Speaker of the Legislature Darryl Plecas spoke to the media in January in Abbotsford, following the release of his report on the spending habits of Sergeat-at-Arms Gary Lenz and Clerk of the House Craig James. (Tyler Olsen/Abbotsford News)

Abbotsford 2019: The year in review

Take a look back at some of the highlights from the last 12 months

JANUARY

• Abbotsford council gave the go-ahead for three new baseball diamonds at Grant Park, including for the Abbotsford Angels’ Challenger division, which gives players with disabilities the opportunity to play the sport.

• The BC Review Board determined that Gabriel Klein – accused of the November 2016 fatal stabbing of Letisha Reimer, 13, at Abbotsford Senior Secondary and the aggravated assault of a second girl – was fit to stand trial. Klein, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, had been found unfit on three previous occasions.

READ MORE: Gabriel Klein fit to stand trial for Letisha Reimer’s death: judge

• Abbotsford South MLA Darryl Plecas, Speaker of the House, released an explosive report into the spending habits of Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz and Clerk of the House Craig James. Both later retired from their positions.

READ MORE: B.C. legislature managers accused of excessive travel, personal expense claims

• Garry Handlen was sentenced to life in prison for the 1978 murder of Monica Jack, 12, of Merritt, but a separate murder charge was dismissed for the 1975 killing of Kathryn-Mary Herbert, 13, of Abbotsford. After the judge ruled that key pieces of evidence were inadmissible, the Crown no longer had a case.

FEBRUARY

• Safeway announced that its Abbotsford location on South Fraser Way was among five stores in the Lower Mainland that would close and later re-open as a FreshCo discount grocery store. Other affected locations were in Aldergrove, Chillliwack, Maple Ridge and Delta.

• After a mild December and a warm January, Abbotsford got hit with a blast of winter on Feb. 3, when a heavy snowfall hit and the mercury dipped to -11 C. The snowfall resulted in a massive pileup that closed Highway 1 for hours.

• A special report from The News showed that Abbotsford and Chilliwack have B.C.’s most-crowded hospitals, often resulting in patients languishing in hallways or next to nursing stations. Abbotsford’s occupancy rate in acute-care wards was 118 per cent, while Chilliwack’s was 120.

READ MORE: Patients feel the effects, with Abbotsford hospital at 118% capacity

MARCH

• Kyle Ruffell, 17, of Abbotsford died on March 3, 12 days after he was rescued when his car went off the road and into a water-filled ditch in Chilliwack. A passenger in his vehicle survived. The pair, students at W. J. Mouat Secondary, had been on their way to the University of the Fraser Valley Trades and Technology Centre in Chilliwack at the time of the crash.

READ MORE: Abbotsford teen rescued from water-filled ditch has died

• A woman in her 60s died in an apartment fire in the 2400 block of Countess Street. Eight people were stranded on balconies when fire crews arrived, and four more found inside the building needed help getting out. Crews did a secondary search and found that an elderly woman was suffering serious injuries, but she died after paramedics attended to her.

READ MORE: Woman found dead after Abbotsford apartment fire

• The provincial government announced that Abbotsford would be among 12 school districts receiving a total of $1.2 million for gang-prevention programming in partnership with the Boys Club Network. The funding would go towards the Expect Respect and a Safe Education (ERASE) program.

• Parents grew heated at a meeting with the Abbotsford School District to discuss options for locating Abbotsford Traditional Secondary students while seismic upgrades were underway. Several parents said they didn’t want students temporarily moved to Rick Hansen Secondary. By June, the district decided to keep the students on site, including with the use of portables.

APRIL

• Three security cameras were discovered to have been secretly installed on Abbotsford’s Excelsior Hog Farm. The cameras had not been placed by anyone living on the family-run farm, and the footage found on the cameras was mostly of the pigs located on the property. It was determined that cameras had been filming there in March and were related to animal rights protestors.

• Smaller blocks, taller buildings and a more dense and modern city centre was revealed to be the vision for South Fraser Way as part of the city’s new official community plan. The plan guides what developers are allowed to build and where, along with the way the city will shape roads and infrastructure surrounding new buildings.

READ MORE: Taller buildings and more people: Abbotsford’s plan for a new city centre nears completion

• It was announced that Highway 1 will be widened to six lanes between 216 Street and 264 Street, adding HOV lanes and upgrading interchanges. Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun later reiterated the city’s plea to the province to widen the highway all the way to Abbotsford’s Whatcom exit.

• Several hundred protestors entered Abbotsford’s Excelsior Hog Farm on April 28, clad in black shirts, singing songs and holding signs. The farm became the target for the group after footage inside the facility was released by PETA, which activists stated depicted horrific living conditions for the animals. Protestors refused to leave the barn until a media tour was allowed and, after that was completed, one person was arrested.

