Jack Knox: 25 memorable stories of 2010

The Olympics. Political upheaval. Bunnies. From the serious to the silly, there were many issues that helped shape 2010. Jack Knox looks back at stories -- some significant, some definitely not -- that you'll remember.

It was the year of dramas that dragged on forever: The BP oil rig blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, the ultimately uplifting -- literally -- story of the 33 trapped Chilean miners and, of course, the most riveting, drawn-out saga of them all, the (cotton)tale of the UVic bunnies.

Natural disasters dominated the global news in 2010: A massive earthquake rocked Chile, a deadly one killed at least 230,000 in Haiti, flooding devastated Pakistan and an Icelandic volcano caused air travel chaos.

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Americans shrugged when Barack Obama announced the end of the U.S. combat role in Iraq in August, having already invested their emotions in weightier matters: Upset with Bristol Palin's success on Dancing With the Stars, a Wisconsin man blasted his TV with a shotgun.

Here at home, the news swayed from the shocking to the ridiculous. What follows is a look, in no particular order, at 25 stories that Victorians will remember from 2010.

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1. The Proctor murder

The ugliest stories first: It's difficult to think of a more horrific crime than the premeditated rape and murder of 18-year-old Kimberly Proctor, whose burned body was found under a Galloping Goose Trail bridge in Langford on March 19.

The two boys who killed her pleaded guilty to first-degree murder Oct. 27, which at least saved Proctor's family -- and Victorians -- from a protracted trial in which the gut-wrenching circumstances of her death would have been presented day after day.

Although the killers were 16 and 17 years old at the time of the crime, the Crown has applied to have them sentenced as adults. That would mean life in prison with no possibility of parole for 10 years. The maximum youth sentence is six years in custody, followed by four in the community under supervision. The two will be sentenced after a hearing in March.

2. Mental illness and homicide

If the murder of Kimberly Proctor was chilling because of its premeditation, the killing of 15-year-old Justin Wendland was frightening because it seemed so random. The Grade 10 student at Vic High was waiting for a bus in front of the Times Colonist building on Douglas Street on the evening of June 3 when he was stabbed to death.

Corey Daniel Barry, a 39-year-old man said to have a history of mental illness and drug addiction, turned himself in at the Victoria police's Caledonia Avenue station 15 minutes after the stabbing. He remains in custody awaiting a preliminary hearing in the spring.

The case shone a spotlight on the lack of resources for the mentally ill. So did the tragic case of a delusional 17-year-old Saanich boy who stabbed his father to death Feb. 4. The teen, who had heard voices in his head, was deemed not criminally responsible; he remains in hospital in Burnaby.

3. The Olympics

OK, it was like being forced to watch the best house party ever from the far side of the street.

Still, even while stuck/safe over here on the wrong/sane side of the strait, it was hard to ignore the lows (a lack of snow, death on the luge run) and highs (Sidney Crosby's overtime goal, Vancouver's infectious energy) of the 2010 Games. In fact, B.C. Ferries was almost overwhelmed with foot traffic as Islanders flocked to the Olympics; the Swartz Bay long-term parking lot overflowed for the first time ever.

Despite the public's fears of massive cost overruns (and grumbling about billions in Games-related capital projects) Vanoc reported last week that it hit its $1.9 billion budget, nine per cent of which came from government. However, Vancouver taxpayers were left on the hook for the $1 billion Olympic Village; it could take years before they know how much of that they'll get back through real estate sales.

Great party, though.

4. Campbell quits

So, Mr. Premier, didn't take long for the Olympic bubble to burst, did it?

Gordon Campbell was just the latest captain to walk the plank before taking the ship down with him. Not since Dave Barrett in the mid-1970s has B.C. had a premier voted both in and out of office; Bill Vander Zalm was claimed by the Fantasy Gardens scandal, Mike Harcourt took the bullet for Bingogate and Glen Clark was doomed by the fast ferries fiasco. For Campbell, it was the HST and the paternalistic hubris with which it was brought in.

After nine years in power, Campbell's best-before date turned out to be Nov. 3, 2010, when, with the polls showing his popularity hovering around nine per cent and party solidarity cracking, he announced he was leaving. The declaration came days after a rather sad Oct. 27 television address in which a desperate Campbell, in an unsuccessful attempt to regain the public's faith, promised a 15 per cent income tax cut for the new year. Cabinet quickly rescinded the cut three weeks later.

Campbell will remain in power until the party chooses a new leader Feb. 26.

