Top 20 Vancouver news stories of 2017

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      On this holiday weekend, I decided to compile my list of the top 20 news stories in Vancouver in 2017. Those who disagree with the choices or the sequence are welcome to offer their responses in the comment section. 

      1. Drug overdoses

      The body count keeps climbing as Vancouver experienced another record year of illicit-drug-overdose deaths. In fact, last year's all-time high was eclipsed in August.

      In the first 11 months of 2017, Vancouver firefighters were dispatched to 6,000 overdose calls.

      And through the first 10 months of 2017, there were 239 fentanyl-related overdose deaths in Vancouver among the 999 illicit-drug overdose deaths provincewide. 

      As the Straight's Travis Lupick reported earlier this year, even the dogs are overdosing on fentanyl in Vancouver.

      Despite this, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau maintained earlier this year that the fentanyl crisis is still no reason to regulate hard drugs.

      That was disputed by a growing list of B.C. politicians. Even Trudeau's Vancouver Centre Liberal MP, Dr. Hedy Fry, called for a frank debate on legal and regulated heroin.

      The Overdose Prevention Society was too busy saving lives to pay too much attention to what the prime minister thought, regardless of the legal risks they face. For that, the society won the B.C. Civil Liberties Association's Jennifer Prosser Wade Award for Courage: where truth speaks to power.

      By the end of the year, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control was planning on making low-cost, safe hydromorphone available to addicts to curb the number of overdose deaths next year. Let's hope it works.

      Charlie Smith

      2. Rental-housing woes

      For years, the biggest real-estate story in Vancouver was the high cost of homeownership.

      But this year, that all changed thanks to the work of activists and a report from the website PadMapper, which stated that the average price of a one-bedroom apartment listing in Vancouver had surpassed $2,000 per month.

      Another reason to pay attention? B.C. tenants who already had apartments were hit with the largest rent increases allowed in five years.

      The plight of tenants became the central issue in Vancouver's council by-election in October.

      Mayor Gregor Robertson kicked off the campaign by declaring that he wanted 25 percent of units in new projects in the Cambie corridor to be rented to people whose incomes were between $30,000 to $80,000. This could be accomplished by providing density bonuses to developers.

      That wasn't good enough for housing activist Jean Swanson. She mounted a serious campaign in the by-election by calling for a mansion tax to finance affordable housing, as well as a rent freeze for existing tenants.

      Another candidate, former city tenant assistance coordinator Judy Graves, also pounded Vision Vancouver for emphasizing market solutions to the housing crisis.

      The eventual winner, the NPA's Hector Bremner, argued in favour of far more housing supply than is presently being built.

      Not long after the by-election, Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Selina Robinson introduced a bill to eliminate fixed-term rental-housing leases. These leases had given landlords a way around rent controls.

      Earlier this month, the province scrapped the widely loathed geographic loophole. This had enabled landlords to jack up rents to remain in sync with what was being charged for other similar housing units in the neighbourhood. 

      3. Home prices remain out of reach

      Earlier this year, the City of Vancouver forecast new demand for 47,800 rental and ownership housing units by 2026. But even if they were built, would local residents be able to afford to buy them? Probably not.

      A study by Point 2 Point Homes found that Vancouver beat Manhattan and San Francisco for the least affordable housing in North America, based on our town's lower median income. 

      At one point this year, a three-bedroom house on Cambie Street was listed for a whopping $11 million.

      At the start of this month, the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver's home-price index showed that the benchmark price on the East Side was up 12.8 percent in November over the same month of 2016.

      On the West Side, the benchmark price rose 10.2 percent over the previous 12 months.

      One report suggested that owning a home now costs 87 percent of middle-class incomes in Vancouver.

      Many people voted for NDP candidates in the May 2017 election hoping that this would lead to lower housing prices, but so far that hasn't happened.

      So while it's true that rental-housing woes eclipsed the high cost of homeownership as a major news story in 2017, this issue still remained very high on the public's radar.

      And if Premier John Horgan doesn't make progress on this issue, he could face a political backlash in the coming years.

