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Lake Louise ski resort wants fine reduced from $2M to $200,000 for chopping down endangered trees

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An Alberta ski resort has appealed a Calgary judge’s $2.1-million fine for cutting down endangered trees, arguing the sentence is “grossly disproportional and demonstrably unfit.”

The Lake Louise Ski Resort in Banff National Park has asked a higher court to either stay the charges or reduce the penalty to $200,000.

One year ago, the resort pleaded guilty to charges under the Species at Risk Act and Canada National Parks Act for cutting down a stand of trees, including 38 endangered whitebark pine, along a ski run in 2013.

Last month, provincial court Judge Heather Lamoureux imposed the fine that works out to about $55,000 per tree. The maximum fine is $300,000 per tree.

In a notice of appeal filed Friday, the resort argues the trial judge “made palpable and overriding errors of fact and findings in absence of evidence and in interpreting mitigating and aggravating factors erroneously.”

In her decision, Lamoureux said the resort had risked “undermining the survival of the species in the decades to come.”

But the appeal argues there are 200 million whitebark pines in Canada and that Lamoureux erred in her assessment of the risk of harm to the species.

The resort had previously argued that cutting down 38 trees would have “zero impact” on the overall whitebark pine population in Canada.

Dan Markham, the resort’s director of brand and communications, said after the sentencing decision that the resort has taken steps — like educating staff and marking the 7,000 whitebark pines on resort land — to ensure the endangered trees remain protected.

Before the guilty plea, defence lawyer Alain Hepner had made an application to have the charges tossed out because, he argued, the case had taken too long to get to trial. Lamoureux rejected the application — and that decision is also under appeal. The resort wants the charges to be stayed. In the event the charges are not stayed, Hepner will argue for the fine to be reduced.

In this 2011 photo, whitebark pine have succumbed to mountain pine beetles through the Gros Ventre area east of Jackson Hole, Wyo. (The Associated Press)

In 2013, seven employees were doing cleanup work on Ptarmigan Ridge at the ski resort. They were trimming and removing trees, including the endangered pines, which was done without a permit.

Following DNA analysis, the trees were confirmed to be whitebark pines and the case was handed over to Parks Canada investigators. 

Prosecutor Erin Eacott had proposed the $2.1-million fine, arguing a “significant deterrent” was needed to protect the species.

Invasive disease, fire and climate change threaten the whitebark pine. 

The whitebark pine is found at high elevations in western North America and helps stabilize steep subalpine slopes.

The trees have been growing on the continent for 100,000 years and some are hundreds of years old.

The appeal will be heard in March by a Court of Queen’s Bench judge in Calgary. 

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‘Too soon to celebrate’ Ottawa’s low case count, says Etches

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Ottawa Public Health (OPH) logged just 11 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, the lowest daily total since Sept. 1.

Because of the lag between testing and reporting, the low number could simply reflect low turnout at the city’s testing sites on weekends — all month, new case counts have been lower on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 

During a virtual news conference Tuesday, the city’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches said she doesn’t read too much into a single day’s report.

“I don’t think we can make too much of 11. Actually, it could be a lot higher tomorrow — I would expect that, on average,” she said. “It’s too soon to celebrate.”

Provincewide, public health officials reported 1, 249 new cases Tuesday.

OPH also declared 62 cases resolved Tuesday, lowering the number of known active cases in the city to 462. Two more people have died, both in care homes currently experiencing outbreaks, raising the city’s COVID-19 death toll to 361. 

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Santa Claus isn’t coming to Ottawa’s major malls this year

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Santa Claus may still be coming to town this Christmas, but he won’t be dropping by any of Ottawa’s major malls, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday, Cadillac Fairview said Santa won’t be making an appearance at any of its 19 malls across Canada, including Rideau Centre in downtown Ottawa. On Tuesday, Bayshore and St. Laurent shopping centres confirmed they, too, are scrapping the annual tradition.

“Due to the evolution of the situation in regards to COVID-19, we have made the difficult decision to cancel our Santa Program and Gift Wrap Program this year,” Bayshore spokesperson Sara Macdonald wrote in an email to CBC.

Macdonald said parent company Ivanhoé Cambridge cancelled all holiday activities “due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases across the country.”

Macdonald said families that had already booked an appointment to visit Santa will receive an email with more information.  

Virtual visits with Santa

Rideau Centre said based on customer research and discussions with public health officials, its North Pole is going online this year.

“Children will be able to have a private chat with Santa,” said Craig Flannagan, vice-president of marketing for Cadillac Fairview. “You’ll also be able to join a 15-minute storytime with Santa over Facebook Live.” 

At Place d’Orléans Shopping Centre, visitors are invited to take a “selfie with Santa” — actually, a life-size cutout of Santa Pierre, the man who’s been playing Santa at the east end mall for years.

“We understand that this is not ideal, but in lieu of this tradition we will be doing what we can to maintain and encourage holiday cheer,” according to a statement on the mall’s Facebook page.

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Ottawa Bylaw breaks up two large parties in Ottawa over the weekend

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Bylaw is investigating social gatherings of more than 10 people in private homes across Ottawa last weekend.

Mayor Jim Watson tells Newstalk 580 CFRA that Ottawa Bylaw broke-up two house parties over the weekend, with 20 to 25 people at each party.

“That’s the kind of stupidity that angers me, that’s where the bulk of the transmissions are taking place, if we exclude the tragedy of the long-term care homes; it’s these house parties with unrelated people,” said Watson on Newstalk 580 CFRA’s Ottawa at Work with Leslie Roberts.

“The message doesn’t seem to be getting through, particularly to some young people who think they’re invincible.”

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, Bylaw and Regulatory Services Director Roger Chapman says, “There are still ongoing investigations from this past weekend that could result in charges.”

Chapman says recent investigations led to two charges being issued for social gatherings of more than 10 people in a private residence in contravention of the Reopening Ontario Act.

“In one case, up to 30 individuals were observed attending a house party in Ward 18 on Oct. 24,” said Chapman.

“The second charge was issued following a house party in Ward 16 on Oct. 31, where up to 16 individuals were observed to be in attendance.”

The fine is $880 for hosting an illegal gathering.

Alta Vista is Ward 18, while Ward 16 is River Ward.

Ottawa Bylaw has issued 24 charges for illegal gatherings since the start of the pandemic.

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