4(b). NDP is jealous

No sooner had Campbell announced his resignation than a faction within B.C.'s New Democrats got execution envy and turned on their own leader, Victoria's Carole James, continuing the party's proud tradition of self-destruction at the first hint of success.

With the leaderless Liberals in disarray and the NDP 20 points ahead in the polls, a group of 13 dissident MLAs decided it would be a good time for a revolution. Even after losing their fight at a meeting of the NDP's provincial council, they continued to attack their leader, adopting a rather novel approach to the concept of democracy. On Dec. 6, James announced her intention to resign. A new leader will be chosen in April.

Even by the glue-sniffing standards of B.C. politics, the episode was bizarre. In trying to frag their leader, the mutinous troops might have blown up the entire party. By mid-December, the NDP trailed the Liberals by five points.

5. The Peasants Are Revolting, Part I

Forget, for a moment, the question of whether the HST is actually a good idea. The real story, and the lesson for any politicians suffering from the smug, deaf arrogance of the terminally self-certain, was the way in which British Columbians rose up and fought back after being blindsided by their own government.

Bill Vander Zalm's improbable coalition achieved the impossible in 2010, gathering more than 700,000 signatures on anti-HST petitions, more than enough to satisfy the hard-to-reach demands of B.C.'s initiative law and force the provincial government's hand. British Columbians, surprised when the HST was announced shortly after the 2009 election, will now get to vote on the tax Sept. 24, 2011 (though some Liberal leadership candidates want it moved up to June).

Having had a taste of blood, the anti-HST forces are targeting Liberal MLAs with recall campaigns. Oak Bay-Gordon Head's Ida Chong was first on the list; a byelection must be called if 40 per cent of her riding's voters sign a petition by Feb. 4. It was a tough year for Chong, who was roasted after she claimed $5,921 for meals in 2009. (Other local MLAs are also entitled to a $61 per diem, but their expense totals were not revealed.)

Lost in all this was the actual implementation of the 12 per cent harmonized sales tax. When the HST replaced the five per cent GST and seven per cent provincial sales tax July 1, it applied to a wide range of items previously exempt from PST. Restaurants reported an eight per cent drop in business directly linked to the new tax.

6. The Peasants Are Revolting, Part II

The year's other people's revolution had a better result for The Man, but he had to work awfully hard for it.

In January, Victoria council's seemingly out-of-the-blue 2009 decision to replace the Johnson Street Bridge was derailed by a citizens' counter-petition signed by more than 9,000 voters.

That forced the city to resort to a Nov. 20 referendum that ending up passing by 16,542 to 10,020. Council had pulled out all the stops in persuading voters to approve borrowing $49 million for the new structure, which will be built just north of the current bridge over the next four years. The federal government is kicking in another $21 million.

The 86-year-old blue bridge cast its own vote March 9 when its rail portion got stuck in the upright position for 35 minutes.

7. Tamil migrants, Part II

Haven't we seen this movie before?

It felt like deja vu on Aug. 13 when the freighter Sun Sea was apprehended and sailed into CFB Esquimalt with 492 Sri Lankan Tamils stuffed on board. It was just 11 months earlier that a smaller vessel carrying 76 Tamil men was shepherded into Ogden Point.

Victoria's reaction was mixed, half the residents greeting the smuggled migrants with open arms while the other half rushed to repel them at bayonet point.

In October, Ottawa introduced legislation that would jail human smugglers. Smuggled migrants would be held for a year and placed on probation for five; their health benefits would be reduced and they would not be allowed to apply to bring their families here.

8. 900-block of Pandora

This is a story that moves around like dust bunnies: Before Pandora there was the 700-block of Johnson, Cormorant Street, the Holiday Court, the Apple Tree Gang under the blue bridge...

The highly visible, seemingly permanent Theatre of Despair continued on Pandora even as progress was claimed by those searching for solutions. A ban on camping on boulevards came into effect in October. The Streetlink shelter moved north to the new Rock Bay Landing. The Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness reported helping house 662 people in the past year, and said the number of subsidized housing units had risen by 879 in two years.

Indeed, quantifiable improvement was made on the homeless front -- leaving the 900-block Pandora to demonstrate how much is needed in the area of mental health and addictions.

9. What do you expect for a lousy $18 mill?

The corruption case of Liberal aides David Basi and Bob Virk, which began with the legislature raid seven years ago this week, stumbled to an October conclusion that left more questions than answers. A plea deal saw Basi and Virk -- who accepted favours in the $1-billion B.C. Rail sale -- avoid jail time and have the taxpayers pick up their $6-million legal bill, bringing the total public cost to at least $18 million.

