Floyd Hyzins, left, and Kirsten Patrick stand on the spot they used to call home before the Town removed their tent and another belonging to Kirsten’s mother and boyfriend. (Marisca Bakker photo)

Top 10 news stories of 2019: Numbers 6 – 10

Over the next two weeks, The Interior News will be recapping our top news stories of 2019

  • Dec. 24, 2019 6:30 a.m.

Over the next two weeks, The Interior News will be recapping our top news stories of 2019, this week numbers six through 10 and the top five next week. These are the stories the editorial staff assessed as the biggest from a news perspective and differ significantly from those that received the most views on our website. See “Top 10 web stories of 2019” on Page A9.

This has a lot to do with the breadth of story and how much impact a story has, which can be quite different from how popular it is. For example our sixth biggest story from an editorial perspective was Luke Strimbold, the former Burns Lake mayor, pleading guilty to the sexual assault of four boys under the age of 16 and eventually being sentenced to two years in prison.

This was a huge story locally, provincially and even nationally and unfolded over nine months from his arrest in March to his sentencing on Dec. 6. We ran several stories about it, but no individual article about it cracked the top 10 in number of views.

Conversely, the number six story in terms of website views was about Fisheries investigating an illegal crab dump near Hazelton. This certainly captured a lot of public interest, but did not warrant inclusion in our top 10 from an editorial point of view.

10. Giesbrecht found guilty of murder, sentenced to life with no parole for 12 years

B.C. Supreme Court Justice David Crossin found Giesbrecht guilty of the May 18, 2017 second-degree murder of Raymond Bishop on May 24 of this year.

During the six-week trial, which took place over three sessions between January and March, the Crown painted a picture of an abusive man consumed by bitterness and jealousy over his divorce from his ex-wife Susan Giesbrecht.

On the morning of May 18, 2017, the prosecution said, Giesbrecht took the ferry from Burns Lake to Southside with the intent of criminally harrassing Susan and/or Bishop. According to the Crown’s theory, in pursuit of that “unlawful object” a confrontation between the two men ensued and Giesbrecht shot Bishop with a 30-30 rifle.

The defence did not dispute that Bishop died by Giesbrecht’s hand, but presented an alternate theory that the firearm discharged accidentally when Bishop attacked Giesbrecht. Terry La Liberté, Giesbrecht’s attorney, said that was just one possible scenario that was just as plausible a theory and as such the Crown’s evidence did not rise to the level of “beyond a reasonable doubt” required to prove murder.

In the end, Crossin said he did not accept the Crown had proved beyond a reasonable doubt that it was in pursuit of the unlawful object of criminal harrassment that Giesbrecht killed Bishop.

However, the judge concluded that, on the whole of the evidence, the Crown had met its burden.

On Dec. 9 Crossin delivered his decision on parole eligibility at the courthouse in Smithers ruling Giesbrecht would have to spend at least 12 years in jail.

9. Smithers council fires chief administrative officer Anne Yanciw without cause

In January, the Town fired its chief administrative officer.

Then-mayor Taylor Bachrach confirmed Anne Yanciw was let go without cause on Jan. 21. He would not go into details saying only that he is unable to comment on human resources matters.

“Smithers Town council wishes Ms. Yanciw all the best in her future endeavors,” said a prepared statement on the firing.

Due to contractual obligations, the Town paid Yanciw $96,413 severance in lieu of notice according to a response to a Freedom of Information request filed by The Interior News.

That amounts to approximately $32,000 per year that she served in the role of CAO. During that time Yanciw was paid a salary of $132,000 annually.

Yanciw experienced a strikingly similar situation in 2015, when she was let go without cause from the Village of Valemount in July that year.

A newly elected council had contracted an organizational review, noting a strained relationship between Yanciw and then-mayor Jeanette Townsend that resulted in a “negative impact on Village operations and public confidence.”

The 2015 report found no fault with Yanciw’s performance and presented no justifiable cause for her termination.

In September Yanciw landed a new job as CAO for Ashcroft and accompanied Mayor Barbara Roden to the annual Union of British Columbia Municipalities conference in Vancouver.

“She was wonderful down at UBCM,” Roden said. “She’s been in local government for quite a long time, she’s got a lot of experience, which is really, really helpful.”

