Cumberland workshop steals the spotlight from bullies

Cumberland workshop steals the spotlight from bullies

By George Le Masurier

Bullies abound in the Comox Valley, and they come in many disguises, such as mayors or other elected officials, nonprofit board members, popular high school students or managers of businesses large and small.

There are so many bullies these days, especially lurking around social media sites, that studies report more than 60 percent of high school students have been bullied and more than 70 percent of Canadians fear for their psychological safety at work.

At a workshop in Cumberland this week, organized by Village Mayor Leslie Baird, a mixed-gender panel of six Comox Valley residents shared their experiences of being bullied.

The panelists, who wished to remain anonymous, represented a wide spectrum of people in business, nonprofits and schools. And although their experiences revolved around a variety of circumstances — poverty, race, power differentials, gender — a number of common threads wove their stories together.

Bullying behavior feels like “the new normal,” according to the panelists.

One panel member suggested it was a “rough and tumble part of life” because humans have evolved as pack animals that prey on those who don’t belong, or fit in or who present a threat to conformity.

Another panelist said this pack mentality was evident in the cyber world where personal attacks and degrading comments are now so common they have become accepted.

“It’s got to the point where, if I don’t have to read a negative comment, it’s a good day,” she said. “There’s something wrong about that.”

While individual panelists said they had been bullied for a variety of different reasons — for example, racism and poverty — the underlying motivation was similar: People whose power comes from defending the pack’s standards are uncomfortable with those who don’t conform or fit in.

Simply wearing the wrong clothes in high school, perhaps because a student can’t afford the latest styles, can be seen as a threat that needs to be attacked.

The panelists also touched the issues of how to recognize when you or someone else is being bullied, and the moral dilemma of how to respond or intervene.
“I pick up signs when bullying is going on. I get uncomfortable. My hair starts to stand up,” said one panelist. “Bullying can sneak up on you.”

Another panelist said, “You know when you’re being bullied.”

And when a person is bullied, some people shut down. They can’t think fast enough to react in the moment. Only later do they think of all the things they should have said.

That’s why the panel agreed that bystanders to bullying play an important role in shutting down the bully and supporting the bully’s target.

Even showing non-verbal availability of support, such as making eye contact with the bully, or standing near the target, can diffuse the situation, panelists said.

One panelist, who has expertise in this area, offered an acronym for action in bullying situations: STAC.

“Steal the show by taking the limelight off the bully and creating a distraction. Tell someone that you have been bullied to affirm that it happened and to push out your self-doubt. Accompany the target by showing support. Coach and have Compassion for the bully by helping them see the consequences of their behavior, and how the other person felt,” she said.

Mayor Baird thanked the panel for sharing their personal stories, some of which brought tears, and the audience of about 40 for their interest. Baird organized a similar workshop last year.



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“Stinking” sewage plant wafts back onto CVRD agenda

The Curtis Road Residents Association will press the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission again next week, this time on policy issues related to their decades-long battle to eliminate unpleasant odours from the system’s sewage treatment plant

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CVRD assures Curtis Road residents, who seek BC intervention

CVRD assures Curtis Road residents, who seek BC intervention

File photo of lower Curtis Road

By George Le Masurier

Letters are flying between “fed up” Curtis Road residents and the Comox Valley Regional District over odour, drinking water wells and other issues emanating from the Brent Road sewage treatment plant.

The regional district’s Senior Manager of Water/Wastewater Services Kris LaRose has assured Curtis Road residents that construction of an equalization basin to prevent potential winter overflows from the wastewater treatment facility will not affect their shallow wells or local groundwater.

In a letter to the residents association, LaRose also said the equalization Basin (EQ) will be built into the ground, not above it, for seismic safety. And, because he only expects effluent in the EQ basin during the stormiest and wettest days of winter, LaRose added that covering the basin to eliminate odours was not financially warranted.

The Curtis Road Residents Association plans to meet later this week to review and possibly respond to LaRose’s reassuring letter. In the meantime, they have written letters of their own seeking provincial intervention.

