
And not only to remote wilderness. The Gorge region of the City of Victoria is also in play. Sandborn’s students have surveyed how property owners have built carports and sheds over public rights of way to the Gorge waterway, which are legally supposed to occur every 200 metres.
Sandborn says when one Gorge neighbour who lived across the street from waterfront properties that were illicitly blocking beach access found out what the law students were doing, he remarked, “’I’ve lived here 20 years. And I didn’t realize until now I had the right to take my canoe down to the water.’”
Metro Vancouver has its own access-to-waterfront issues, says Sandborn — in White Rock and West Vancouver.
Washington state can be a model for B.C.
The University of Victoria report suggests which global jurisdictions could be models for B.C. Surprisingly, given Americans’ legendary emphasis on absolute private property rights, one of them is in B.C.’s own Cascadian backyard: Washington state.
The counties that contain Seattle and Bellingham both offer major tax breaks to owners who make portions of their land available to hikers, birdwatchers, sightseers, horseback riders and other nature lovers, all of whom are expected to follow rules for respecting private property.
Creative things have also been happening at the other end of Canada, in Nova Scotia. That province has long provided citizens the right to cross private, uncultivated land and to go on foot along the banks of rivers and lakes to fish, including with a boat.
Which is precisely the kind of freedom the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club seeks on the Douglas ranch and beyond.
McGowan is playing the long game, but he doesn’t, to put it mildly, trust politicians. He knows his comrades will need help, particularly from younger generations. He realizes his encyclopedic knowledge of roads and property bylaws in the Nicola Valley has been an incredible asset for the local cause, but he also knows most people don’t have the same background.
So, at his age, he’s worried.
As geese fly overhead, he says the access-to-land cause in the Nicola Valley needs “somebody else to pick up the cudgel.” The long-term strategy of billionaire landowners and their ilk, he believes, is to use their immense wealth to hire lawyers and others to wear people down.
“This is their dream: That guys like me will die off. And nobody will remember.”
The Douglas Lake ranch’s appeal will be heard March 30 and 31 in Vancouver.
Jurors received final instructions Wednesday in the six-week corruption trial of a former SNC-Lavalin executive.
Sami Bebawi, 73, has pleaded not guilty to five charges that include fraud, corruption of foreign officials and laundering proceeds of crime.
The Quebec Superior Court judge presiding over the trial began his charge to the jury late in the afternoon, with deliberations expected to start Thursday.
The Crown has alleged that Bebawi was the architect of a scheme to grease the wheels in Libya in order to secure lucrative deals.
Prosecutors have argued the Montreal engineering giant transferred about $113 million to shell companies used to pay off people who helped the company collect and secure deals in Libya beginning in the late 1990s.
What remained in the accounts of those firms after the kickbacks were paid was then allegedly split between Bebawi and Riadh Ben Aissa, a former colleague, with Bebawi allegedly pocketing $26 million.
The trial looked at several major infrastructure projects and centred on dealings with Saadi Gadhafi, one of the sons of late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, to facilitate deals.
The defence argued that the amounts transferred to Bebawi’s accounts were bonuses authorized by the SNC-Lavalin’s ex-president, Jacques Lamarre, for the successful completion of complicated contracts in Libya.
Bebawi’s lawyer argued that the Crown’s key witness in the case, Ben Aissa, was unreliable and that there was no evidence any of the contracts secured in Libya were inflated.
The defence also disagreed that the younger Gadhafi was a foreign public official, describing him instead as a “spoiled child” who had a direct line to the late dictator but no real power or authority.
Bebawi did not testify or present a defence — which was his right as it was up to the Crown to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, Justice Guy Cournoyer told jurors.
Squamish Nation voted 87 per cent in favour of moving ahead with the project in partnership with Westbank Development to build 6,000 rental housing units in 11 towers on a 11.7-acre parcel of land in Kitsilano.
The development of the reserve lands at Sen̓áḵw, which is adjacent to the Burrard Bridge and Vanier Park, represents the single largest development on First Nation lands in Canada, according to the Squamish Nation. The city of Vancouver will have no power to regulate what is built.
Artist renderings of the 6,000-unit Senakw development proposed for Squamish First Nation lands in Kitsilano adjacent to the Burrard Bridge.
Revery Architecture /
“The Squamish Nation Council is thrilled with the outcome of this referendum, which was approved by a landslide. This is truly a landmark moment in our Nation’s history. The Sen̓áḵw Project will transform the Squamish Nation by providing immense social, cultural, and economic benefits to Squamish Nation members for generations to come,” said Squamish Nation councillor Khelsilem, in a statement on Facebook.
Construction on the first phase is expected to begin in 2021.
Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said earlier this year that this is what reconciliation looks like, and that the prospect of new rental units in Vancouver is “exciting.”
