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Tsunami, riots, Occupy, civic election, casino, Keystone XL pipeline, tar sands: VO's top stories in 2011

2011 was a year of big stories on the Vancouver Observer. From natural disasters to political unrest, many of the events around the world impacted people in Vancouver, while a few of the big stories took root in Vancouver and spread to other countries.  

Here's a look back at some of the top stories that made headlines this year:

Japan's earthquake, nuclear fallout and impact on B.C.

Vancouver is home to a large and historic Japanese community. Many Japanese Canadians were devastated by the quake and tsunami that hit the northeastern Tohoku region in Japan.

The Vancouver Observer's coverage started with a piece by UBC professor of population and public health and Canadian Research Chair Dr. Erica Frank entitled, "Is Lower Mainland monitoring for nuclear fallout from Japan?" VO then reached out to people who came from quake-affected areas and asked them to write about their experience of the disaster. Kozue Matsumoto wrote a poignant story about how twitter helped search-and-rescue operations in rural Japan, and how people continued their lives with a deep fear and reverence for nature. 

British Columbians, meanwhile, worried about how the nuclear radiation from Japan would affect them in the years to come. Canada's nuclear plants are mainly in the east, but experts have pointed to close ties between the government watchdog agency and the nuclear industry -- a major factor in Japan's lack of preparation for the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi plant. 

The mega-casino at BC Place

Earlier this year, the proposed $500-million mega-casino seemed like an all but a done deal. The only reason why there are not many more gambling tables at BC Place today is because of public uproar against the idea of a mega-casino in the downtown core.

The Vancouver Observer began reporting on the casino deal in 2010, after political commentator Ian Reid detailed background issues surrounding the process that led to the proposed casino at BC Place.  The issue was still under the city's radar. With Reid's help, VO Editor/publisher Linda Solomon and former managing editor Emily Barca relentlessly reported on the casino project, spreading the word until big names such as Bing Thom and Peter Ladner came out opposing the casino.

It wasn't an easy decision for city council: Edgewater casino gave excellent jobs to Vancouverites, many of them new immigrants or single mothers. But after a marathon public hearing that included 140 speakers, including people speaking about the dangers of gambling addiction, council unanimously voted down the mega-casino and placed a moratorium on casino expansion in the city. We must note, however, that immediately after Vision Vancouver won re-election last November, council approved Edgewater's relocation to BC Place (at its current size), disappointing many who understood their initial decision to mean no new casino would be built.

In photo above by Linda Solomon, media swarm Paragon Gaming president Scott Menke (back) while Concert Properties CEO David Podmore (front right) smiles for the camera after city council's vote. Podmore argued passionately for the casino expansion. Was he smiling because he was confident that Edgewater Casino would move to BC Place, and be granted approval for the expansion later?

VO's editorial board came out against the casino expansion in the video below:

If the organizers of Vancouver Not Vegas -- Sandy Garossino (left) and Lindsay Brown (right), pictured in the photo below -- prevail, gambling expansion isn't in the cards.

The Stanley Cup riots

The riots were a surreal response to the Canucks' attempt to bring the Stanley Cup home for the first time to Vancouver. The team's defeat led to disappointment, then violent mayhem as fans tore up the downtown core, causing nearly $5 million in property damage in the space of a few hours. VO quickly caught the story and updated live via tweets and updates from the scene. Some of the best photos of the riot came from Parisa Azadi, who placed herself in the middle of the skirmishes and fires in order to get the perfect shot. 

Photos by Parisa Azadi

After the riots came the reflections, and VO's follow-up story, “Judged in the Court of Facebook”, received tons of traffic for its discussion of the vigilante role played by people via social media after the riots. 

The riots weren't all about shame, however. What followed was an outpouring of Vancouver pride during the clean-up efforts, and the Vancouver police received thanks from the public in Candace Plattor's piece,“Signs of Gratitude”. Comedian Morgan Brayton's profanity-laced opinion piece, “Dear Hooligans”, struck a chord for expressing the anger that many in the city felt, but were too polite to say. 

Tar sands development

The tar sands development wasn't a single event, but an ongoing story about the Conservative government's bid to market Albertan oil sands, even as Canada falls further behind in sustainability. VO sustainability blogger Barry Saxifrage outlined the oil sands saga with informative graphs and charts in a monumental blog series called The Big Grab, a must-read for anyone concerned about Canada's future.

The VO poked fun at Prime Minister Stephen Harper's enthusiasm for the controversial oil sands, but at the but it was clear that things were getting serious with Canada making a withdrawal from the Kyoto protocol.

Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Vancouver

It was a twitter meme started in Vancouver that took North America by storm. When Adbusters magazine founder Kalle Lasn suggested that people stage a sit-in at Wall Street to protest the big banks after the taxpayer-funded bailout, the media largely ignored it.