Jenny Steel, spokesperson for the residents, said she is waiting to hear back from requests her group has made to the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change. They are seeking higher-level assurances that the EQ basin’s location will not affect their well water quality and quantity.

Meanwhile, Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission Chair David Frisch and CVRD staff will meet with the residents, and their Area B representative, Arzeena Hamir, next week for a less formal conversation about the issues.

The sewage commission sets policy for a sewerage system that serves residents of Courtenay and Comox, members of the K’omoks First Nation and CFB Comox. But its treatment plant is located in Area B. Neither the Area B representative or K’omoks First Nations have a voting seat on the commission.


What is an EQ basin and why it’s necessary

During heavy rainfalls in the late fall and winter, stormwater seeps into the sewerage system and increases the volume of wastewater entering the plant by more than three times the average summer flow.

With population growth and increasingly extreme winter weather brought about from climate change, those winter flows threaten to overflow the plant’s current holding capacity. That could mean raw or nearly-raw sewage spilling into the Strait of Georgia, which would violate standards and regulations.

The EQ basin was originally planned for another site on the treatment plant property, further from Curtis Road, but engineers discovered conflicts with existing infrastructure and future expansion plans. LaRose says moving the location now would add “several million dollars” to the cost and delay the project for a year.

“Delay of the project to 2020 would result in another winter of increased potential of plant overflow …” LaRose wrote in his letter.


Why the residents are concerned

Curtis Road residents — about 80 people belong to the neighborhood association — have several concerns about the EQ basin and its location 70 meters from homeowners’ property lines.

The main concern is that any compromise of the basin’s membrane will result in a leak of raw sewage into local groundwater and residents’ drinking water wells.

In his letter, LaRose said there will be more than three meters between the bottom of the basin, including its under-drain and leak detection system, and the top level of groundwater. And he said the CVRD would take additional measures to mitigate potential leaks.

The regional district will engage an arborist to assess trees annually prior to the storm season and remove any trees that have a probability of falling on the basin and tearing the underlying membrane.

The district will also drill a groundwater monitoring well below the basin’s location on the Curtis Road side to test water quality and detect leaks. An under-drain system will be installed with sensors to collect any leakage, which will trigger an auto response to drain the basin if a leak is detected.

Residents have complained about noxious odours from the plant since it opened in the mid-1980s that are at times overwhelming. The new EQ basin will have an open surface area equal to the plant’s existing primary tanks, which were covered in a past attempt to reduce odours.

But LaRose said that due to the limited amount of time the basin will contain untreated sewage — he estimated fewer than 50 hours per year — that no cover for the basin is planned.

“The very significant expense of covering the EQ basin is not seen as warranted,” he said.


What residents are doing

The resident have written to the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Health. They want provincial intervention in the sewage commission’s plan to build the EQ basin.

They noted that “prevailing winds and gales could easily cause tall trees (rooted in sand) to topple into the basin resulting in a compromised membrane.” And they noted the risk of an earthquake.

“The mental angst of worrying about whether our drinking water is fouled is an unreasonable interference in the use of our property,” they wrote.

The residents’ goal is to convince the sewage commission to relocate the EQ basin further away from their properties.



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Violations spark demand for Seniors Village takeover

Violations spark demand for Seniors Village takeover

George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

After three residents died as an indirect result of a norovirus outbreak at Comox Valley Seniors Village earlier this year, a group of family members of the facility’s residents demanded an investigation and better oversight of the facility by Island Health.

Now, two months later, and with no evidence of corrective action by the Chinese corporation that owns the facility, the same Comox Valley family members have asked Island Health to assume its full operational responsibility.

“It is our strong belief that the prolonged, ongoing challenges to bring this facility within compliance are indicative of a larger endemic problem … regarding this facility,” the family members said in a May 20 letter to Tim Orr, the director of residential services for Island Health.

The family members say there have been seven new contraventions of compliance to Residential Care Regulations between March 7 and May 3, all of which occurred since an investigation by Island Health licensing agents in March that resulted in a ‘high risk’ rating for the facility.

That review was triggered by a March 13 letter to Orr from the family members alleging that Seniors Village mishandled containment of the virus and that it may have been caused by food handling and a failure to ensure staff had required immunizations.