There are two other major real estate projects in Vancouver in planning that involve First Nation groups: the 90-acre Jericho Lands in West Point Grey and a plan for 2,500 homes on 21 acres at the Heather Land in the Cambie Corridor.
In 2014, city council designated Vancouver as a City of Reconciliation and set as its goal the creation of “sustained relationships of mutual respect and understanding with local First Nations and the urban Indigenous community.”
Pictures of the flyers that were left at VIce’s Montreal offices. Paul Labonté
Simon Coutu said he felt a surge of adrenaline when it happened: A group of masked men barged into his office, surrounded him and began shouting him down.
They belonged to a far-right group “tainted by violence” whose members were physically imposing, trained in martial arts and had been involved in a 2007 stabbing at a Quebec City nightclub, according to Coutu.
His testimony Monday is central to the trial of Atalante Québec leader Raphaël Lévesque, who stands accused of criminal intimidation for his role in storming Vice Media’s Montreal offices on May 23, 2018.
“When masked men show up at your office, uninvited, it’s intimidating,” said Coutu, a journalist. “It surprises you, it rattles you. … There’s a whole culture of violence associated with (Atalante).”
Since it was launched in 2013, Vice Québec reported on far-right groups like Atalante, La Meute and Soldiers of Odin, often shedding light on their ties to the white supremacist movement.
Coutu said he believes an article published five days before the incident — outlining growing tensions between Quebec’s far-right and anti-fascist groups — led Lévesque to confront him at Vice’s offices with a half dozen masked men.
They tossed clown noses and flyers, and gave Coutu an award for “garbage media.” The plastic trophy was filled with cigarette butts.
A video of the incident, presented in court Monday, appears to show Lévesque thanking Coutu for “starting a war.” Lévesque was the only member of Atalante not hiding behind a mask.
Much of Monday’s proceedings focused on whether Lévesque’s violent criminal record or his membership in the hardcore group Légitime Violence are admissible as evidence.
Crown prosecutor Jimmy Simard argued that those two factors added a menacing dimension to his actions at the Vice offices.
“They project a hard-boiled image, one of people willing to drop the gloves … and commit acts of violence against members of the left,” Simard said. “This isn’t a hearing about the artistic merits of Légitime Violence. This is a political group; they’re not Dadaists.”
Simard argued it might be reasonable for journalists like Coutu to see Lévesque’s tough-guy persona from his band and infer that he carries it with him when he acts on behalf of Atalante.
“When you wear two hats, you cannot chose which one people see,” Simard said.
Performing as his hardcore alter-ego “Raf Stomper,” Lévesque sings lyrics that reference stabbing leftists, and his band’s YouTube videos feature photos of him carrying pistols and of Légitime Violence’s fans armed with brass knuckles.
Lévesque’s attorney, Mathieu Corbo, contends the lyrics and persona of a band have nothing to do with the actions carried out at Vice offices.
Judge Joëlle Roy agreed with the defence, ruling that the issue of lyrics and Lévesque’s music was too broad to be connected to the charge of criminal intimidation for his actions in May 2018. She compared his hardcore persona to a role that an actor might play.
”Now Jack Nicholson has played some violent characters (in his films), but if you saw him at a hotel would you be intimidated,” Roy asked.
Simard objected to the comparison.
”They’re talking about stabbing leftists,” he said. “If Jean-René Dufort did all of these things (at the Vice office), we wouldn’t be here today. He’s a journalist who does satirical work. The accused is part of a far-right group that advocates violence.”
Roy hasn’t ruled on whether Lévesque’s criminal record is relevant to the trial.
Earlier Monday, the defence mentioned that the police officer called to the scene did not report the incident as a crime.
It was only after a series of follow-up interviews with employees at Vice that Montreal police detectives handed the file over to prosecutors. An arrest warrant was forwarded to police in Quebec City, Lévesque’s hometown, on June 18 — almost one month after the incident.
He was released on condition that he promise not to contact Coutu or other Vice reporters. The defence highlighted Coutu’s repeated attempts to contact Lévesque after the May 23 incident, occasionally using a fake Facebook account to reach the Atalante leader.
“I’m a journalist; if journalists took no for an answer, newspapers would be empty,” Coutu said.
During cross examination, Corbo challenged Coutu’s perception that he was being intimidated.
”Did Mr. Lévesque make any threatening gestures … wasn’t he smiling the entire time,” Corbo asked.
”He was smiling … but when masked people come into your office uninvited, it’s intimidation,” Coutu said.
After the confrontation with Lévesque, a colleague of Coutu’s called the police as he began writing an article about the incident.
”I was literally writing the article in front of the police,” Coutu said. “It was my instinct as a journalist.”