Comment and Articles

As an advocate of discussion and debate of Canadian defence and foreign policy, RUSI Vancouver will share opinions and observations from academia, the media, and respected historians.

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Gwynne Dyer Commentaries

We are pleased to introduce the noted independent, London-based, Canadian columnist and military historian Gwynne Dyer as a regular contributor in the Comment section on the RUSI Vancouver website. His thought provoking, well informed and pertinent commentaries will appear regularly.

Gwynne Dyer was born in St. John’s Newfoundland and educated at Memorial University, St. John’s; Rice University, Houston; Kings College, London. He served in the Canadian, American and British naval reserves. Dyer lectured at Sandhurst Military College following which he moved into a full-time career in journalism.

RUSI Vancouver appreciates any comment on Gwynne Dyer’s contributions on the RUSI website at RSVP@rusivancouver.ca

Gwynne Dyer’s website is: www.gwynnedyer.com

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Protests Everywhere - 30 October 2019

By Gwynne Dyer


Journalists don’t just travel in packs; they write in packs too. And what they’re writing this week is endless pipe-sucking ruminations about what’s driving the seemingly synchronized outbreak of protests in many very different countries around the world. They can’t see the forest for the trees.

You will doubtless have seen a few examples of this fashion recently. If you lived in the belly of the media beast, like I do, you’d be seeing dozens a day, as journos try to explain the phenomenon with varying degrees of success. Varying from zero to about 1.5 out of ten, in my opinion, but there is clearly something trans-national going on.

A group of young Catalan nationalists, walking out the highway to occupy Barcelona airport two weeks ago, were chanting “We’re going to do a Hong Kong” as if they shared the same cause.

They don’t. You could even say that the protesters in Hong Kong are anti-nationalists, in the sense that they are defending their freedoms against a regime in Beijing that wants to smother them under a blanket of conformist Chinese nationalism. But the tactics are the same in Catalonia and Hong Kong, and the emotions are too.

A striking thing about the tactics, by the way, is that they have moved on from the strict non-violence that characterized would-be democratic revolutions from the mid-1980s until the early days of the Arab Spring nine years ago.

From the ‘gilets jaunes’ (yellow jackets) in France who began their protests almost exactly a year ago, down to the protesters in the streets of Chile, Lebanon and Hong Kong today, the majority are still non-violent. However, they cannot control (or maybe just don’t want to control) the minority who throw bricks and flaming bottles at the police.

The police, of course, use violence too: tear gas, rubber bullets, and sometimes guns. People have been killed – in small numbers in most places, but in the hundreds in Iraq and in Sudan. Even bigger bloodbaths are possible in Hong Kong (if the regime in Beijing loses its nerve) and in Egypt (if September’s protesters return to the streets)..

Another common denominator is that the trigger that sets the protests off is usually something small. The bread price went up in Sudan; metro tickets got more expensive in Chile; a new tax was put on What’s App calls in Lebanon; the price of petrol rose not very dramatically in France a year ago and in Ecuador last month – and the next thing you know, masses of people are out on the street..

Moreover, when the government backs down and cancels the offending law or charge, as has generally been the case after a few days or weeks, the protesters don’t quit and go home. By then their demands have expanded to include things like full democratic rights (Hong Kong, Algeria and Egypt) or an end to a corrupt system (Iraq and Lebanon) or action on huge and growing inequalities between rich and poor (Chile, France, and Ecuador).

But all this is just taxonomy, not really analysis. It doesn’t explain why this phenomenon is happening at the same time in such different countries. It doesn’t explain why it’s happening now, not last year or in 2022. And it certainly doesn’t tell us where it’s going next.

Nor do I have answers to these questions, and I can’t bring myself to make the usual trite remarks about global media and imitation, or the lingering and unresolved legacy of the 2008 crash, or the fact that 41% of the world’s population is under 25. However, these events are showing us one important thing: we really do have a global society now.

You could see it taking shape even three decades ago, in the way non-violent revolutions flashed between countries, bringing  some form of democracy to the Philippines, then South Korea, Thailand and Bangladesh, and on to Poland, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the end of the Soviet Union, all in the five years 1986-1991. But the target then was just crude dictatorships; now it’s much broader.