And there are currently 12 current contraventions, according to the Island Health Licensing Officer’s May 3 report. And there have been 22 incidents of regulatory non-compliance recorded since 2018.

The family members believe the most serious regulatory non-compliance occurred during the norovirus outbreak, while the top senior management positions remained vacant. A failure to clean the facility violated health and safety regulations, which was compounded by allegedly falsifying records to show the cleaning had been done.

The Comox Valley Seniors Village opened in 2009 by the Canadian company Retirement Concepts, but the problems began to surface in 2017 after it was sold to Anbang, a Chinese insurance company. Anbang purchased 31 Canadian long-term care facilities through its Canadian holding company, Cedar Tree, including seven on Vancouver Island and 24 others in BC, AB and QC.

Cedar Tree, in turn, contracts out management of Comox Valley Seniors Village, and other Anbang holdings, to a management company called Pacific Reach, owned by the former owner of Retirement Concepts.

What’s gone wrong

Problems identified or alleged by family members include unauthorized restraint, falsified records, building filth left uncleaned, incorrect feeding and failing to meet the contracted number of hours of care per resident among their complaints.

The family members believe that Seniors Village receives full payment from Island Health based on 3.11 hours of care per resident, but actually provides only 2.63 hours.

Island Health told Decafnation that “licensees are held accountable to meet all contractual obligations, including resident care hours.” And that Seniors Village has developed a corrective action plan, which Island Health “is monitoring weekly, including the licensee’s compliance to the Act and the Residential Care Regulations.”

Adequate staffing has been an consistent problem at the Seniors Village. The facility operated for six months without any senior management, neither a general manager or a director of care.

The facility has a difficult time keeping staff partly because it pays about $2 to $4 per hour less than other Valley facilities, such as Glacier View Lodge and The Views at St. Joseph. Seniors Village staff went on strike last fall for better working conditions and compensations.

But there are other problems that have caused many workers to quit.

Recently, the facility introduced unpopular shift changes. It essentially fired all its employees and made them reapply for their shifts, although workers were allowed to keep their seniority.

One concept in the shift reorganization, which the company has since reconsidered, would have required workers to rotate among the various wards every five weeks. But that was unacceptable to family members of residents in the dementia ward, where consistency and specialized training is necessary.

Deadly norovirus outbreak

Between Jan. 28 and Feb. 25, the norovirus spread rampantly throughout the facility. The family members believe the outbreak lasted longer than necessary because Seniors Village personnel — without a manager, dietician or care director — did not follow Island Health’s rigorous cleaning procedure.

“Past contraventions show the facility has a history of not having policies and procedures in place and the properly trained staff to executive them,” the family members wrote to Orr on March 13.

Two residents of the dementia wing died from pneumonia after noro infection and another died after refusing food after contracting the virus. Residents with “mobile dementia” often touch floors because they see things there.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, people become infected with norovirus through direct contact with infected people, touching surfaces contaminated with norovirus or by drinking water or eating food that has been contaminated, usually by food handlers who have the virus and don’t wash their hands properly.

“Further evidence supporting our concerns that the facility did not follow the required cleaning procedure is that we have determined that the only carpet cleaning during the 29-day outbreak was not steam cleaning as required, but vacuuming, which is specifically contraindicated in Island Health’s procedure,” the family members wrote to Orr on March 13.

The family of one dementia resident who died during the outbreak was permitted access to collect his personal belongings unaware that the required cleaning protocol had not been followed.

“It is unconscionable to us that Island Health would not have immediately stepped into direct this facility’s handling of the outbreak and provide additional resources given the known issues with this facility,” the family members wrote on March 13.

The family members believe that an Island Health run facility would have done a post-incident investigation to identify the root causes of the norovirus outbreak and recommendations to prevent another occurence.

“Why would it not be a requirement for this facility, given its serious breach of a critical public health protocol?” the family members asked Orr in their most recent May 20 letter.

Can Island Health take over?

Island Health has the authority to take operational control of a facility through the Community Care and Assisted Living Act if they believe has endangered public health.