Meanwhile, the province continued trying to recover money, if only a few dollars at a time, from welfare cheats. The government must maintain its principles, you see.

Basi also pleaded guilty to taking $50,000 from developers seeking to have Sooke land taken out of the agricultural land reserve. Shambrook Hills Development was fined $200,000, but charges were dropped against two of its owners, Tony Young and Jim Duncan.

10. The Crawl

Labour Day was like turning a switch. An off switch. As holiday season ended, traffic on Victoria's western approaches ground to a sudden halt, largely as a result of never-ending roadwork in View Royal and Esquimalt that diverted traffic from the Old Island Highway.

Oh well, at least it gave drivers time to contemplate Langford's stalled Bridge-to-Nowhere overpass (which would only have funnelled more traffic onto the Trans-Canada anyway) and the Pat Bay/McTavish interchange, which is being built not because it's the highest priority (hello, McKenzie Avenue at the highway!) but because it ticked the right boxes (including being in cabinet minister Gary Lunn's riding) to qualify for federal stimulus money.

Just another example of the excellent co-ordinated transportation planning here in the 13 municipalities of Greater Victoria.

11. The .05 solution

On Sept. 20, B.C. brought in tough new drinking-and-driving penalties. Only one problem: They worked.

Bars and restaurants howled about lost business as drivers quit drinking rather than risk blowing .05 and being subjected to an immediate -- and expensive -- roadside prohibition. In November, new Solicitor General Rich Coleman started muttering about easing the penalties.

Meanwhile, the number of drunk-driving cases presented to the Crown plunged as police opted for the immediate, clearcut roadside penalties over courtroom-clogging criminal charges.

12. Cellphone ban behind the wheel

New bc law sed stop talk/texting while driving WTF! Cops gave almost 20,000 $167 fines in frst six mos :( Most drvers buy in but I'll stop when they pry fone frm cold ded fngers LOL...

BANG!

Jst hit deer call 911

13. It's pronounced Hesh... Haj... Smith

A new sporting hero captured Victoria's imagination in July when the appropriately named Ryder Hesjedal rode to an impressive seventh-place finish in the storied Tour de France.

Only the fourth Canadian to ever compete in cycling's premier event, the Highlands-raised 29-year-old's most impressive achievement might have been getting us to get up at the crack of dawn each morning to watch the three-week race on TV.

14. Bear Mountain blues

For most of the new millennium, Bear Mountain Resort and the man behind it, Len Barrie, were emblematic -- for good or bad -- of Victoria's development boom. In 2010 they symbolized the decline. In March, Bear Mountain went into creditor protection and Barrie was ousted as CEO. In November, the resort was officially transferred to HSBC Canada, which was owed $250 million.

Early in the year, Barrie sold his stake in the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning. Reports said it was believed Barrie paid $40 million for a 35 per cent piece of the team in 2008, but lost money on the sale.

15. Jason Walker

Dr. Jason Walker had an impressive resumé: in private practice as a clinical counsellor who testified as an expert witness in court, a teacher at UVic, a member of the Greater Victoria Police Victim Services board and a Saanich reserve cop.

It came crashing down when the 31-year-old was revealed as a fraud -- he wasn't a doctor at all. Convicted of perjury and faking university credentials, he was sentenced in September to two years of house arrest.

Walker's affidavit in a child-custody case led to a restraining order against the father, a decision that was subsequently overturned.

16. Steve Fonyo

No doubt Steve Fonyo is a troubled man. Years of drug and alcohol abuse. A string of criminal convictions. Just three weeks before his August wedding he was charged with credit card fraud. His fiancée, Lisa Greenwood, was convicted of assault and theft in June.

Still, it ticked people off when he was stripped of his Order of Canada in January. It felt as if he was being robbed of recognition for the one great thing he did in life: running across Canada on one leg and raising

$13 million for cancer research in 1985.

So it felt good when Fonyo and Greenwood, as troubled as they are, were married Aug. 29 on the Victoria beach that bears his name, the one from which he dipped his artificial leg in 1985. Victoria florist Norma Fitzsimmons and others helped make the wedding happen after earlier financial supporters, dismayed by the couple's recurring troubles, dropped out, putting the event in doubt.

And it felt sad in December when Fonyo pleaded guilty to fraud, credit card crime, possession of stolen property, uttering threats and driving while prohibited. He is to be sentenced in January. Let's hope this journey has a happy ending.