It’s about economic and social inequality as well as political oppression, and increasingly it’s also about generational inequality. Obviously, the injustices are more blatant and extreme in Egypt than they are in France, but they are not really very different and the young know it.

Never mind the nationalists and the populists, who are just playing the same divisive old tunes as always. What we have here, despite the multiplicity of languages, religions and histories, is an emerging global society with shared values and ambitions, especially among the young.

There are millions of angry dissenters from this evolving consensus, but for the first time ever we really are becoming one people. That is a comforting thought as we head into the millennial storm of climate change. It couldn’t have come at a better time.

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Polish Lessons - 16 October 2019

By Gwynne Dyer


There is a tension at the heart of populist political parties that may ultimately lead most of them to electoral defeat. They depend heavily on the votes of the old, the poor and the poorly educated – “I love the poorly educated,” as Donald Trump once put it – but they are also right-wing parties that do not like what they call ‘socialism’. (Other people call it the welfare state.)

So, while they fight the ‘culture war’ against liberal values and bang the nationalist drum (which is popular with these key voting groups), they usually shun the kinds of government programs that would actually raise the incomes of their key voters. It doesn’t sit well with the ideologies of the people who lead these parties, who are neither poor nor poorly educated.

A case in point is Britain’s governing Conservative Party, which has made the journey from traditional conservative values to rabid nationalism and populism over the past decade. But at the same time, it has pursued ‘universal credit’, a punitive reform of the country’s generous welfare programs that has left most of its working-class voters worse off, and forced some to turn to food banks.

The Conservatives have been getting away with it, in the short term, because Brexit is an all-consuming emotional issue in which the same old, poor and poorly educated part of the electorate mostly voted ‘Leave’ in blatant contradiction to their economic interests.

However, it does not make electoral sense in the long term. Populists always manufacture some sort of crisis for their supporters to focus on at election time, but few others will work as effectively as Brexit. Sooner or later their economic policies, which hurt the poor, will betray them. Unless they heed the Polish example.

In last Sunday’s Polish election, the populist Law and Justice Party won 43.6% of the vote (according to the exit polls) in an election that saw the biggest turn-out since the fall of Communism in 1989. That is a full 6% higher than the vote that first brought them to power in 2015 and will give them an absolute majority in the Sejm (the lower house of parliament).

The Law and Justice Party is not an attractive organization. It cultivates the national taste for self-pity and martyrdom (the ‘Christ of the Nations’), and always finds some imaginary threat to ‘Polish values’ that only it can protect the nation from. In 2015 it was Muslim refugees (none of whom were heading for Poland); this time it was the alleged LGBT threat to Polish culture.

In power, it has curbed the freedom of the press, attacked the independence of the judiciary, and purged the civil service, replacing professionals with party loyalists. Several times it has been threatened with sanctions for its anti-democratic actions by the European Union, which has the duty of defending democracy among its member countries.

Law and Justice’s rhetoric is divisive and filled with hatred. Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski explained that the government wanted to “cure our country of a few illnesses” including “a new mixture of cultures and races, a world made up of cyclists and vegetarians, who only use renewable energy and who battle all signs of religion.”

So far, so bad, but typical of the new generation of populist parties in the West. What is very different and gave Law and Justice its resounding victory in this election, is that it addressed not only its voters’ ideological concerns but also their economic needs.

Perhaps it’s because the Polish right, suppressed under Communist rule for more than four decades, never developed the kind of libertarian, Ayn Rand- worshipping ideology that infects much of the right in countries further west. Or maybe it’s because of Polish nationalism’s long alliance with the Catholic Church, which does respect and care for the poor.

At any rate, Law and Justice manages to be economically left-wing even though it is culturally right-wing. In power, it raised the minimum wage, promising to double it by 2023, and lowered the retirement age. It gave pensioners an annual cash bonus and boosted farming subsidies. (It won most of the rural vote.)

Above all, it brought in the 500 Plus programs, which gives parents 500 złotys ($130) a month for each child. It’s pro-family (which pleases the Church), it encourages big families (which pleases nationalists, given Poland’s declining birth-rate), and while it doesn’t make much difference to middle-class families, it transforms the life of a poor family with three children.