READ MORE: Meat The Victims animal rights group invade Abbotsford farm

MAY

• The Fraser Valley Bandits debuted in front of over 3,400 fans at the Abbotsford Centre. The professional basketball team, part of the new Canadian Elite Basketball League, went on to lose nine consecutive games to open their inaugural season. The team finished last in the CEBL with a record of 4-16, but, despite the poor record, the Bandits averaged the second-highest attendance in the league.

• The first-degree murder trial for Oscar Arfmann, charged with killing Abbotsford Police Const. John Davidson, began in New Westminster. Davidson was gunned down in November 2017. Arfmann initially elected to have a trial by jury, but that was changed to a judge-only trial.

READ MORE: Const. John Davidson was ‘ambushed’ by shooter, Crown says on first day of trial

• Council approved two six-storey apartment buildings on the prominent east Abbotsford site currently occupied by The News. The two buildings will include 282 apartments. Once completed, it will be one of the city’s largest apartment projects in many years. The project will be accompanied with significant roadwork around the tangled intersection of South Fraser Way, Sumas Way and Gladys Avenue.

JUNE

• Abbotsford council declined to declare a climate emergency, choosing not to follow in the footsteps of other cities that have done so. Mayor Henry Braun promised the city would continue working to reduce its climate emissions, but activists who came to council to convince officials that the matter was urgent left disappointed.

• Jubilee Park hosted a grand re-opening following nearly $3 million in improvements. Local politicians gathered at the park on June 7 to mark the occasion, with face-painting, balloon animals, free ice cream and pickleball games.

• Abbotsford Community Services re-named itself to Archway Community Services. Archway was chosen because it reflects people helping people in a collective effort to support the community. The name change was also made to be more inclusive to non-Abbotsford clients, as the group also serves people in Mission, Chilliwack, Langley and India.

READ MORE: Abbotsford Community Services announces name change

• Dr. Andy Singh Sidhu was named the 2019 recipient of the Order of Abbotsford. Sidhu, currently the chancellor of University of the Fraser Valley (UFV), has volunteered with organizations such as the Abbotsford Hospice Society, Abbotsford Community Services and United Way of the Lower Mainland. In the business community, he has been owner and publisher of the Punjabi Patrika newspaper for over two decades.

JULY

• The lawyer for the man charged with killing Abbotsford Police Const. John Davidson in November 2017 said no evidence would be called in Oscar Arfmann’s defence. Arfmann himself had been expected to testify, but his lawyer said plans were altered after a “change in instructions.”

READ MORE: Defence won’t call evidence on behalf of accused killer of Abbotsford police officer

• Council approved one of the largest single development projects ever proposed for central Abbotsford. Nearly 600 townhouse and apartment units will be built during the redevelopment of the Clayburn Brick Plant site just north of the historic downtown. The only concerns revolved around parking downtown.

READ MORE: Plans revealed for huge development near Abbotsford’s historic downtown

• Advocates for a community rail line between Chilliwack and Surrey asked Abbotsford council for support, but Mayor Henry Braun said the plan was unrealistic because of questions surrounding a seven-mile stretch of track in Langley. Calls to use the line ramped up but failed to impress TransLink officials, who pointed to questions about its economic feasibility.

• The number of westbound traffic slowdowns between Abbotsford and Langley tripled since 2014, according to transportation figures. The statistics showed that nearly five per cent of westbound vehicles ended up going slower than 60 km/h at the Bradner underpass.

AUGUST

• Mission’s mayor said the region is at risk if funding does not come through to pay for a new sewer line across the Fraser River. Pam Alexis said the sewer line from Abbotsford would cost $32 million and that the district can’t pay that cost. The line is 40 years old and failed on its land portion five years ago.

READ MORE: Mission needs major funding to avoid an ‘environmental disaster’

• Owners of homes near Abbotsford’s new transit depot sued the city, alleging construction during a cold snap earlier in the year damaged their homes. The residents said they had been worried that pile-driving would damage foundations.

• The Catholic church was revealed as the 2017 purchaser of a large agricultural property on Bradner Road. The Archdiocese of Vancouver bought the property for $7.5 million and applied to turn it into an “agri-retreat” for parishioners and students.

SEPTEMBER

• An Abbotsford man broke his back after falling 50 feet from a large tree. Dan Anderson dragged himself through a forest to get help, and was eventually located by two Abbotsford Police officers who helped him to safety with the aid of firefighters and paramedics.