Island Health says they have appointed an administrator at facilities in the past. They have done so twice in the past 15 years at two separate facilities.

“We take the concerns and complaints from residents and families seriously,” an Island Health spokesperson told Decafnation. “There are a number of regulatory mechanisms to direct corrective action on the part of the operators to ensure the safety of residents.”

The family members think the situation at Seniors Village qualifies.

“Severe and irrevocable consequences are both appropriate and needed given this service provider’s continued critical failures to meet the terms of its contract and the regulatory standards,” they wrote on May 20.

The family members told Orr they have supported Island Health’s need to follow a remedial process, and think it’s now “time to take decisive action.”

“If Island Health is of the view that Comox Valley Seniors Village has not yet reached this point, it begs one of two questions: How much longer? Or How much worse does it need to be?”

Family members of Comox Valley Seniors Village residents or former residents who signed both letters referred to in this article are Delores Broten, Bev Foster, Greta Judd, Sharon Jackson and Doug Malcolm.

This article has been updated to remove a sentence saying Island Health had not responded. Island Health’s responses were included in the original article.








Norovirus is a very contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea. People of all ages can get infected and sick with norovirus.

Norovirus is sometimes called the stomach flu or stomach bug. However, norovirus illness is not related to the flu which is caused by influenza virus.

People with norovirus illness can shed billions of norovirus particles. And only a few virus particles can make other people sick.

You can get norovirus from:

–Having direct contact with an infected person
–Consuming contaminated food or water
–Touching contaminated surfaces and then putting your unwashed hands in your mouth

The most commonly reported setting for norovirus outbreaks … is healthcare facilities, including long-term care facilities and hospitals. Over half of all norovirus outbreaks reported … occur in long-term care facilities.

The virus can be introduced into healthcare facilities by infected patients, staff, visitors, or contaminated foods. Outbreaks in these settings can sometimes last months. Norovirus illnesses can be more severe, occasionally even deadly, in patients in hospitals or long-term care facilities compared with healthy people.

— Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


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24 new care and respite beds opened at St. Joe’s

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The buck (doesn’t) stop here

The key to maintaining the public’s confidence in its government departments and agencies, is the concept of public accountability. The gap between the serious nature of the issues presented by community representatives and the response provided by Island Health is staggering. Island Health acknowledges its accountability but does it, in fact, hold itself accountable?

Seniors groups criticize VIHA RFP as too little, too late

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Record 178 patients at CVH, VIHA board in Courtenay

The Island Health board will hear presentations from individuals and community groups tomorrow in Courtenay about health care issues in the Comox Valley and wider region. But little has been done so far to address concerns at the Comox Valley Hospital where a record high 178 admitted patients was recorded Friday.

120 complex care beds proposed for Comox Valley

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Island Health board to meet in Courtenay on March 29

The Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA, or Island Health) board of directors will hold their March meeting in the Comox Valley. It’s an opportunity for Comox Valley and Campbell River residents flummoxed by the myriad errors in planning the new hospitals to ask questions or even make presentations to the directors and Island Health executives.

The Week: Courtenay declares climate emergency; rainforest rhinos

The Week: Courtenay declares climate emergency; rainforest rhinos

George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

Climate change seems to dominate the news with growing frequency. This week, the City of Courtenay joined many other governments in declaring the planet faces a climate emergency.

Courtenay Councillor Will Cole-Hamilton, a champion of the city’s declaration, explained to Decafnation why he put this resolution forward.


“The IPCC tells us that Canada is heating at twice the rate of the rest of the world. Last week the UN reported that 1 million species are at risk of extinction due to climate change

“Climate change is clearly a global challenge, so what does this mean to us as a local government? Local governments have been leading the way world-wide because we are the ones who see its impact most directly.