And all that money going into the hands of the citizens produced an economic growth rate last year of 5.4%, one of the highest in the European Union. No wonder Law and Justice increased its share of the national vote in this month’s election.

So, if you are not fond of populism, pray that populists elsewhere do not discover Poland’s secret. They do need to be culturally conservative, because they are always blood-and-soil nationalists, but there’s no particular reason why they shouldn’t be economically liberal. If they want to last, that’s the way they must go.

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Johnson’s Cunning Plan - 30 September 2019

By Gwynne Dyer


The plotting reflex is strong in the populist politicians who currently run both of the big English-speaking countries. President Trump dreams up underhanded tricks even when he has no need of them.

Why would he bother to sabotage the campaign of Joe Biden, the candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination who would give him the least trouble in next year’s election? He’ll probably face impeachment over it, but he couldn’t help behaving that way. You might as well ask why even well-fed cats catch and kill mice.

They are acting on instinct, and so was Donald Trump. ‘Boris’ Johnson is a habitual plotter too, but this time he needs a cunning plan.

Britain’s prime minister has only been in office for ten weeks, and he is already in potentially terminal trouble. Boris Johnson was never an ardent Brexiter: he even voted for the relatively sane version of Brexit that his predecessor Theresa May failed three times to get through Parliament. But he is consumed by ambition, and he saw in her fall an opportunity to seize the top job at last.

He won it in July, in an internal poll of Conservative Party members, by promising to ‘deliver’ Brexit quickly no matter what the cost. (The 60,000 Party members who chose him are far more extreme than most Conservative members of Parliament and certainly than the average Conservative voter.)

Unfortunately, Johnson can only deliver by crashing out of the European Union without a deal. The deal Theresa May negotiated would have caused Britain only moderate economic damage, but that deal was repeatedly killed by the votes of the ultra-nationalist ‘head-bangers’ on the far right of his own Conservative Party.

They’d kill it again, and Johnson’s long-sought prime ministership with it, if he made the kind of concessions needed for a negotiated deal. In practice, therefore, he had to deliver a kamikaze Brexit to stay in power at all – and then he had to hold an election immediately afterwards, to confirm his hold on power before the Brexit damage piled up and even dyed-in-the-wool Leavers turned against it.

So, Johnson’s Cunning Plan A went like this. Meet Parliament for a couple of days in early September when it comes back from recess, promise that you are negotiating hard with the EU and confident of getting a deal – only a “one in a million” chance of failure – and then close Parliament down for five weeks (‘prorogue’ it) .

By the time Parliament comes back in mid-October and there is no deal, it will be too late. The law says that the United Kingdom will leave the EU automatically on 31 October unless there is a deal. Parliament will then vote Johnson’ government out, but he’ll just call an election – for AFTER the 31st.

The election will roll around some time in November, and by then Johnson will be the Leavers’ hero for having delivered Brexit after 40 months of delay. He’ll win and be safely back in office for five years even if the economy then goes into slow-motion collapse. The plan would have worked perfectly if the opposition parties were hopelessly stupid.

Unhappily for him, they weren’t. In early September, before Johnson could prorogue Parliament, the opposition parties passed a law obliging him to ask the EU for a three-month extension if there was still no deal on 19 October. It passed, because 21 Conservative members of Parliament who saw ‘no deal’ as a disaster for Britain voted with the opposition.

Johnson promptly expelled them from the Party – and thereby lost his majority. But the opposition parties did not vote him out, which would have let him call his election as Plan A required. They just left him hanging there, twisting in the wind.

Then all eleven judges of the Supreme Court chimed in to say that Johnson’s decision to shut Parliament down for five weeks during a political crisis had been unlawful. Time for a different plan, and quickly.

So, here’s Cunning Plan B. There is an obscure law called the Civil Contingencies Act of 2004 that allows the government to override Parliament in the event of a national emergency. If Johnson could engineer such an emergency, he could ignore the “surrender bill” (as he calls it) that forces him to seek an extension rather than crash out on 31 October.

What kind of an emergency? Well, it would probably require blood in the streets, which Johnson can only obtain by inciting Leave supporters to acts of violence. That is why he now uses such extreme language, talking incessantly about betrayal and treachery.

