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Deadline looms for Providence Dam

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The City of Greenwood has to decide whether or not to take over maintenance and liability of the Providence (Marshall) Lake Dam from the province of British Columbia by the end of June.
Discussions about the fate of the dam between the city and the province began in October 2010, after the Providence Dam was flagged as “high risk” in a provincial dam inspection report. The province noted that unless local government or a public body decides to step up, the dam will be decommissioned and the drain would have the lake back to its original size.If decommissioned, the lake would drain along Providence Creek and enter the north end of the city before entering Boundary Creek. The Okanagan Fisheries Section of the Ministry of Environment currently maintains Providence Dam.
Chris Stevenson recently created an online group called the Marshall Lake Stewardship Group to bring awareness to the issue.

“This group was created to achieve one goal – to preserve Marshall Lake,” he said. “The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources has the licence for the dam and since the Testalinden (mudslide in Oliver, B.C. in 2010), the Fish and Wildlife dept. has been working to transfer the licence, or decommission the dam. I believe that this lake is worth saving and I know that other people feel the same way.”
Marshall Lake is located in the Boundary Region between Grand Forks and Greenwood. The rock filled dam has increased the natural size of the lake from 2.64 to 6.5 surface hectares.

“It doesn’t have to be the City of Greenwood, it could be the public,” Stevenson said. “The letter (from Tara White, senior fi sheries biologist for the Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resources) that went out said that option one was to keep status quo and to keep it with the government, option two was for it to go to the local government or public and option three was to decommission the dam.”
White pointed out in her letter, that “the Okanagan Fish and Wildlife Program doesn’t have the staff capacity or resources to maintain the dam and conduct annual repairs.”

Stevenson, a former city councillor, noted that the issue fell off Greenwood city council’s radar with the switch in council during the 2011 election, though he has been trying to raise awareness through social media and is trying to form a society or co-op.
“I’m thinking we can do a co-op where everybody will purchase a share, so for $25 you can own part of the lake,” he noted. “There are creative ways to do this that require grassroots, broad base support.”
Stevenson noted that while the City of Greenwood is interested in maintaining the lake, the upkeep of the lake won’t work with just the city alone.
“We need to start to think about environment stewardship in this region because this isn’t the only thing that has come up or will come up,” he said. “If we don’t act right now we’re going to lose it and it’s never going to be there again. We don’t have very many lakes here and it’s doable if a committed group of people get together.”
At last Monday’s Greenwood city council meeting, Mayor Nipper Kettle noted that city council passed a motion that they agree in principle but they will defer the decision.
“City staff has recommended that we not proceed,” Kettle said. “But that doesn’t mean you always go with the recommendation. We will be asking the government for an extension in the deadline. It’s a very tough situation because obviously the ministry/government would like to get rid of it.”
The mayor pointed out that the dam has been there for a long time and will be there for more years to come.
“Ultimately it boils down to risk and risk management and liability,” Kettle said. “I don’t know if I would want to strap the citizens of Greenwood with the possibility of anything catastrophic ever happening. It’s a beautiful site with camping and picnic tables, it will still be there but it’ll be much smaller.”
Marshall Lake has a recreational value with its campgrounds and picnic tables, Kettle pointed out.
“We’re looking at ways to keep it, but we do have to have a decision to make soon,” he concluded, noting that Marshall Lake is located in the regional district of Area D.
RDKB Area D director Irene Perepolkin has declined the possibility of taking liability of the lake.
“We don’t know what the liability is of the cost of bringing it up to standard,” she explained. “The (government) gave an estimate of about $135,000 to $400,000 just to bring it back up to standards before we could even get liability insurance on it. I’m not interested on taking on the cost for Area D.”

Perepolkin pointed out that there isn’t a sufficient number of her residents who use the area during the summer time.

“They do use it for cross-country skiing during the winter quite a bit, but the level of the water isn’t prohibited for that,” she added. “The lake isn’t going to completely disappear, but the water levels will be lowered to what they originally were if (the government) does decommission it.”
If a group was to be formed, Perepolkin said, “Area D wouldn’t mind helping maintain the lake but we wouldn’t want to have any stake hold in it. It’s not something my area is willing to support at this time.”
The Providence inspection occurred after the Testalinden dam incident near Oliver, B.C. in June 2010. The incident resulted in a debris and mud torrent that damaged a number of homes and agricultural areas.

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Ex-Pope & Talbot workers launch suit

Retired Pope & Talbot (P&T) salaried employees have filed a class action lawsuit against the former Superintendent of Pensions and the provincial government for ordering reductions to their pensions.