17. The $6 solution

After imposing a $6 fee to search criminal and traffic court records online in January, the provincial government backtracked in the summer. Then-attorney general Mike de Jong chucked the fees following an award-winning series on court access by Times Colonist reporters Louise Dickson, Lindsay Kines and Rob Shaw. A small but significant victory in light of ongoing worries over the erosion of open government.

18. How now,

down Thow?

Karma and justice finally caught up to rogue investment adviser Ian Thow in March when he was sentenced to nine years in prison for defrauding 20 victims of $8 million. The 48-year-old former Berkshire Investment Group vice-president, who was arrested in Portland, Ore., almost four years after fleeing Victoria in 2005, was also ordered to repay $3.9 million. His victims claim his frauds actually totalled more than $32 million.

Thow's appeal of the sentence, which was two years longer than that suggested by both his own lawyer and the Crown, was rejected in November.

19. Justice delayed

At times it was hard to tell who was on trial, Ruby Ann Ruffolo or the justice system itself as her case was bogged down by a near-farcical series of delays. It took seven years, but Ruffolo, who holds a UVic law degree, was finally convicted in November of murdering her husband John Ruffolo with a lethal dose of heroin in 2003.

Now 54, she won't be eligible for parole until age 79.

20. Flaming feline

Doing the right -- and romantic -- thing, B.C. Environment Minister Barry Penner shut off the lights for a candlelit Earth Hour dinner March 27.

Alas, the evening got hotter than anticipated when his cat brushed against the candle and caught fire. Happily, the pet was only slightly singed. And the tale gave us the headline of the year, courtesy of the Times Colonist's Sandra McCulloch: "Say, honey, could you put out the cat?"

21. So much for retirement

It was big news in March when CHEK-TV, having almost faded to black in 2009, landed B.C. television news legend Tony Parsons as its 10 p.m. anchor.

Less than a month later, it was announced that the

71-year-old would also anchor the suppertime CBC television newscast, commuting between Victoria and Vancouver by plane each night.

No truth to the rumour that he also delivers the Times Colonist in the morning.

22. Naval centennial

The Canadian navy's 100th anniversary was marked by a series of celebrations, including an impressive Freedom of the City parade in May that saw 3,000 black-and-white-clad sailors in what appeared to be a remake of March of the Penguins.

In June, an international fleet review drew 8,000 sailors from six nations, meaning that for once Victoria had more available men than women.

In related news, Victoria's homelessness debate turned 101.

23. Spraybomb heroes

Fearlessly following in the footsteps of freedom fighters Nelson Mandela, Lech Walesa and Aung San Suu Kyi, some self-described homeless activists (though it's not clear if they actually, you know, asked the homeless) sprayed graffiti on Mayor Dean Fortin's home and car in November, striking a blow for self-indulgent knobs everywhere.

Having courageously proven themselves willing to scare the mayor's three- and nine-year-old daughters (what will they do next, kick a kitten?) they then boasted about their anonymous exploits in an email that was traced to an anarchist bookstore. No one has been charged.

The episode shocked Victorians, who were stunned to learn through news photos that Fatcat Fortin, as the email called him, A) doesn't live in a mansion and B) drives an old Honda, not a new Lexus.

24. Animal attacks

Prior to 2008, Vancouver Island had never recorded a confirmed bear attack in which a human was hurt. On July 21, we had our second when two men were mauled at a Sproat Lake campground by a black bear that was later shot.

That same month, a doe charged a 65-year-old Gordon Head woman, chased her around a truck and stomped her dog. Victoria was overrun this year with urban deer ruining gardens, wandering into downtown stores, butting in line at Starbucks. ... Not only are wildlife losing their fear of people, they're starting to imitate us, too.

Which leads, of course, to ...

25. UVic bunnies

If the health of a society can be determined by the trivial nature of its problems, then this must be Nirvana.

No story dominated/embarrassed the City of Well-Nibbled Gardens this year like the University of Victoria's attempts to control its rabbit infestation.

A plan to reduce the rabbit population from 1,400 to 200 led to anguished protests, calls to the police and the greatest letters-to-the-editor debate since The Woman Who Danced in Front of Her Seat at the Sarah McLachlan Concert.

More than 100 bunnies (or as we used to call them, "lunch") were given lethal injections (though not palliative care) before gentler measures were introduced; more than 700 have been trapped and relocated to animal sanctuaries, mostly in Texas (!), Washington state and Coombs where, alas, 24 of the critters were shot after escaping to a neighbouring farm.

Elmer Fudd could not be reached for comment.

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