“In Courtenay climate change will impact us in many ways. Sometimes it will be greater damage to our existing roads, buildings and other facilities – as fires, windstorms, extreme rainfall events, prolonged dry spells and increased summer temperature result in greater wear and damage. Other times it will be a matter of building new infrastructure like greater storm water capacity and flood prevention. None of this is optional, and we need to ensure that our residents and our infrastructure are adequately protected

“As a government our main challenge is to find a way to pay for this. As I mentioned in the introduction to my resolution local government is responsible for building, maintaining, repairing and upgrading two-thirds of all the government infrastructure in Canada but we receive only $.08 of each tax dollar to do it. This is a challenge at the best of times, but climate change is going to increase the burden and the costs considerably. It is simply not fair, nor is it possible, for local taxpayers to bear the full burden of these unavoidable expenses.

“Senior levels of government are providing some assistance. Just last Thursday the province committed $150,000 in provincial emergency preparedness funding to support flood risk assessment, mapping and mitigation planning. This is a start and it is appreciated. This grant will help with planning, but it doesn’t come anywhere close to the cost of doing the work itself. To provide a single example, in 2013 a study by the City suggests that a ring dyke to prevent climate related flooding in central Courtenay would cost $5.8 million (a number which would surely be significantly higher today).

“Other communities throughout BC are also declaring climate emergencies and climate crises in order to emphasize the need for action. It’s not just big cities like Vancouver and Richmond, but local communities like our neighbours in Nanaimo, Powell River, the Comox Valley Regional District, Comox and Cumberland.

“Just last month a resolution was passed at the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities conference with more than 90% support. The resolution emphasized local governments’ inability to shoulder the costs of climate change. It advocated that the province declare an emergency and support local governments in their efforts to adapt to and manage ongoing climate change.

“While adaptation is important, we are also working to reduce our city’s carbon footprint. The single-use plastics bylaw is an example, as are the four electric vehicle (EV) chargers planned for downtown Courtenay and the improvements to active transportation infrastructure like the complete street project on 5th St. But we need to do more.

“The greatest impact that we can have on carbon emissions relates to where we live and how we move around. Our new Official Community Plan (OCP) will have a lasting impact on both of these. For that reason, this resolution ensures that we consider climate change at all stages of development of the OCP.

“The resolution that was passed unanimously by Council acknowledges the real challenges facing our City as a consequence of climate change and takes concrete steps to: lobby senior governments for greater resources; ensure that we are prepared for specific emergencies such as floods and fires; authorize staff to work with other local governments to identify specific tangible actions that the city can take to address the crisis; and ensure that climate change in considered at all stages of the development of our key planning document, the OCP.

“It is said that we need to think globally and act locally. I am proud to see the City of Courtenay show determination and leadership in addressing the world’s greatest local crisis.”


Island has lost its old trees

Sometime this summer or fall, the City of Courtenay will adopt its Urban Forest Strategy as a means of protecting and enhancing its tree canopy. And many other Island communities either already have a similar strategy or are in the process of creating one.

But at the same time, our Vancouver Island rainforest is quickly disappearing, at the rate of three square metres a second. Each year, more than 10,000 hectares are clearcut. In the last 10 years, according to the Sierra Club, old growth trees were logged off an area equivalent to the size of Greater Victoria — or about 2.6 percent of the entire Island.

The Island once had about three million hectares of old growth timber. Less than 10 percent remains.

Urban Forest strategies are important and urgent. So is preserving and protected the canopy and rainforests of the entire Vancouver Island.



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A new Courtenay strategy will guide how the city manages its urban forests

A new Courtenay strategy will guide how the city manages its urban forests

Butchers Road, Comox  /  George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

Back in the 1980s, it was uncommon for small communities like the City of Courtenay to even think about the value of its urban forests. When the city adopted a tree bylaw in 1989 that regulated the cutting down of trees on public and private lands, Courtenay became something of a leader in urban planning.

The idea of protecting trees as a natural asset, once only the providence of environmentalists, is now a widely accepted best practice of urban planning in flourishing communities.

But the price of being an early adopter was that Courtenay had no overarching policy to guide its decision-making about how to update its tree bylaw.

That gap became obvious during a controversial review and update to the bylaw that began in 2015 and didn’t conclude until 2017. Groups like the Comox Valley Development and Constructions Association pressed for a less restrictive bylaw while other groups favored greater protections.

So the Courtenay planning staff are now in the final throes of developing an Urban Forest Strategy that will guide how the city manages trees on private and public property for the next 30 years.