The lawsuit claims losses to date of approximately $3 million and ongoing losses in excess of $15 million.

Pope & Talbot had extensive lumber and pulp operations in British Columbia, but filed for bankruptcy in 2008. At that time, the pension plan was underfunded and had a 30-per-cent deficiency.

William Faminoff, a lawyer based out of Vancouver, noted the provincial pensions legislation allows company-funded pension plans to slide into periods of deficiency, and because of that, the pensioners felt their pensions were safeguarded.

“At the time of the bankruptcy, there was more than enough assets in the plan to pay the retired members their full pension benefits,” said Faminoff, who represents the group of 88 retired employees and widows of employees.

When it became clear their pensions were being cut, the group sought answers from the Financial Institutions Commission (FICOM) of B.C. and former Superintendent of Pensions Alan Clark.

“It first involved an action to review the activities of the former officers and directors of Pope & Talbot as to how the (pension) plan was underfunded,” explained Faminoff. “After that matter was concluded, it became readily apparent that the government took steps that we feel are contrary to the law.”

In 2010, the pensioners received letters from Morneau Shepell, a company hired by Clark to administer the pension plan, which informed them that their pensions had been reduced by approximately 30 per cent, retroactive to 2008.

“A lot of these guys only have their pensions and when one third of your pension gets taken away, how do you think this impacts you when you’re in your last years of your life?” asked Faminoff. “For a lot of the guys it has been dramatic.”

Don Stewart, one of the claimants and a member of the steering committee of the group, agreed.

“I think that some of the members are feeling quite uncomfortable,” Stewart said. “They’ve had a reduction in their pensions and I have a feeling some of them are not feeling too good. Financially, some people may be hurting.”

Stewart stated because it has already been three years, some of the older employees hope to see something quick.

“The intention is to get our pensions re-instated 100 per cent,” Stewart concluded.

It is alleged that Clark and members of his staff contacted management at P&T in the company’s final months demanding that it get rid of the priority provisions in its pension plan. When P&T refused, Clark reportedly ordered that the provisions be disregarded.

The pensioners say Clark had no authority to overrule the terms of a validly registered pension plan and distribute the plan’s assets according to their preferences. FICOM was contacted but declined comment.

“To take funds away from those members of the plan, that were already retired, that already had their pensions protected by a private, not government, pension plan and they arbitrarily broke those registered provisions with the government,” stated Faminoff.

The lawsuit is aimed at returning the pensioners’ plans to their full amount and not to disrupt the pensions of younger members, Faminoff added.

“I want to stress that none of our clients want to see the younger guys have any difficulties in respect to any kind of pensions benefits,” he said.

Faminoff hopes the matter can be resolve amicably with the government.

“But failing that, we are going to stress that the courts move very quickly on this because those people we represent are senior citizens and some of our clients have passed away since we first took them on as clients,” he pointed out. “We are concerned with their health and life expectancy, so we are going to ask the court to expedite this.”

The trial is expected to begin early next year, in which Faminoff aims to have litigation proceedings commence.

Pope & Talbot had operations in Nanaimo, Grand Forks, Castlegar, Fort St. James, Midway and Mackenzie.

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Walter Reis: creation through touch

Crafted with meticulous details, Walter Reis’ wooden carvings are brought to life with precise accuracy.

From the delicately pointed ears of a rabbit, to the individually strands of hair on a bear’s back, Reis gently chisels and scores for hours on end.

What may surprise most is that Reis is now legally blind.

“I’m completely blind,” affirmed Reis. “Everything is done by touch.”

It was in 1958 when he first picked up a stump of wood and began his first carving. Working at Bralorne Gold Mine provided him the opportunity to begin what he would continue to do for the next 50 years.

“When I came to Canada and I worked at Bralorne, there was a lot of wood over there lying around,” said Reis. “So I picked one up and started carving, just like that.”

What inspired him was seeing an elk carving when he was 13 years old. It had been a gift to his mother from a friend.

“I said, ‘Gee, I sure would like to make one like that’,” he laughed. “And that never went out of my mind.”

His first carving was also an elk, which he later gave to a hospital in Vancouver.

“The second one was a mastodon and I gave that one to the school in Bralorne because they had history about old-age animals,” said Reis, who no longer sells his work. “My third carving was a grizzly bear and horse on one large slab of wood facing each other.”

He explained how he placed two pieces of 4×8’s glued together to carve this piece.

