The Smithers recycling depot burns on May 9. (Thom Barker photo)

Top 10 news stories of 2019: Numbers 1 – 5

These are the 5 stories the editorial staff assessed as the biggest from a news perspective in 2019.

These are the five stories the editorial staff assessed as the biggest from a news perspective in 2019. They differ significantly from those that received the most views on our website. See “Top 10 web stories of 2019: 1 -5” on Page A11.

This has a lot to do with the breadth of story and how much impact it has, which can be quite different from how popular it is. For example our second biggest story of the year was the arrival of a CT scanner for the Bulkley Valley District Hospital. Health care is perenially one of the biggest issues for society. The impact of getting the scanner is far-reaching. Thousands of scans, for which people would have previously had to travel to Terrace or Prince George, have already been completed.

Conversely, our second top web story was a feel-good piece about a Telkwa couple who won the lottery. It was a very popular human interest piece, but not even worthy of our Top 10 from a news perspective.

5. Saltos coach charged with sex assault of a minor

In June, Smithers Saltos Gymnastics coach Marcel Dubroy was charged with sexual assault in Regina, Sask.

The charges stem from a complaint by a 30-year-old Ottawa woman of offences allegedly committed between Jan. 1, 2002 and April 30, 2008 when both Dubroy and the alleged victim were residents of Regina.

Dubroy, 68, is charged with sexual exploitation, position of trust; Sexual Interference; invitation to sexual touching; sexual assault on a person under the age of 16; and sexual assault.

Regina police released the information on Dubroy’s profession in order to discover whether there are any other alleged victims.

Prior to his initial court appearance, he was suspended from coaching by Gymnastics Canada and the local club.

He has yet to enter a plea. His next court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 12, 2020.

4. Bachrach elected federal MP for Skeena-Bulkley Valley

New Democrat Taylor Bachrach was elected the new MP for Skeena-Bulkley Valley after winning the riding by more than 3,000 votes over his next closest competitor, Conservative Claire Rattée.

Bachrach served as mayor of Smithers since 2011. It will be the first time since 2004 that the region — the largest geographically in B.C., and seventh-largest geographically in Canada — has been represented by someone other than long-time NDP MP Nathan Cullen, who decided not to run this election.

“I want to start tonight by thanking all of you,” Bachrach said to his volunteers and supporters who gathered at the Smithers Brewing Company for the occasion. “I’d like to thank our friend Nathan Cullen. Nathan is in Ottawa tonight, but I know there’s no place he’d rather be than here with us. We’ve knocked on thousands of doors over the last few months, and I can’t count the number of times I was told I have big shoes to fill.”

“I want to thank Jagmeet Singh for doing such a good job and bringing positive energy to this campaign, and just lighting people up across the country. I really can’t wait to work with this team of New Democrats from coast to coast,” Bachrach said of his new colleague, and elected party leader, in Ottawa.

Bachrach won the riding, which has gone orange since its creation in the 2004 federal election, with 40.9 per cent of the popular vote.

Rattée finished second with 33.4 per cent — 13,637 votes to Bachrach’s 16,670.

More than 61 per cent of registered electors came out to vote — 40,795 of 66,421 — not including electors who registered on election day.

3. Smithers/Telkwa Recycling Depot destroyed by fire; still no solution in sight

On May 9 at approximately 11 a.m. a fire broke out at the Smithers Recycling Depot and spread quickly. By the time Smithers Fire Rescue arrived it was fully involved. Firefighters from Smithers, Telkwa and Houston battled the inferno for four hours but the building was lost and the adjacent offices of Vihar Construction were badly damaged.

In response, both the Town of Smithers and Village of Telkwa suspended curbside recycling.

At the Nov. 12 Smithers Town council meeting, RDBN Electoral Area A Director Mark Fisher said the RDBN and Recycle BC have been in talks about trying to build a miniature consolidative centre in order to deal with Telkwa and Smithers’ bailing material.

As of Dec. 23, there was still no solution to the recycling issue.

2. Bulkley Valley District Hospital welcomes CT scanner

The Bulkley Valley District Hospital (BVDH) officially welcomed its new CT scanner on July 12 with a ceremony in the courtyard.

Health Services Administrator Cormac Hikisch told The Interior News the scanner saw its first patient on July 9.

“Thank you for coming to this historic occasion where we officially open the BVDH CT scanner and recognize … the many people that have helped make this day possible,” said Hikisch to a crowd of about 50 in the small hospital courtyard.