As the Labour Party’s Shadow Brexit Secretary, Keir Starmer, told ‘The Observer’ on Sunday, “Whipping up the idea of riots or even deaths if we do not leave the EU on 31 October is the height of irresponsibility. But it is also pretty obviously being orchestrated.” And the death threats on social media to MPs who are trying to thwart Johnson have multiplied fourfold in the past week.





May 2

Korean War (1)

Sixty-nine years ago Kim Il Sung led North Korea. Kim had spent World War II outside his country as a member of the Soviet army. Following the war, and with the sponsorship of his Russian masters, he returned to Korea with the rank of major in the Red Army, eventually taking charge of North Korea, that is, all of the Korean Peninsula north of the 38th parallel.

In South Korea the government was led by Syngman Rhee, a man who had lived much of his life in the United States. He was autocratic and had been uncooperative with UN efforts to promote democratic reforms.

The Korea-wide free elections that the World War II allies hoped would lead to unification were never held, with the result that the two Koreas – North and South – Russian-influenced and US-leaning – followed ever-more divergent paths.

In the spring of 1950 the North had a population of nine million, contrasted to the South’s 21 million. North Korea, however, had a clear preponderance of military forces. Their army outnumbered that of the South and included thousands of veterans of the Red Army and the Red Chinese Army. In addition they featured modern tanks, aircraft, and weapons provided by the Russians.

Guerrilla warfare raged in the south, with irregular communist fighters taking on the beleaguered Republic of Korea troops. The US’s 500-man KMAG—Korean Military Assistance Group—were probably more concerned about the upcoming baseball season back home than they were with keeping an eye on the north.

The stage was set for a surprise. Kim mustered his troops for a bid to amalgamate North and South by force.

June 18

Korean War (2)

Kim Il Sung’s North Korean troops stormed across the 38th Parallel in the predawn hours on June 25th, 1950. Kim was determined to unify North and South Korea under the banner of international communism, aided and abetted by Stalin in Russia and Mao Zedong in Communist China. All three dictators assumed Kim would sweep the token American forces from the peninsula, and that the US would not come to the defence of the overwhelmed South. They were 90% correct about the former, but totally mistaken about President Harry S.Truman’s reaction.

Truman compared the Korean situation to that of Europe before the Second World War, when Hitler swallowed more and more territory from timorous neighbors. He appealed to the United Nations where, as it happened, the Soviet Union was boycotting the organization and so not in a position to veto any response. The result was a demand for an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of North Korean troops. Predictably the demand was ignored.

The UN authorized the United States to lead Allied forces in Korea. But the Americans, as well as the South Koreans, had been caught napping by Kim. By August 1st his North Korean People’s Army had occupied nearly the whole peninsula, cornering US and South Korean forces in a pocket around the southeastern port of Pusan, an area barely 80 miles square, their situation desperate.

July 16

Korean War (3)

In sleepy Ottawa, Prime Minister St. Laurent and the members of Parliament, including Secretary of State for External Affairs Lester Pearson, were caught off guard by the US reaction as much as were Stalin, Mao, and Kim Il Sung. As the situation in Korea developed they took their cue from prior Prime Minister Mackenzie King, who would surely have been content to wait and watch under almost any circumstances.

On July 5th 1950 one Canadian service was ready: RCN destroyers HMCS Cayuga, Athabaskan, and Sioux slipped and proceeded from Esquimalt bound for Korea in support of the UN.

Moving the government to committing the army, though, took a request from the Secretary-general of the UN on July 14th, when he asked Canada to consider sending ground troops to Korea.

What to do? Canada’s Active Force was exhausted after their heroic efforts in Europe; numerically they were grossly undermanned, and their veteran soldiers felt like the last thing they wanted to do was get into a far-off dustup having survived the most deadly war of all time. The army was unable to attract enough recruits to maintain its already slim ranks.

Minister of National Defence Claxton and Chief of the General Staff Foulkes cobbled together a solution: a Special Force, the backbone of which would be three new battalions (approximately 940 men each) named after current army regiments, thus the 2nd Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment (2RCR); 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (2PPCLI) and 2nd Battalion Royal 22e Régiment (2R22eR).