Reis had no favourites amongst his creations, but he loved to carve otters and bears. From beavers and rabbits, to bowls of all shapes and sizes, he enjoyed every aspect of carving.

His carvings, which can now be seen at the Woodworker’s Guild and at the Boundary Museum, is a lesson of learning.

“Nobody told me how or what to do. I had no schooling, no education, nothing like that,” stated Reis. “I had a magazine that had some animals in it and I copied the animals then carved them out.”

“It’s a fabulous collection,” David Bevan, a fellow woodcarver, praised. “The man must have been carving 24 hours a day.”

Bevan pointed the detailed faces of a pair of beavers and the wings of the eagle.

“I think they’re brilliant,” Bevan stated.

His decision to donate all of his carvings to the guild and museum was a result of two separate incidences of having his home ransacked several years ago.

“They broke in and took a bunch of the carvings, especially my otters and special plates,” Reis recalled. “You cannot duplicate them.”

Even as Reis gave thanks to the Lord for providing him patience and ideas, he stated that was also why he didn’t sell anything.

“I gave away everything to the museum so that when people came they could look at it,” he said. “If somebody buys it, they’ll put it away in their house and nobody will see it anymore.”

Each carving, depending on the size and intricacy, would take from a week up to four weeks to create.

“Some of the carvings are made really fine, with little knives and chisels,” he clarified. “A small rabbit would take me up to a week. When I make flowers, one little leaf could take me a full day.”

Despite his lack of sight, he continues to be a self-sufficient man, creating his own jam from his backyard garden as readily as he carves his own sculptures.

“I couldn’t carve any more animals because my eyes couldn’t stay fixed on the eyes or nose or things like that,” explained Reis. “I wanted to make some owls but I couldn’t get them straightened out, so they’re halfway finished.”

Reis’ eyesight started to wane seven years ago, but in the past several years it has gone completely.

As he pours a pot of hot water into a cup of instant coffee, he laughs, “This time all the water went into the cup.”

Though detailed creations are no longer an option for him, he still keeps his hands busy by carving outside.

“I make little canoes,” said Reis. “I can’t see anything so it’s all by touch. Shaping and carving is done by feeling.”

Even though the branches against the skyline are all that’s visible to him, he remains jovial as he whittles away at another small carving.

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Study shows student slackers cheapen degrees

After paying thousands of dollars each year for tuition, post-secondary students expect to get the best out their education.

According to a recently published book called Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, however, students aren’t really getting a good value for their money.

The results of the study, conducted by New York University’s Richard Arum and University of Virginia’s Jospia Roksa, revealed that many students do not gain much knowledge, and that those that do retain less than average, according to USA Today.

The study explains that out of a sample of 3,000 full-time students, 51 percent spent most of their time on campus socializing, and only 16 percent attending classes and studying.

Authors evaluated American students and the core thinking skills they gained over the first two years of university. Scores were then compared two years later when the students graduated.

Arum and Raksa claim that many of the results in the report point to students who choose “easy” courses, yet disregard studying and end up doing poorly.

“I have taken bird courses, but I didn’t know that they were. They just sounded like courses I liked, so I took them. I’ve never intentionally taken a course because it was easy,” said Jacob Wylde, a third- year kinesiology student at York.

“It’s hard to actually learn stuff and still remember it later on in university. You take so many courses, and once you finish learning the material in one course, you move on to the next and forget about what you learned previously.”

The research also showed that modern day students are spending 50 percent less time studying in comparison to students a couple of decades ago.

Arum and Roksa also pointed to colleges where researching is valued over teaching. The study noted that the students most likely to learn and succeed studied harder, read and wrote more and majored in “traditional” art and science fields.

The study also revealed 45 percent of students showed no significant improvement in critical thinking skills and complex reasoning by the end of their second year.

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Waste not, want not

Sustainability group aims to educate campus.

A York sustainability group focusing on how the university is handling its waste is taking student-friendly options to jump-start their initiatives.

The Institute for Research and Innovation in Sustainability (IRIS) released an annual survey of campus sustainability and a report on campus waste Jan. 10.

A university-wide interdisciplinary research centre, IRIS was established by York University in 2004 to focus on sustainable development and activities campus-wide.

Last year’s report surveyed students, staff and faculty and focused on how York handles waste.

“The surveys are also used by student groups…as quantitative information to support their cases,” said fourth year environmental studies student Caitlin Gascon, who is also the Social Marketing and Communications Coordinator of IRIS.