READ MORE: Abbotsford man breaks back, drags body through forest for three days until rescued

• Family members of two girls raped and murdered near Cranbrook 35 years ago said they were worried about the killer’s imminent escorted absences from prison. Terrence Burlingham, who was being held at Mission Institution, was set for “escorted temporary absences.” He had been declared a “high risk to reoffend” in 2018, according to Parole Board documents.

• A full crowd watched the Vancouver Canucks beat the Ottawa Senators in an exhibition game at Abbotsford Centre. A sold-out crowd of 7,040 people watched the Canucks beat the Senators 6-4. Elias Petterson scored two goals and added two assists.

• A man was charged with stealing a sculpture from Chief Dan George Middle School. The theft was only discovered after the artist who made the donated piece visited the school and discovered it missing. After a story in The News, a reader identified it as an artwork for sale at a Mission pawn shop. Wayne Ervin was later charged with theft over $5,000.

READ MORE: Man charged with stealing Chief Dan George sculpture from Abbotsford school

• A nurse at Abbotsford Regional Hospital was seriously injured after being attacked by a patient. The patient hid behind a curtain, and then used an exercise weight to strike the nurse, breaking her jaw and leaving her with an array of other injuries.

OCTOBER

• After a pedestrian in his 50s was killed in a hit-and-run accident on Highway 11 on Oct. 17, the vehicle was quickly located and its driver was arrested.

• A futuristic development, dubbed We Town, was presented to Abbotsford council Oct. 7. The We Town concept imagined a 15-million-square-foot high-tech hub, with businesses providing 18,000 jobs, and high-rises housing nearly 30,000 people in the city’s northeast corner. The plan was rejected by council in December.

READ MORE: Futuristic development on Abbotsford hillside met with optimism, skepticism

• Oscar Arfmann, the man charged with killing Abbotsford Police Const. John Davidson, was found guilty of first-degree murder. But the judge said she wanted to hear more about Arfmann’s state of mind during the killing, and a hearing has now been set to begin Feb. 3 to determine whether he was not criminally responsible due to a mental disorder.

READ MORE: Judge agrees to hearing on cop killer’s mental state

• Conservative candidate Ed Fast won his fifth term as Abbotsford MP in the federal election on Oct. 21, while his former staffer, Brad Vis, was elected to his first term as MP for Mission-Matsqui-Fraser-Canyon.

• A 20-year-old man was hospitalized after being shot by two gunmen while his vehicle was in line at the Tim Hortons drive-thru at the Esso gas station in the 31700 block of South Fraser Way on Oct. 22. The victim had to ram another vehicle directly in front of his SUV to escape, and he drove himself to Abbotsford Regional Hospital.

READ MORE: Man in his 20s in hospital following shooting in Abbotsford

NOVEMBER

• A majority of public schools in Abbotsford and Mission were using water containing lead above the threshold set by Health Canada. In March 2019, Health Canada halved the acceptable level of lead in water. Consequently, 25 out of 34 schools in Abbotsford, and 14 out of 16 schools in Mission were over the limit.

• Abbotsford was a month away from going a full calender year without a homicide when the body of 48-year-old Sukhdev Dhaliwal was found in the back of a burning SUV on Nov. 15 in the 5300 block of Bates Road. The investigation is continuing, but police said Dhaliwal was not known to them.

READ MORE: Identity confirmed of body found in torched vehicle in Abbotsford

• Brandon Janveaux, 19, of Chilliwack was charged with the unprovoked and random assault of an 85-year-old man who was waiting for a bus in the area of 33355 South Fraser Way on Nov. 24. The victim suffered cuts to his face and broken teeth and dentures. The case is now making its way through the courts.

DECEMBER

• An ongoing toxic stench at King Traditional Elementary due to a nearby manure-composting facility prompted the Abbotsford board of education to ask the Ministry of Education to put pressure on the company to fix the situation. The problem has not yet been resolved.

• The lawyer for Gabriel Klein, charged with the fatal stabbing of Letisha Reimer on Nov. 1, 2016 and the aggravated assault of her friend, said at Klein’s trial that he wouldn’t be calling any evidence in his client’s defence. The judge is now expected to issue her verdict on Feb. 21 on whether Klein is guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter.

READ MORE: No defence witnesses in trial of man charged in killing of Abbotsford student

• Abbotsford Regional Hospital was found to have more patient deaths than any large hospital in B.C., according to figures published by the Canadian Institute for Health Information. The hospital had 64 more deaths than the 401 that would have been expected. The death rate had been above the provincial average since 2013/14, but reached a five-year high in 2018/2019.

• Abbotsford woman Kelsey Devois won a legal battle on The People’s Court – a reality TV show – against an American publishing company over a board game she developed. The show is expected to air in April.

READ MORE: Abbotsford woman wins legal battle over board game on reality T.V.’s ‘The People’s Court’

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