FURTHER READING: Review the draft Urban Forest Strategy

Comox Valley residents have just two more days to add their input into the strategy through the online survey. It closes on Thursday, May 23.

Many Vancouver Island communities have an Urban Forest strategy or are in the process of developing one.

Cumberland issued an RFP for consulting services to assist in creating its Urban Forest Management Plan, which includes trees on both public and private property within the urban landscape. Comox has a plan, but it applies only to public lands.

Courtenay Policy Planner Nancy Gothard said the Urban Forest Strategy will be a guiding document for the city that states a shared vision, goals and targets, and will inform the decision-making of future councils.

“It’s a ‘plan’ similar to the Downtown Revitalization Plan,” Gothard said. “If it’s adopted by City Council it will guide decisions, but not be adopted as a bylaw.”


Courtenay’s urban forest today

Although the city has had a tree bylaw for 30 years, the tree canopy has been declining, especially in the last four years.

In 1996, 38 percent of the city was covered and that remained fairly constant until 2014 when it dropped by two percent, and another two percent by the end of 2016. Another one percent was lost in 2018, leaving the tree canopy now at 33 percent, most of it on privately-owned land.

That’s similar to other communities, such as Campbell River. Comox is considerably lower at 23 percent.

The canopy cover target for the Pacific Northwest ecoregion is 40 percent.

The draft Urban Forest Strategy doesn’t propose a specific target, yet. Gothard said the city is asking the public through the survey what the target should be and will make a specific target recommendation to council.


Why have an urban forest?

Recent research generally supports that greener communities enjoy better health and wealth, and are more active and socially bonded. Communities everywhere in the world are looking at the role of trees in providing these benefits.

“As an ecological asset, Courtenay’s urban forest plays a critical role in sustaining localized hydrology, to support creek and fish health,” Gothard said. “We also know that the public loves their neighbourhood forested trails and values trees for the shade, wildlife habitat and beauty they provide.”

Emerging research also indicates that access to nature — and even views of it — assist with boosting immunity, more rapid healing, and reducing the anxiety and stress, ailments of modern life.

“Urban trees and forests clearly require management and care in order to provide these benefits,” she said. “But when invested in, they are proving to be a very good return on investment.”


Benefits of trees

According to trees absorb air borne pollutants, which improves health and allergic conditions. They absorb carbon dioxide, and one tree produces enough oxygen for 18 people every day.

A tree is a natural air conditioner. The evaporation from a single tree can produce the cooling effect of ten room-size, residential air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.

Tree windbreaks can reduce residential heating costs by up to 15 percent; while shading and evaporative cooling from trees can cut residential air-conditioning costs by nearly 50 percent.

Homes landscaped with trees sell more quickly and are worth 5 percent to 15 percent more than homes without trees. Where the entire street is tree-lined, homes may be worth 25 percent more.

Trees absorb and block sound, reducing noise pollution by as much as 40 percent.






One year after beginning a comprehensive exploration and community consultation into Courtenay’s urban forest, the draft plan is now available for public feedback and we want to hear from you!

The Urban Forest Strategy will guide how we as a community protect and manage trees on public and private land within the Courtenay boundaries. The drafted Strategy recommends the vision for what our future urban forest will be and a framework for how to get there.

The survey focuses on a few key questions to gather final input on the vision, preferred canopy target, your priorities and willingness to participate in proposed urban forest actions.

All survey participants are welcome and encouraged to consult the draft Urban Forest Strategy, including previous consultation findings, which are available on the City of Courtenay’s website at:

Questions and written feedback may also be directed to City staff at

Survey closes May 23, 2019. Please encourage your friends and neighbours to participate!

— City of Courtenay website


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Conservancy Hornby Island has criticized a decision by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to allow the March herring fishery to go ahead. It undercuts efforts to protect Killer Whales and chinook salmon stocks.

Strathcona groundwater motion headed to AVICC vote

The Strathcona Regional District has asked the province to cease licensing groundwater for commercial water bottling and bulk water exports. It hopes all municipalities in BC will join the movement.