To accompany the release of the survey, a screening of Garbage: The Revolution Starts at Home was shown, in which an average urban family collected all their garbage for three months.
Filmmaker and York Alum Andrew Nisker followed the garbage to see where it went once collected and what the garbage continued to do in the world.

“The film covers how much garbage we produce on a daily, weekly, monthly, basis,” said Gascon, “Many of us just aren’t aware of how much we waste or its impact.”

For more information about the film visit: http://www.garabagerevolution.com
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Maclean’s ranks York 30th in national reputation

University gets an ‘A’ in student services

After failing to get an ‘A’ in the Globe and Mails’ 2011 University Report, York University once again scored some low ratings in Maclean’s 2010 University RAnkings.

Based on surveys from high school principles and guidance counselors, recruiters and CEOs from corporations, as well as university officials and heads of organizations, Maclean’s chart for overall best national reputation ranking places York at number 30.

York is, however, ranked first in student services, which prepares new and current students for the academic year. Among the 41 universities ranked, York has one of the largest class sizes and is among several universities with comparatively high tuition rates. The average entrance grade to enter York University remains a steady 81 percent.

York is listed as the second largest post-secondary institution in Canada, after the University of Toronto, and has not budged from last year’s ninth place ranking in comprehensive [undergraduate and graduate-focused universities] category. It is once again tied this year with the University of Regina for that spot.

For highest quality, most innovation and leaders of tomorrow categories, York ranked 32nd, 34th and 25th, respectively.

Two smaller institutions in British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and the University of Victoria, grabbed the top spots in the comprehensive category once again.

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Osgoode lawyer debate human smuggling act

Osgoode prof says Bill C-49 is unconstitutional

Several Osgoode Hall Law School professors are concerned with what they say is the unconstitutional nature of Bill C-49 which would prevent human smuggling and enact stricter enforcement of immigration laws in Canada.

Proposed by federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, the bill aims to deter refugees from arriving illegally.

In an effort to deter human smuggling, the Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada’s Immigration System Act would impose new penalties against people and potential refugees that employ human smuggling efforts.

Kenney was not available for comment, but according to the Vancouver Sun he stated he believed the new law, if passed, would not infringe on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms or international law, and he expected the immigration industry and special-interest groups to oppose Bill C-49.

“Quite frankly, that indicates to me that we’re on the right track,” said Kenney at a press conference Oct. 21.

Sean Rehaag, one of the Osgoode Hall Law School lawyers speaking out against the bill, said it has a potential ability to deny refugees essential services and fundamental rights, and can designate groups of people as “irregular arrivals.”

Rehaag, together with several other Canadian law professors, feels that Bill C-49 violates Canada’s responsibility under the International Refugee Convention, a treaty that involves over 180 countries.

“The idea of targeting asylum seekers with penalties because of the way they come to the country is extremely problematic,” said Rehaag. “[The bill] changes the penalties with respect to human smuggling and imposes sentences and restrictions on human smugglers and asylum seekers.”

According to Krisna Saravanamuttu, spokesperson for the National Council of Canadian Tamils (NCCT), news of the bill appeared in response to the arrival of the MV Sun Sea on the shores of Vancouver in August. Cramped into tight quarters aboard a vessel, nearly 500 Tamil asylum seekers fled from Sri Lanka, a country criticized internationally for allegedly having an appalling human rights record.

Saravanamuttu echoed Rehaag’s concerns.

“If passed, Bill C-49 will give the federal government the ability to arbitrarily jail refugee claimants, deny permanent refugee status, bar refugees from reuniting with their families in Canada and revoke refugee status after it has already been granted, amongst many more draconian measures,” he said.

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Terrifying inferno destroys roof of Toronto Track and Field Centre

Firefighters rushed to the north end of York University’s Keele campus Oct. 29 after the roof of the Toronto Track and Field Centre was lit up by a massive fire.

The fire started around 5:30 a.m. and originated on the building’s roof. according to Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation spokesperson Wynna Brown.

Cleanup began in the afternoon immediately after the fire department turned it over to the City of Toronto.

An investigation by the City of Toronto is still pending. No injuries have been reported.

Alex Bilyk, York’s media relations director, said the fire will hinder York’s athletic training.

“[The Track and Field Centre] is a City of Toronto facility,” said Bilyk. “We make use of it, of course; York athletes train in there for track and field.”

Brown hopes to have parts of the facility open for the public in the near future.

