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Looking back at 2015 through Vancouver Observer's top stories

Christy Clark, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Stephen Harper
B.C. Premier Christy Clark, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, and former Prime Minister Stephen Harper were among the top movers and shakers in 2015. Photo of Christy Clark by Canadian Press. Photos of Grand Chief Philip and former prime minister Harper by Elizabeth McSheffrey.

The year 201has been scary, exciting and rewarding, filled with soaring highs and abysmal lows. Below is a list of our top stories of the year, those that attracted the most traffic, and those that provoked thought and reflection. The stories are local, national, and global in scope and all worth reading twice over the holidays. 

B.C. roasts thanks to bad forest policy and climate change

By Warren Bell

B.C. forest fire, drought, Okanagan Mountain Park

B.C. could face many more fires in the future, like the devastating Okanagan Mountain Park forest fire in 2003. Photo by Canadian Press. 

"A century of aggressive forest fire suppression, accelerating climate change fuelled by burning fracked gas and oil, and large population growth is leading to a human-created perfect firestorm," wrote Warren Bell in this insightful column about the outside factors contributing to yet another year of devastating wildfires in B.C. If you thought they were a recent phenomenon, think again. According to Bell, this storm has been brewing since 1912, the year that the BC Wildfire Management Branch began aggressively suppressing naturally-occurring fires in the woods, allowing dangerous levels of easily combustible fuel to build up on the ground. 

Clark government under fire for "illegal" grizzly hunt in Tsilhqot'in

By Mychaylo Prystupa

grizzly hunt, trophy hunting, Tsilhqot'in, Christy Clark

Trophy hunter gives thumbs up over a grizzly hunt kill in British Columbia. Hunter's identity hidden by the Vancouver Observer.

Opposing politicians and Indigenous leaders came after the Christy Clark administration last spring for continuing to permit the grizzly hunt in B.C. despite insistence from Tsilhqot’in representatives that issuing hunting licenses in their neck of the woods was "illegal." Internal B.C. government memos obtained by Vancouver Observer further proved that a senior wildlife official even warned against the hunt in the backcountry of the Tsilhqot’in, one of the most legally trailblazing tribes in Canada. Reporter Mychaylo Prystupa made major waves with this investigation, which found that the area had been off-limits to grizzly hunters for 13 years due to over-kills, and was becoming a sanctuary drawing bears for hundreds of kilometres.


Bunker fuel spill at English Bay toxic, City warns people not to touch 

By Danny Kresnyak 

English Bay oil spill, tanker fuel, oil spill, Vancouver

Oil swirls around the waters of English Bay, Vancouver, after an oil spill on April 8, 2015. Photo by Zack Embree. 

More than 2,000 feet of boom were laid out around a Cyprus grain ship called MV Marathassa after it dumped nearly 3,000 litres of bunker fuel into Vancouver's English Bay around 5 p.m. on April 8, 2015. The City of Vancouver warned people not to touch the toxic slime, which had washed up on the shores of the beach. Reporter Danny Kresnyak covered every aspect of the breaking news from witness statements to residential reaction.


OPINION: Taxes are for the little people

By Sandy Garossino 

Christy Clark, British Columbia government, provincial taxes

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark. Photo by Canadian Press. 
According to columnist Sandy Garossino, B.C. Premier Christy Clark "showed her love for private schools" during a sitting of the legislature in June when she tabled legislation permanently exempting them from municipal property taxes. The move happened in the wake of the Vancouver School Board taking out a loan to build $1.6 million for a new, much-needed downtown school. "The original Queen of Mean had it right the first time," Garossino wrote. "Taxes are for the little people."

Money squeezes creative class out of Vancouver

By Elizabeth McSheffrey

creative class, Vancouver real estate, housing prices, donAfter years of searching for a place to call their own, Trish and Martin Kostian are opting out of the Vancouver housing market and moving to Nanaimo. Photo by Elizabeth McSheffrey.

In 2012, Vancouver tied with Victoria as Canada’s second most creative city, and it has long been considered a hub for the country’s thriving innovators. In 2015 however, members of Vancouver's creative class found themselves driven further away from the heart of the community by the city's prohibitive cost of living. In July, artistic duo Trish and Martin Kostian jumped ship to Nanaimo, and told their story to reporter Elizabeth McSheffrey.


News report condemns Harper government's "assault" on Canada's freshwater 


By Jenny Uechi


Stephen Harper, Navigable Waters Act, Canada's natural resources, environment


On the left, Vermillion River at Kootenay National Park. On the right, former prime minister Stephen Harper. Photo by Elizabeth McSheffrey. 




A new report by the Council of Canadians rained fire on the Stephen Harper government after it dumped federal protection for Canada's freshwater down the drain with changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act, and an omnibus bill attack on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Vancouver Observer's Jenny Uechi provided details on the damning report, which found that 3,000 active environmental assessments were cancelled as a result of Harper's legislative changes, and only one per cent of rivers and lakes in Canada remain protected today.

Reza Aslan on Islamic nationalism and the challenge of jihad

By Sandy Garossino 

Reza Aslan, jihadism, Islam, Islam extremism, ISIS, terrorism

Religious scholar Reza Aslan at the Indian Summer Festival in Vancouver in July 2015. Photo by Josh Berson.

"There is a cancer in the Islamist world," according to world-renowned religious scholar Reza Aslan, who spoke in Vancouver during summer 2015. Acknowledging the necessity of military confrontation, he explained the true nature of the extremist threat in a speech covered by Vancouver Observer editor-in-chief Sandy Garossino. The professor went into detail about how an individual's religion is linked to his or her social, economic, cultural, and political status, and said the terrorism debate in the West is missing an understanding of these key contributing factors. 


