Living/Working September 3, 2021


September 3, 2021

Lawsuit of the week: Swiss company’s herbicide linked to Parkinson’s diagnosis, former federal agricultural worker claims

Defendants should have known about dangers of products containing paraquat, man alleges

TwentySeven/E+/Getty Images

A former Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada employee is suing Switzerland-based agrichemical company Syngenta (NYSE:SYT) claiming prolonged exposure to the company’s herbicide products gave him Parkinson’s disease.

Wayne Gionet, of Victoria, filed a notice of civil claim under the Class Proceedings Act in BC Supreme Court on August 17, naming Syngenta AG and various subsidiaries as defendants. Gionet claims he worked at an experimental farm on Vancouver Island run by the federal agricultural department for 28 years beginning in the late 1970s. While working on the farm, Gionet claims, he worked with Syngenta’s Gramoxone herbicide products “extensively, often without appropriate personal protective equipment.”

In 2016, Gionet claims, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, having no idea that exposure to Gramoxone was linked with developing the neurodegenerative brain condition. According to the lawsuit, Gramoxone has been sold in Canada since 1963 as a weed-controlling herbicide commonly used by farmers on lands “where several crops were planted on the same land in a single growing season or year.” The main ingredient, Gionet claims, is a chemical called paraquat, whose properties as a herbicide were discovered by Syngenta’s corporate predecessor in 1955.

“Paraquat is highly toxic at the cellular level; it damages, destroys and injures by creating oxidative stress that causes or contributes to cell degeneration and death,” the claim states. “Paraquat has been banned in many countries around the world, including the 27 member countries of the European Union, because of its harmful effects on health.”

Other countries, Gionet claims, banned its use decades ago or imposed “severe restrictions” on its use, as Germany did in 1991. In Canada, according to the claim, Gramoxone products have undergone several evaluations by Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency, but as recently as 2016 the agency’s informational pamphlet on the product “contained no mention or clarification of the risk between exposure to its active ingredient, paraquat, and Parkinson’s disease.”

“The Defendants knew or should have known of the risks associated with the use of and/or exposure to Gramoxone products,” the claim states. “Despite studies providing clear evidence of a link between the use and/or exposure to Gramoxone products and Parkinson’s disease … the Defendants failed to adequately investigate through post-marketing studies, tests and trials or to warn users of the significant and irreversible risks.”

Gionet seeks class certification and damages for battery, negligence and unjust enrichment. Allegations in the lawsuit have not been tested or proven in court, and Syngenta and its subsidiaries had not filed a response to the claim by press time.


No happy endings in sight for residents in Little Mountain saga

The banner stretched along the perimeter of Vancouver’s Little Mountain social housing site around the corner from my place reads: “GREAT STORIES TAKE TIME TO WRITE.”

INDEED, THEY DO, and now an important chapter in this one can be written. At this stage in the tale, it reads both tragic and troublesome.

The relinquishing a week ago by Holborn Properties Ltd. of its protracted legal fight to protect disclosure of the site’s purchase contract with the B.C. government of Gordon Campbell was sudden and stunning. Absorb the 99-page contract and you see why neither party would have wished it made public.

The top-line numbers on the deal for a lucrative 15-acre parcel adjacent to Queen Elizabeth Park are that Holborn negotiated a purchase price of $334 million in 2008, given a “credit” of $88 million toward eventual construction of non-market units, a loan from the province of $211 million and a nearly 19-year interest-free holiday on that loan that only kicks in after December 31, 2026. It needs to pay up by the end of 2031, a 23-year affair.

We should all have such benevolence at taxpayer expense.

Beyond that were the further provincial obligations: demolition of the households, environmental remediation of the site, resolution of First Nations claims, payment of the real estate fees, and, of uppermost importance, the relocation of residents from their neighbourhood.

We should all have such logistical assistance at taxpayer expense.

People were moved out and the buildings razed quickly, presumably to proceed with the project to build back and bring people back. But as the contract makes clear, the project has no provincially negotiated deadline.

We should all have such forbearance at taxpayer expense.