“We hope to at least be able to allow staff, and perhaps the [Allen Eagleson] Sports Injury Clinic that operates out of there, back into the building,” she said.

Brown mentioned the building will remain closed until it is deemed safe for public use.

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York spends $500,000 on consulting firms

YFS Pres: where did York get all this money?

The Ontario New Democratic Party counted York University among several Ontario universities allegedly spending public funds – almost $500,000 worth of York’s part – on lobbyists, hired private-sector advocates paid to sway provincial government policy.

According to York, however, that money was not spent on lobbying the government, but on consulting firms to help secure assets and information for future York projects.

In an Oct. 5 press release from the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), the Freedom of Information request filed by the NDP showed York spends more funds on private lobbying groups than any other university in the province.

A statement released by York Oct. 6, the university had contracts with three companies registered as lobby groups – the Counsel Public Affairs (CPA), the Devon Group and EcoNexus – but hired them as consultants, not lobbyists.

Alex Bilyk, York’s director of media relations, said York hired these firms as consultants because York didn’t have the resources or staff to head these projects.

Krisna Saravanamuttu, president of the York Federation of Students (YFS), said of the money spent on consultants that, since the CUPE 3903 strike, which shut down the university during the 2008-2009 academic year for almost three months, “York has been crying poor.”

“Where in the world did York find almost $500,000 to fund these lobby groups, when really lobbying is the job of the senior administrators and a properly composed Board of Govenors?” he said.

Bilyk said that the university has a budget to hire consultants and that York did not go over that budget.

“Perhaps Saravanamuttu has not read [York’s Oct. 6] statement and maybe he does not understand how the university works,” said Bilyk.

According to York, from January to June 2010 The Devon Group provided strategic counsel and guidance for additional venues for the upcoming Pan Am Games 2015, which resulted in the letter of intent York offered event organizers regarding the university’s willingness to host some of the activities.

The statement further explains that from February 2008 to January 2009, the university worked with the CPA in looking at potentially establishing a medical school at York. Bilyk said CPA helped York put together a business plan for the York medial school.

The York statement also said that CPA assisted with labour relations during that time.

York hired EcoNexus from 2008 to 2010 to focus on creating a research project on climate change and environmental research. The York statement also said that project lead Karan Kraft Sloan is a registered federal lobbyist; however, in this instance, she was not lobbying the government.

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Judge turns down class action lawsuit against YorkU

Lawyers consider appealing court’s decision.

A lawsuit against York University that was seeking $250 million in damages associated with losses endured by students during the CUPE 3903 strike almost two years ago was turned down Sept. 9.

Juroviesky LLP, the law firm representing the York students who petitioned for the lawsuit, is currently deciding whether to appeal the decision.

Kevin Caspersz, a representative for Juroviesky LLP, said that the Honourable Ontario Superior Court Justice Maurice Cullity denied the certification of the case.

“[Juroviesky LLP] felt we had a good chance this time and that it is still a good case,” said Caspersz.

He said that the judge’s decision was final and that there would be no further reimbursements towards the students.

Alex Bilyk, York director of media relations, said that York stands behind the court’s decision.

Following a teaching assistant union strike that closed the university for three months in the 2008-2009 academic year, the longest ever for an English-speaking university, then fourth-year student Jonathon Turner filed a class-action lawsuit against York administration. More than 5,000 students joined the suit by signing up online at yorktookmymoney.com.

According to Caspersz, the lawsuit claimed damages of a compressed academic year (from 26 weeks of study to 23 weeks), loss of the February reading week, intrusion into summer jobs and loss of rent, parking fees and tuition.

Krisna Saravanamuttu, president of the York Federation of Students (YFS), said that while it is unfortunate students could not receive some money back, the student union did launch a tuition refund campaign in which York participated willingly, agreeing to compensate students with credits for classes they have missed.

The YFS also demanded a 12 percent refund from the York administration for all tuition fees paid by full and part-time students, which was denied.

Peter Shurman, Thornhill MPP, back students during the strike and urged CUPE 3903 to return to work.

“I don’t blame the students for taking action,” he said. “They deserve compensation.”

Shurman stated that if his team wins the upcoming election, the issue of union petitions at the university level will be brought to the table.

“With 50,000 students held at bay, with no voice – especially when only a particular union has a grievance – it has to be addressed in a method that doesn’t put the students education on hold, [and still] satisfies the demands of the union.”

Saravanamuttu agreed.

“The employer and workers need to speak to each other in good faith to avoid labour disruptions,” he said.

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