Ultimately, the infantry battalions would be supported by artillery, a field ambulance detachment, workshops, a transport company, engineers, a signal squadron, and an armoured squadron—some 7,500 personnel of all ranks.

The prime minister announced on August 7th that Canada would recruit the Canadian Army Special Force. To the shock of many, within a week 10,000 men had signed up.

August 13

Korean War (4)

If the Army had stuck to traditional procedures, there would not have been 10,000 recruits signed up in a matter of days. But Ottawa wanted troops and wanted them quickly, so they adopted a practise of signing men up, and only then assessing them. The result was that many who were recruited didn’t last long. It was up to the regular army NCO’s to whip the recruits into shape, with perhaps a fifty percent discharge rate. Let go were men with hearing impairments, weak eyesight, wounds suffered in WW II, partial disabilities…the list goes on, even including an apocryphal enlistee with an artificial leg.

One thing that could not be taken away from the members of the Special Force, however, that distinguished them throughout their service: they were all volunteers, and were there to fight.

The westerners were assigned to the 2nd Princess Patricia’s and trained briefly in Calgary then at Camp Wainwright, Alberta. Those from other parts of Canada landed in the 2nd Royal Canadian Regiment or the 2nd Vandoos, at Petawa Ontario or Valcartier, Quebec respectively.

After basic training at the platoon level, it was intended that the Special Force would complete their workups at Fort Lewis in Washington State.

Plans changed quickly when the war took an unexpected turn. US General MacArthur engineered his last great victory, the Inchon Landing outside Seoul. The US thereafter had the North Koreans on the run, pursuing them to the extreme northern fringe of the country, virtually to the bank of the Yalu River. It appeared the war was all but over, to the chagrin of the Canadians who had enlisted to fight.

The UN changed its mind—it wanted occupation forces, not fighters.

Located in the west, the 2PPCLI were handiest. They boarded a Liberty Ship in Seattle on November 25th, 1950, off to be what they thought of as some sort of glorified police force.

But the war was about to take another savage twist.




In 2010, several members of the Naval Officers Association of BC (NOABC) decided to salute the role of BC’s shipyards during World War Two. The project eventually transitioned into a monument to include all workers in the BC shipbuilding industry. The following article in the July-August issue of BC Shipping News by RUSI President Cam Cathcart, outlines the eight year journey of the project, with a few nautical miles left before it’s completed.

...why isn’t there something tangible on the Vancouver waterfront to salute
the legacy of B.C.’s proud and illustrious shipbuilding industry?

Honouring B.C.’s legendary shipbuilding industry

by Cameron Cathcart


Curious how projects get started. Many have a definite purpose. Others, the result of a dream. The shipbuilding monument project began with a question: why isn’t there something tangible on the Vancouver waterfront to salute the legacy of B.C.’s proud and illustrious shipbuilding industry? That question got a few people thinking in 2010.

The Metro Vancouver Naval Monument Society was formed, and the concept of a memorial began to take shape. The idea was to position a statue of a Second World War shipyard worker on the North Vancouver waterfront. But, that hectic period of non-stop shipbuilding also included thousands of women, along with navy personnel acting as advisors. It was clear that all three had to be represented in a shipbuilding monument. The next step was to engage a sculptor.

The artist chosen was Norm Williams, who had recently completed the monument to B.C.’s fishing industry and its workers situated outside the old Steveston Cannery, now the Gulf of Georgia National Historic Site in Richmond, B.C. His first task was to develop a maquette, or model, showing the three statues in various poses within the parameters of a single monument. Mr. Williams has since created the Roger Neilson and Pat Quinn statues located at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.

Unfortunately, the initial flurry of excitement for a shipbuilding monument began to wane at this time and for several years the project suffered an overall lack of enthusiasm. That changed in 2017 when the Naval Officer’s Association of BC (NOABC) announced plans to mark its 100th anniversary at a fall 2019 conference in North Vancouver. This sparked renewed interest by the Society and the monument project was revived in earnest.

By now, project costs had increased substantially and it was obvious the final price for the shipbuilding monument would be much higher than originally contemplated back in 2010. Also, urban renewal had changed the old Burrard Dry Dock site at the North Vancouver waterfront with the area that now includes an art gallery, a new hotel, a residential complex, public market, restaurants, boardwalk and a public pier.