Vancouver's insanely cool Aboriginal boutique hotel you've never heard of

By Anne Watson

Aboriginal hotel, Aboriginal tourism, Vancouver, Skwachay Lodge and Gallery

The Skwachay Lodge and Gallery in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Filmmakers, designers, and discerning tourists from all over the world abroad know about it, but ask most Vancouverites what the Skwachays Lodge is, and you are likely to get a blank stare. This boutique art hotel with first class accommodations is only a year old, but has already been featured by news outlets across North America. Vancouver Observer's Anne Watson reviewed this hotel in the Downtown Eastside, and found much more than a chic place to stay: Skwachays Lodge is the only First Nations arts and culture hotel with a gallery in the city, created under a sustainable system that supports housing for 24 Aboriginal artists-in-residence and their studio space.

Recap and review: Game of Thrones on Vancouver Observer

By Jordan Yerman

Game of Thrones, Shireen, spoilers, GOT review, Dance of Dragons

Brace yourself for the recap of Game of Thrones S05E09: The Dance of Dragons. No, really. Brace yourself. 

Vancouver Observer writer Jordan Yerman never disappointed with his snappy, weekly reviews of the latest season of everyone's favourite medieval thriller, Game of Thrones. Complete with highlights, one-liners and clever pop culture references, these recap sessions let readers experience the suspense of each episode over and over again. The family drama never ends in GOT, and Yerman never skimped on the details. 

OPINION: Is big pharma behind Clark's health firings?

By Warren Bell

Christy Clark, Roderick MacIsaac, suicide, University of Victoria

Slandered researcher University of Victoria PhD student Roderick MacIsaac committed suicide shortly after his firing pressure on the government began to build.

"B.C. Premier Christy Clark and her senior ministers are using every tactic in the book to avoid any sort of public disclosure of what happened behind the scenes when eight health researchers were illegitimately fired, one after the other, in the fall of 2012," wrote Warren Bell in a stinging column investigating the relationship between big pharmaceutical companies and the provincial government. "The context for this debacle clearly suggests that the relationship between Big Pharma and Christy Clark and her ministers is obscured by government obstructionism," he concluded."

VIRAL: Graphic footage of grizzly hunt infuriates thousands

By Elizabeth McSheffrey  

graphic footage, grizzly hunt, trophy hunt, B.C. trophy hunt

This still from a video posted to the Wildlife Defence League's Facebook page shows a grizzly desperately trying to escape two hunters after suffering multiple gun shot wounds.

Graphic footage of two hunters killing a grizzly bear incurred the wrath of thousands online after a local conservation group posted the video to its Facebook page in early September. The video, possibly shot in B.C., shows an adult bear trying to escape two hunters after sustaining multiple bullet wounds and bleeding heavily on the snow. It attracted the attention of more than 269,000 viewers to the controversial issue of bear-hunting in B.C., and was even condemned by local hunters, who called the video "disgusting." A Vancouver-based welfare group subsequently offered a cash reward to anyone with information leading to the prosecution of the two hunters. 

"It's definitely going down," says Grand Chief Stewart Phillip on Unist'ot'en Camp raid

By Elizabeth McSheffrey

Unist'ot'en Camp, oil and gas industry, pipelines, Enbridge Northern Gateway

Unist'ot'en Camp residents and supports tell oil and gas hopefuls that no one is allowed on their land without their explicit consent. Photo courtesy of Unist'ot'en Camp Facebook page. 

When police offers booked up all the hotel rooms in Smithers and Burns Lake, residents of the northwestern B.C. Unist'ot'en Camp prepared for an invasion. Its Indigenous residents and volunteers went into a state of high alert, preparing for what Grand Chief Phillip Stewart referred to as an upcoming "mass arrest operation." Vancouver Observer covered the tension from start to finish, speaking with the Unist'ot'en Camp's leader, Freda Huson. The Unist'ot'en Camp has been on the RCMP's books for refusing to allow pipeline companies access to its traditional territory. 

OPINION: Why isn't Christy Clark facing the fight of her life over triple-deletes?

By Paul Hillsdon

Christy Clark, triple delete, email delete scandal,

A meme mocking Premier Christy Clark's triple delete email scandal posted on Facebook by user Jesse Rendall.

When a local resident from Delta submitted a request for background information on how the government made the $3 billion decision to replace the Massey Tunnel, the government stated that there was simply no written information to be found. "Why aren’t the pitchforks out? Why aren’t the winds of change battering down the legislature?" demanded columnist Paul Hillsdon. It should be cause for alarm, he wrote, especially for anyone concerned about how taxpayers dollars are spent.

Five ways to grow food when you don't have a garden 

By Rebecca Cuttler

Indoor gardening, gluten-free, gardening, grow your own food

Sprouting beans and re-growing green onions are two easy, cheap ways to grow food in your kitchen. Photo by Rebecca Cuttler.

The fall and winter months can be a difficult time to grow anything. Especially in Vancouver, where many of us have a desire to eat more locally grown food but lack access to a traditional backyard space. What’s a would-be gardener to do? Local culture writer Rebecca Cuttler answers this question and more in her piece about five garden projects you can do indoors, year-round.  

Trudeau promises City of Vancouver warmer relationships with feds

By Elizabeth McSheffrey

Justin Trudeau, Gregor Robertson, Vancouver mayor, municipalities

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accepts a gift of welcome from Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson during his visit in December 2015. Photo by Elizabeth McSheffrey.

More than one hundred people packed themselves into Vancouver's City Hall lobby at the end of 2015 to get a glimpse — and with any luck — a handshake from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The Liberal leader made a pit stop at the municipality's headquarters to reassure Canadians that they can count on him to attend their needs, hoping to repair the somewhat frosty relationship many cities had with the previous government. Reporter Elizabeth McSheffrey was in the heart of the action, and covered the address from start to finish. 

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