      As the premier's chief of staff, Geoff Meggs wields enormous influence in Victoria.

      4. Appointments of six Vancouver cabinet ministers and Geoff Meggs as premier's chief of staff

      Politicians from the B.C. Interior and the Fraser Valley had enormous influence in the previous B.C. government headed by Christy Clark.

      For many of her ministers, Vancouver was an after-thought. This was demonstrated by their reluctance to campaign for better transit during a 2015 regional plebiscite.

      But things changed dramatically this year when Vancouver finally gained a much larger presence at the cabinet table under Premier Horgan.

      Not only did he name former Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs as his chief of staff, he also appointed six of the NDP's eight Vancouver MLAs to cabinet.

      Adrian Dix (health), David Eby (attorney general), George Heyman (environment and climate change strategy), Melanie Mark (advanced education), Shane Simpson (social development and poverty reduction) all oversee important ministries. The sixth, George Chow, is the minister of state for trade.

      While Vancouver still might not get everything it wants from the province, at least it will have a better shot at receiving a fair hearing.

      Chief Perry Bellegarde and Chief Robert Joseph walked arm-in-arm toward the Georgia Viaduct during the Walk for Reconciliation.
      Charlie Smith

      5. Rising respect for region's Indigenous roots

      There was no shortage of signs of an ongoing major Indigenous comeback in Vancouver.

      Tens of thousands of Vancouverites joined a Walk for Reconciliation in September as part of the Canada 150+ celebrations put on by the City of Vancouver. There was also a well-attended Gathering of Canoes event at Vanier Park on July 14.

      Over at 730 East Hastings Street, the new library branch received an Indigenous name: nə́c̓aʔmat ct Strathcona.

      That was followed by the Vancouver park board voting to ask local First Nations if they would guide the process for renaming Siwash Rock.

      In addition to these substantial moves, there was also a symbolic blanket ceremony swearing in the new Vancouver school board following an October by-election.

      At the provincial level, Vancouver East NDP MLA Melanie Mark, who's of Gitxsan, Nisga'a, Cree, and Ojibway heritage, became the new minister of advanced education. One of her first policies was to make adult basic education free.

      Mark, a former president of the Urban Native Youth Association, also provided free postsecondary tuition for young adults leaving government care, many of whom are Indigenous.

      There were other signs of the comeback. Indigenous murals were unveiled at Queen Elizabeth Theatre Plaza, the plaza of the Vancouver Public Library's central branch, and in the 600 block of Beatty Street as part of the Drum is Calling Festival.

      The Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users named Lorna Bird as its first Aboriginal woman president in the midst of the fentanyl crisis.

      A Vancouver city councillor, Andrea Reimer, started speaking the Squamish language at public events to welcome guests. 

      And the president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, continued to be one of the leaders in the public fight against the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion.

      That was acknowledged when the Wilderness Committee honoured him and his wife Joan with its annual Eugene Rogers Environmental Award.

      Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh leaders have also played prominent roles in the battle against the pipeline project.

      Stephen Hui

      6. Vancouver park board votes to ban display of whales and dolphins

      In March, seven Vancouver park commissioners voted to do what many felt was unthinkable more than a decade ago.

      They supported a motion to ask staff to report back on an amendment to the parks-control bylaw banning the importation and display of whales and dolphins in public parks.

      The motion was introduced by Green commissioner Stuart Mackinnon.

      The Vancouver Aquarium later filed a judicial-review application in B.C. Supreme Court, arguing that the park board had exceeded its legal jurisdiction.

      According to the legal petition, the vote "renders the remaining phases of the Vancouver Aquarium's approved $100-million revitalization and expansion project obsolete".

      But for now, at least, it's illegal to incarcerate cetaceans in what the activists have often described as "whale jails". 

      This tent city at 950 Main Street was shut down.
      Charlie Smith

      7. Homelessness reaches record level

      For the first time since there have been counts of homeless people in Vancouver, the number surpassed 2,000. Of those, 39 percent were Indigenous.

      One tent city was forced to close in the 900 block of Main Street, with some residents moving to another one at the so-called Sugar Mountain site, which also received an eviction notice.