As the “Occupy” movement expanded and grew in September, however, the story became impossible to overlook. By October, it seemed that people couldn't stop talking about it.

In Vancouver, David P. Ball wrote in-depth coverage of Occupy Vancouver as they crashed political debates and put the spotlight on issues such as homelessness and housing affordability. His stories went beyond the surface and into the heart of the movement. After the death of Ashlie Gough within the Occupy encampment, David spent hours speaking with family members and Gough's boyfriend, telling their story of Ashlie even as her death was exploited by people wanting to shut down the camp. 

Civic election 2011

 The civic election in November was full of surprises. A resounding victory by Vision Vancouver, as well as the collapse of COPE and the first Green seat on council. The NPA ran a well-funded but strikingly negative campaign, which resulted in criticism from within the party's support base. Despite troubles such as the Stanley Cup riots and Occupy Vancouver, Mayor Gregor Robertson's Greenest City action plan and affordable housing projects resonated with voters, and he was re-elected over Suzanne Anton.

Mayor Gregor Robertson photo by Parisa Azadi. Suzanne Anton photo by Ewa Chruscicka.

Keystone XL/Northern Gateway pipeline

Canadian activist and author Naomi Klein got arrested this September in Washington protesting the proposed 1,700-mile, $7-billion pipeline that would transport crude oil from Canada to refineries in Texas. She told The Vancouver Observer that “British Columbia has an important role to play in getting the message out” about the pipeline, as the U.S. State Department is using the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline in northern B.C. as an excuse to forge ahead with Keystone.

VO's Alexis Stoymenoff wrote a number of "explainers" to help readers make sense of this complex and controversial pipeline, and shed light on the conflict within the Gitxsan First Nation, which shocked many environmental groups by signing on with oil giant Enbridge for the pipeline.

Cortes Island's pristine forests to be logged in January

The year-end story by sustainability writer Carrie Saxifrage sent waves through B.C.'s environmental community and beyond: Brookfield Asset Management would begin logging the pristine forests of B.C.'s Cortes Island starting in January. More than just a news article, the story was part explainer, and part call to action, and so far, the response has been overwhelming. The petition to stop the logging on Cortes collected over 3,000 signatures in the space of several days, but will public opinion be able to stop a project there will be much more to follow up in 2012.

VO's top 10 (most viewed) stories of the year:

1. Linda Solomon's "Riots in Vancouver after Canucks lose Stanley Cup: live blog and photos"

2. Jenny Uechi's "Judged in the Court of Facebook"
3. Manda Aufochs Gillespie's Vancouver Sun shames woman breastfeeding in public
4. Jenny Uechi's "Tax penalties on U.S.-Canadian citizens outrageous, MP Don Davies says"
5. Barry Saxifrage's "NASA: "It rained so hard the oceans fell"
6. Jenny Uechi's: "Leading realtor calls Vancouver housing market 'unhealthy'"
7. Kari Chellouf's "Chef's Kitchen gets Foxy Mrs. Bean's famous nutmeg ginger apple snaps recipe"
8. Jenny Uechi's "Vancouver riot clean up brings city back together"
9. Carrie Saxifrage's "Logging of pristine BC island forest to begin in January by Brookfield Asset Management"
10. Jenny Uechi's "Maple Batalia gunned down, father suspects unrequited love"

Other stories that pulled top traffic:

11. Kei Baritugo's "The Lion Heart: Remembering Randy Ponzio"
12. David Ball's "NDP hopefuls take to the stage vowing to defeat Stephen Harper"
13. Dr. Erica Frank's "Is the Lower Mainland monitoring nuclear fallout from Japan?"
14. Barry Saxifrage's "Extreme rain rips apart historic Cinque Terre"
15. Vanessa Yee's "Best Christmas sugar cookies"
16. David Ball's "Ashlie Gough's death a 'tragedy', says family, but don't blame Occupy"
17.Anja Konjinican's "What Robert Pattinson, Kristen Steweart and Taylor Lautner left behind"
18. Justice Marshall's "Why I won't be growing a moustache for "Movember"
19. Linda Solomon's "Doctors express deep concern about Fukushima impacts in Canada"
20. Jenny Uechi's "HST referendum package distribution on hold until Canada post strike ends"
21. Anja Konjinican's "Open letter to Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner"
22. Linda Solomon's "Health Canada debunks popular myths about radiation hazards"
23. Donald Gutstein's "Canada's right wing media monopolies move further right"
24. Jenny Uechi's "Facebook user becomes infamous after claiming role in Vancouver riot."
25.  Anja Konjinican's "Justin Bieber makes them proud, but why?"

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