The Society now had to re-engage with the City of North Vancouver to determine where the monument could be located on the revitalized waterfront. Meanwhile, the North Vancouver Arts Advisory Committee, along with the North Vancouver Museum and Archives, were consulted for artistic design and historical accuracy of the sculpture components. These were approved, and the City endorsed the project, agreeing that the monument be located east of the new pier on the North Vancouver waterfront boardwalk.

The building of vessels on the British Columbia coast has a long history. Well before European contact, coastal Indigenous people built large, sea-going dugout canoes for fishing, whaling, transportation and war. The first ship built on the B.C. coast by Europeans was at Friendly Cove, now Yuquot, in Nookta Sound in the early 1790s.

As European settlement took hold in the late 1800s, various types of vessels were built by B.C. shipbuilders over the years such as deep-sea sailing ships, paddle wheelers, lake ferries, tugs, fish boats and the occasional pleasure craft. It wasn’t until after the Second World War that U.K.-built passenger ships, used for West Coast service, began to be phased out and replaced mainly by vessels built in B.C. shipyards.

For most of the 20th century, the North Vancouver waterfront housed the largest shipyard in western Canada, with more than 450 ships launched from the site throughout this period. Opened in 1906 as Wallace Shipyard and re-named Burrard Dry Dock in 1921, tugs and barges for the forest industry, navy vessels, ferries, small cargo ships and icebreakers were launched from this historic location including the St. Roch, the RCMP schooner that achieved fame by traversing the Arctic in both directions in the 1940s.

The busiest and most record-setting activity on the North Vancouver waterfront occurred during the Second World War. Burrard Dry Dock, along with neighbouring North Van Ship Repairs, built close to 250 of Canada’s wartime Victory ships and 50 naval vessels, establishing a reputation for high standards of workmanship. Between 1939 and 1945, more than 14,000 workers were employed in round the clock shifts at Burrard, including 1,000 women, to feed the war effort. The B.C. shipyard was the first in Canada to hire women during the war. They filled the gap while men went to war with jobs ranging from store-keeping to welding.

When the war ended in 1945, shipbuilding in B.C. dropped dramatically and thousands of workers were let go, including all the women hired during the war. But, new contracts slowly picked up as the post-war economy began to surge. These included modern tugs, self-loading log barges, cargo ships, coastal tankers, patrol boats, state of the art icebreakers, arctic oil exploration ships and passenger and railcar ferries. In the 1950s the Royal Canadian Navy also began to modernize its fleet with new destroyers, several of which were built in B.C. shipyards.

Today, two replenishment ships have been ordered by the Royal Canadian Navy, along with a polar icebreaker for the Canadian Coast Guard. All three vessels are at the final design stage at Seaspan Shipyards in North Vancouver, from which the first of three fisheries research vessels were recently launched. Along with building new ships, for several years cruise ship, ferry and navy vessel repair and upgrading work have been consistent and reliable activities for British Columbia’s shipyards.

The shipbuilding monument needs $350,000 to be completed and installed on the North Vancouver waterfront by October, 2019. To meet this challenge the Metro Vancouver Naval Monument Society has launched an appeal for contributions at eight levels that reflect the type of ships built by B.C.’s shipbuilders, ranging from Minesweeper to Victory Ship to Naval Supply Ship, to mention just three.

The monument will consist of three bronze statues that show a male worker using a torch to bend pipes, a female worker taking a break, while a naval petty officer unrolls ship plans. It is designed to engage people, with sculptures positioned at ground level on the walkway east of the North Vancouver waterfront pier.

The shipbuilding monument will salute the legendary British Columbia shipbuilding industry and its workers, and for its support of the Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Merchant Marine during the Second World War.

The project began with a question: why is there no tangible recognition of British Columbia’s proud and illustrious history of shipbuilding?

The answer is the shipbuilding monument, now ready to be launched.


MEETINGS

RUSI Vancouver members gather for lunch on Wednesdays at 12:00 Noon at the Officers' Mess of the 15th Field Regiment (RCA) located in the Bessborough Armouries, 2025 West 11th Avenue, Vancouver, BC.