      The percentage of regional homeless was up 30 percent over the figure reported in 2014. Two out of 10 homeless people in the region have jobs, according to a regional report.

      The ruckus over homelessness led the NDP government to invest $66 million to develop 600 temporary modular homes in Vancouver. These units will house those without a roof over their head.

      That led to a controversy in Marpole when the city decided that 78 modular homes would go on the Pearson-Dogwood lands, which are being redeveloped by Onni.

      The city went to court to obtain an injunction against NIMBY protesters who didn't want the homeless living in their neighbourhood.

      The focus on homelessness might have also played a role in the NDP government giving welfare recipients a $100 a month raise immediately after taking power.

      The sun remained shrouded behind smoky skies in early August.
      Charlie Smith

      8. Smoky Vancouver

      B.C.'s wildfires devastated the lives of some Interior residents. The effects were also felt in Vancouver as a haze of smoke descended on the city in the summer months. 

      This led to heightened concerns about air quality as those with asthma and other respiratory conditions had to start paying attention to smoke forecasts.

      The B.C. Centre for Disease Control's senior scientist in environmental health services, Sarah Henderson, told the Straight in August that large smoke events could double, triple, or even quadruple the number of people visiting pharmacies to pick up Ventolin, which increases air flow into the lungs.

      “Approximately 10 to 12 percent of the population is asthmatic and would use that medication on a regular basis,” she said.

      Air pollution is linked to almost 8,000 Canadian deaths a year, according to an essay by UBC professors Chris Carlsten and Michael Brauer in a 2017 book, Reflections of Canada: Illuminating Our Opportunities and Challenges at 150+ Years.

      "Air pollution causes more death than motor vehicle collisions, suicide, and HIV combined," they wrote.

      In an interview, Brauer told the Straight that the public should expect more smoke-related issues to arise in the coming years as a warmer climate leads to more wildfires.

      “My line for this summer is, ‘This is the new normal,’ ” he said.

      Proposals for condos at 105 Keefer Street have been repeatedly shot down by the city.

      9. Community opposition stops Chinatown condo project

      Chinese Canadians and their allies showed up in huge numbers at Vancouver city hall this year to thwart two applications by Beedie Living to develop a large condo project at 105 Keefer Street. It would have gone next to the Chinatown monument for war veterans.

      The magnitude of the uproar reflected the depth and breadth of public opposition to ongoing gentrification of Chinatown and support for more seniors' housing in the neighbourhood.

      Even when Beedie Living came forward with its fifth proposal for the site, which conformed with existing zoning, it was voted down in November by the Vancouver development permit board.

      It was a watershed event in the city, sending a message to every developer that even if a project meets existing rules, it's not necessarily going to get approved.

      The new Emily Carr University of Art + Design campus will breathe new life into the area east of the Olympic Village.

      10. Emily Carr University campus opens on Great Northern Way

      This year, Premier Horgan attended the ribbon-cutting of the $122.6-million Emily Carr University of Art + Design campus, which was the brainchild of the university's president and vice-chancellor, Ron Burnett.

      While other news stories, such as the charges against Marc and Jodie Emery, received a great deal more media attention, the new university campus could have far more impact on the city over the longer term.

      That's because it  will kick-start more artistic innovation, more economic activity, and reinforce Vancouver's position as a major creative hub in Canada.

      11. Vancouver legalizes and regulates Airbnb and other short-term rentals

      The Straight's Travis Lupick reported last month that "Vancouver has joined a growing list of cities that have made peace with Airbnb."

      Residents are now allowed advertise all or part of their primary residence for short-term rental accommodation if they obtain a business licence.

      But owners of apartment blocks and other commercial landlords still won't be allowed to do this. Secondary basement suites also cann't be put on the market as short-term rentals.

      Mayor Gregor Robertson defended the changes as a means of retaining housing supply for tenants, but the move was opposed by the four NPA councillors.

      The NPA's George Affleck was the most outspoken, claiming that the new policy would lead to "more bureaucracy, more taxation, more sticks".