8. Town bulldozes homeless camp, displaces family

On Nov. 16 the Town of Smithers removed two tents from Crown land at Hwy 16 and King St. The tents had been home to Kirsten Patrick, her boyfriend Floyd Hyzins, her mom Marina and her mom’s boyfriend Daniel for eight months.

“It breaks my heart,” said Patrick. “My mom was expecting to come home to our home that we have been in for eight months. They took it away without giving us any warning or anything …. especially with my sister’s stuff in there.”

Patrick’s 18-year-old sister, Jessica died in 2018. The investigation into her death is ongoing.

“It literally went to the dump,” added Patrick. “My baby sister’s big picture that we had from her funeral last year and her wallet. That was the last thing we had from her. It really hurts, it was the only thing we had.”

Bylaw officer Matt Davey confirmed he did not give the residents notice because he did not think they were living there anymore.

“It breaks my heart,” said Patrick. “My mom was expecting to come home to our home that we have been in for eight months. They took it away without giving us any warning or anything …. especially with my sister’s stuff in there.”

Patrick’s 18-year-old sister, Jessica died in 2018. The investigation into her death is ongoing.

“It literally went to the dump,” added Patrick. “My baby sister’s big picture that we had from her funeral last year and her wallet. That was the last thing we had from her. It really hurts, it was the only thing we had.”

The story underscored the ongoing issue of homelessness and affordable housing in Smithers.

A public outcry prompted a response from deputy (and acting) mayor Gladys Atrill.

“The removal of the tents at the corner of King and Main St has resulted in a strong and understandable reaction from many,” said Atrill in a Nov. 26 Facebook post.

“It was sadly discovered after the clean up began that the tent owners had not abandoned them.”

She said the Town is working with the Friendship Centre and other social organizations to help people without permanent housing and try to prevent a similar situation from occurring in the future.

7. Ron Fowler convicted of attempted murder, killed by vehicle before sentencing

On March 15, a jury found Two Mile resident Ron Fowler guilty of the attempted murder of his neighbour George Parent.

During closing arguments in Fowler’s trial March 13, the jury heard two very different versions of the alleged crime.

Never in dispute was that on the afternoon of Oct. 14, 2017, Fowler shot Parent near Two Mile with a .38 snub-nose revolver. Fowler was tried on three charges: attempted murder, aggravated assault with a weapon causing bodily harm, and discharging a firearm with intent to endanger the life of another person.

The Defence argued self-defence. Attorney Joseph McCarthy said following a prolonged period of harassment, Parent had snuck up on Fowler, pointed a rifle at him and Fowler pulled his weapon and shot first.

The Crown, however, posited it was Fowler who had been the aggressor and had intended to kill him.

At a sentencing hearing in May, the Crown argued for a 9-10 year sentence.

The defence sought the minimum of four years.

Sentencing was originally set for June but got pushed back to Nov. 29.

In an unusual turn of events, however, Fowler was struck and killed by a truck in Fraser Lake on Nov. 12.

The Nov. 29 hearing proceeded with the Crown closing the case without sentencing.

6. Former Burns Lake mayor sentenced to two years for sexual assaults against minors

On Dec. 6 a B.C. Supreme Court justice sentenced former Burns Lake mayor Luke Strimbold to two years less one day in prison.

Strimbold had pleaded guilty in May to four counts of sexual assault involving boys under the age of 16.

He had initially faced 29 charges including sexual assault, sexual interference and invitation to sexual touching involving boys under the age of 16. The B.C. Prosecution Service agreed to stay 25 of them after Strimbold was sentenced.

The Crown wanted a sentence in the four- to six-year range while the defence argued for 18 months.

In handing down her ruling, Justice Brenda Brown noted Strimbold’s position of trust and authority and use of alcohol to take advantage of the young victims as aggravating.

However, she viewed Strimbold’s early guilty plea, a favourable pre-sentence report and psychological assessment and efforts at rehabilitation including counselling as mitigating.

She included a recommendation that Strimbold serve his time at Ford Mountain Correctional Centre in Chilliwack, which has a quality sex offender treatment program.

Following the sentence, Glenn Laliberte, a Prince George Métis man — who said was himself a victim of sexual assault more than 30 years ago — started a petition calling on the attorney general to appeal the sentence. As of press time more than 2,700 people had signed.

The B.C. Prosecution Service said it is reviewing the ruling and has until Jan. 6 to file if it chooses to do so.

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