“Many of us at the hospital still can’t believe we’re here today, it’s been many years and many steps and many conversations and plans and dreams and hopes and [I’m] really excited that we’re going to reflect on that journey and celebrate that we are open for business, [we are] providing CT services as we speak.”

Taylor Bachrach, then-mayor, said the occasion was a huge day for the community, referencing the donation of Telkwa business person Fritz Pfeiffer, who gave $1.6 million to the Bulkley Valley Health Care & Hospital Foundation in 2016 to help fund the machine.

“I think that it’s one of the largest single philanthropic donations in our communities history certainly in recent memory and it really speaks to his commitment to this place and his love for community,” he said, adding access to such a machine in a timely manner is critical, especially in emergency situations.

As of Dec. 23, the hospital staff had scanned close to 2,000 patients.

1. Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline proceeds amidst controversy, protests

Conflict over Coastal GasLink’s (CGL) planned liquefied natural gas (LNG) pipeline from northeastern B.C. to Kitimat erupted early in 2019 with the arrest of 14 people at a Unist’ot’en (Dark House) blockade on the Morice River Forest Service Road near Houston on Jan. 7.

In December 2018, the B.C. Supreme Court had granted the company a temporary injunction against the blockade, which the RCMP moved to enforce.

On January 9, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs reached an agreement with the company and RCMP to allow CGL workers access to the worksite to de-escalate, but reiterated they remained opposed to the pipeline and continued to call for work stoppages.

Charges were later dropped against the 14.

On Jan. 17, a Bulkley Valley chapter of North Matters, a group founded in Kitimat to counter groups opposed to projects such as the Coastal GasLink pipeline, was founded.

On Jan. 25, CGL temporarily stopped work over a dispute about traplines. The Unist’ot’en (Dark House) said the company had wantonly destroyed their existing traplines. The company said trappers had put them up since work started.

In February, the Wet’suwet’en announced a new round of reconciliation talks with the Province, not specifically related to the pipeline. The talks officially kicked off in March with a smoke feast in Witset attended by Premier John Horgan.

Also in February, the Unist’ot’en called for a work stoppage over a pair of arrowheads they claimed were discovered on the Houston-area site. CGL stopped work while the BC Oil and Gas Commission (OGC) investigated. OGC archaeologists said it was unlikely the artifacts were from that location and cleared the company to go back to work.

In May, a review of the injunction to make it permanent was scheduled, but adjourned. The matter remains before the court.

In July, the Gidimt’en (Wold and Bear Clan) launched a civil suit against CGL over the Jan. 7 raid. It seeks special damages, aggravated damages, punitive damages and costs. It is also still before the court.

Also in July, the National Energy Board, rejected a challenge to the project by Smithers resident Michael Sawyer. Sawyer argued the pipeline should have fallen under federal jurisdiction, not provincial.

In August, CGL temporarily paused work on the last section of the route (going into Kitimat) over discrepencies with its archaeological impact assessements.

In September, the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN) denied Coastal GasLink a temporary-use permit for a proposed Houston area work camp. It later reversed that decision and the company says construction of the site will begin in July 2020.

In October the Agriculural Land Commission denied a permit for another camp behind the Vanderhoof Airport. The company is currently reviewing that decision and the municipality is championing the location.

On Oct. 4 the hereditary chiefs called on forests minister Doug Donaldson to issue a cease and desist order over ongoing destruction of cultural heritage and archaeological sites. The Interior News has yet to get a response from Donaldson.

On Oct. 12, a pro-LNG rally was disrupted by protesters at Bovill Square and one woman was taken away by the RCMP, but not charged.

The company opened its work camp dubbed Sukunka Lodge in section 2 of the pipeline route, south of Chetwynd, on Oct. 31. It will house up to 700 people when construction activity peaks in fall of 2020.

On Nov. 6, police arrested a Unist’ot’en supporter at the Morice River gate for denying a Coastal GasLink contractor access to the site. She was released without charge after the company admitted the contractor had been in breach of an agreement between CGL and the Wet’suwet’en.

In December Coastal GasLink started taking delivery of pipes and transporting them to storage sites along the pipeline route.

Most recently, on Dec. 20, The Guardian, a U.K.-based newspaper reported it had obtained notes from an RCMP strategy session on the Jan. 7 raid. The paper alleges police were ready to deploy “lethal overwatch” (snipers) and officers had been given approval to “use as much violence toward the gate as you want.”

Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Taylor Bachrach is calling for an independent review by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission.

Coastal GasLink’s latest construction update, dated Dec. 16, reports 24 per cent of the route has been cleared.

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