      A favourite hangout for students, Calhoun's Bakery, is no longer open on West Broadway.

      12. Closure of local businesses 

      It seemed that every month, another locally owned company disappeared from the Vancouver landscape.

      Those that shut down included the Dover Arms, the European Warehouse, 3 Vets, Nick's Spaghetti House, Calhoun's Bakery, Hapa Izakaya, Rx Comics, Denman Fitness, Trafalgar's Bistro, Acme Cafe, the Umbrella Shop, Foundation vegetarian restaurant, Vera's Burgers on West Broadway, StackHouse Burger Bar, and the Cloud 9 Revolving Restaurant on top of the Empire Landmark Hotel.

      Then there were the closures of local gas stations, including the final two in downtown Vancouver. That's to say nothing of all those Sears stores that closed across the country.

      It was rough on employees but on the upside, B.C.'s unemployment rate is at its lowest level in years.

      Gregor Robertson had high hopes for Vision's council candidate, Diego Cardona.

      13. Gregor Robertson's annus horribilis

      This has not been the best of years for Vancouver's mayor. Early in the year, the leader of Vision Vancouver and his former girlfriend, Wanting Qu, broke up, attracting unwanted headlines.

      Then one of Vision Vancouver's councillors, Geoff Meggs, suddenly resigned after being appointed chief of staff to Premier Horgan.

      That precipitated a by-election, in which the mayor's hand-picked candidate, Diego Cardona, was trounced.

      He came fifth as the NPA council candidate, Hector Bremner, cruised to victory.

      Vision Vancouver also failed to win control of the Vancouver school board as only three of its five candidates were elected.

      The Greens took the top three spots in the school-board by-election, which suggests that this party could threaten Vision's hegemony over council in the 2018 election,

      In fact, the Greens' success in this by-election might embolden Coun. Adriane Carr to challenge Robertson in the 2018 mayoral election. That would be a nightmare scenario for the mayor as he fights off whoever is the NPA's standard-bearer.

      That's not all.

      Vision Vancouver's executive director Stepan Vdovine quit. And one of the mayor's most competent councillors, Andrea Reimer, declared that she won't seek reelection.

      Topping it all off was Robertson losing a vote to be reelected as chair of the TransLink Mayors' Council to Burnaby's Derek Corrigan.

      This could jeopardize Robertson's dream of delivering a Vancouver subway to voters.

      If that weren't enough, COPE's Tim Louis announced that he won't be a candidate in 2018. This could heighten the likelihood of the city's left-wing party increasing its vote count in the next election by cutting into Vision Vancouver's base of support.

      The Greens and COPE could already be more competitive next time thanks to the NDP government passing legislation banning big-money donations to municipal political parties.

      It suggests that 2018 could be even worse for Robertson than the year that is nearly over.

      Amanda Siebert

      14. Vancouverites say no to racism

      More than 4,000 Vancouverites showed up at Vancouver City Hall in August to show their opposition to a planned demonstration by Islamophobic and anti-immigrant activists.

      They spilled onto the adjacent streets carrying placard denouncing xenophobia and racism.

      The Stand Up to Racism Metro Vancouver counterprotest sent a loud message to the Worldwide Coalition Against Islam and others that they were not going to be able to spread their hateful views in our town with impunity.

      As Vancouver housing activist Jean Swanson said, "Free speech does not mean you have a right to hate speech. Free speech does not mean you have the right to gather and normalize racism. Free speech does not mean we can let hate groups gather steam, bring in more members, and continue to harm and terrorize people.”

      Occupational therapist Dianna Mah-Jones (above) and her husband, Richard, were murdered in their Marpole home.
      Vancouver Coastal Health

      15. Murder rate rises in Vancouver

      Early this year, there was a spate of killings in Vancouver, suggesting that Vancouver homicide detectives were going to be busier than in the recent past.

      And by the end of November, there had been 17 murders, which was the highest number since 2009.

      Among them were two grisly double homicides.

      Married seniors Dianna Mah-Jones and Richard Jones were killed in their home in Marpole in September.

      And in July, Sandra McInnes and Neil Croker were murdered in the Ocean Towers apartment building near English Bay.

      In both instances, the community's minds were put at ease when Vancouver police announced that charges had been laid against the suspected killers.

      Jodie and Marc Emery each have to pay hefty fined after pleading guilty to marijuana-related offences.

      16. Marc and Jodie Emery charged and convicted

      This was supposed to be a year when the country would legalize cannabis.

      But that's been put off until next year and in the meantime, the husband and wife team of Marc and Jodie Emery were charged with 20 serious criminal offences in March following police raids on their Cannabis Culture businesses.

      This month, they pleaded guilty to a reduced set of charges and were each sentenced to 24 months probation and $195,000 fines.

      The Emerys have also been prohibited from having any involvement in illegal  cannabis dispensaries.

      Between the laying of charges and the guilty pleas, the annual 420 event took place at Sunset Beach and the B.C. government set the minimum age at 19 for users of recreational marijuana...when it's finally legalized.

      Vancouver-Langara MLA Michael Lee wants to become B.C.'s next premier.
      Andrew Wilkinson

      17. Three Vancouver MLAs enter B.C. Liberal leadership race

      One of the most surprising statements of the year came from Dunbar resident and former premier Christy Clark when she announced "I'm done with public life."

      With that, she disappeared from the sight and the race was on to replace her as leader of the B.C. Liberal party.

      And it turned out that all three of Vancouver's B.C. Liberal MLAs think they have what it takes to become the next premier of the province.

      Michael Lee (Vancouver-Langara), Sam Sullivan (Vancouver-False Creek), and Andrew Wilkinson (Vancouver-Quilchena) declared their candidacies in which the presumed frontrunner was going to be former Surrey mayor Dianne Watts.

      Should any of the Vancouver MLAs win this contest, they'll become B.C.'s next leader of the Official Opposition and perhaps, one day, B.C.'s next premier. 

      The #Metoo movement shone a light on the extent of sexual harassment in Vancouver's entertainment industry.
      Flickr/Jill S.

      18. #Metoo's fallout in Vancouver

      The #metoo phenomenon brought down major figures in politics, broadcasting, and the movie business.

      It also highlighted rape culture in Vancouveer's nightlife and party scene as various men were named and shamed over social media.

      More than 100 people attended a rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery in November to draw more attention to pervasive sexual harassment in the city.

      And in response to numerous allegations, Warner Bros. severed ties with Andrew Kreisberg, who was the executive producer of several TV series shot in Vancouver, including Arrow, Supergirl, and The Flash.

      The Goldner report purported that there was a culture of fear in the Vancouver school district.
      Charlie Smith

      19. Goldner report

      In March, B.C. Liberal government-appointed Vancouver school trustee Dianne Turner released lawyer Roslyn Goldner's redacted report into alleged dysfunctional conduct at the Vancouver school board.

      "Many witnesses described a 'culture of fear' in which staff felt vulnerable and at risk of personal attack and ridicule," the report stated.

      Goldner also alleged that Vision Vancouver trustees "threw the staff under the bus" in the way they opposed senior administrators' recommendations to close schools.

      Vision Vancouver trustees fired back by criticizing political interference in democratic school-board governance. According to the Vision trustees, they were just doing their jobs representing the public interest on the board.

      But it wasn't enough for the former chair, Mike Lombardi, to get reelected when a by-election was finally held in October.

      Joi "SJ" Harris was brought in to replace a stunt artist days before her accident.

      20. Death on the Deadpool 2 set

      There was a great deal of excitement in Vancouver when Ryan Reynolds returned to his hometown to shoot the sequel to Deadpool, which is the top-grossing R-rated movie in Hollywood history.

      But this joy turned to sadness with news that a 40-year-old female motorcyclist, Joi "SJ" Harris, died while performing a stunt near Jack Poole Plaza on August 14.

      The tragedy halted filming for two days.

      "We're heartbroken, shocked and devastated...but recognize nothing can come close to the grief and inexplicable pain her family and loved ones must feel in this moment," Reynolds tweeted. "My heart pours out to them -- along with each and every person she touched in this world."