The NDP government left to explain this all away says $35 million has been paid by Holborn to date and that 53 of an initially proposed 234 social housing units are built, with another 62 under construction. In the end we will see 282 social housing units built, including 48 owned by the city and 10 by the Musqueam Indian Band, as part of a 1,500-unit complex on the L-shaped property between 33rd and 37th streets and Main and Ontario streets.

The BC Liberal government of the day intended to use the proceeds from the sale to build more social housing – former housing minister Rich Coleman once called it his “line of credit” to do so – but there isn’t much leverage when only a small fraction has been paid and interest payments won’t even apply for more than another five years.

Only with that payment deadline does the project takes shape, it appears, but it doesn’t take an economics degree to appreciate that the appreciation in land value over what will be close to two decades will make Holborn happier than if it started hammering nails a decade-plus earlier. That was when the residents were promised their homes back, and they have proved to be the tragic part of the story as pawns in a pricey chess game in which government looks for ways to secure its supportive housing policies but doesn’t always make the best move.

If there is blame to place on the BC Liberals of yesteryear, the BC Liberals of today are not exactly owning it. Interim leader Shirley Bond said last week the deal hasn’t worked out as planned, which is certainly true but hardly helpful. The Campbell administration did many solids for the province, but its successors would be more credible to acknowledge this mess of its party’s making and offer to help effect whatever outcome can emerge as an improvement over the existing one.

Of course, that might not be possible. A contract is a contract, and Vancouver-based Holborn was simply a superb negotiator.

In the days ahead the BC NDP government will have something to say, although it is hard to see whether there can be anything more than coarse words.

Public land parcels have gone into private hands without profound vigilance over the years, and some are suggesting an inquiry is in order into disbursals. But given the province’s dependence on the steady stream of real estate revenue, this is a political can of worms no administration might wish to open. The findings of any probe might be humiliating for previous regimes but prescriptions might hamstring future ones.

It was one of the NDP’s former MLAs, David Chudnovsky, who spent three-and-a-half years under the province’s infernal freedom-of-information law to liberate the contract paperwork. We were about to go into a judicial review of his request when Holborn quit the fight. Which makes me wonder why. It just doesn’t feel like it fits into the narrative of the yarn. Nor does the initial political silence from the province and the city serve the plot.

Which still makes me think there is something afoot to write a better next chapter in this GREAT story the fence’s banner promises will come. As it stands, there seem too many characters who won’t experience the happiest of endings. •

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of BIV and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.



Immersive 'Imagine Picasso' Vancouver exhibit will drop you into over 200 works of art

The event arrives in Vancouver this October

Details of Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon are blown up to larger-than-life proportions in the Imagine Picasso exhibit | Jean Sebastien Baciu

Another of the immersive 'Imagine' exhibits is coming to Vancouver.

Imagine Picasso, which promises a "one-of-a-kind immersive exhibition highlighting and celebrating the work of Pablo Picasso" will open at the Vancouver Convention Centre in October (a specific date hasn't been announced).

"Imagine Picasso features more than 200 of the artist’s paintings, shown together for the first time—from his Blue and Rose periods on through Cubism and the prolific later years," states a press release.

The exhibition will be similar to Imagine Van Gogh, which is currently running in the same space. However, instead of just being projected on the walls like Van Gogh, the new exhibit will include elements of 3D.

Imagine Picasso Jean Sebastien Baciu The Imagine Picasso exhibit will be coming to Vancouver this October | Jean Sebastien Baciu

"The paintings, projected onto nine full-blown Origami-style structures, offer a unique and novel perspective on the work of Picasso," reads the release.

The exhibition was designed along with Rudy Ricciotti, one of France's most celebrated active architects. It's also been produced with the approval of the Picasso estate.

Tickets aren't available yet, but pre-registration is available on the Imagine Picasso website

Imagine Van Gogh has had its stay in Vancouver extended until Oct. 15.



Free outdoor films returning to Downtown Vancouver

Want to watch the stars of Hollywood under the stars of the night sky?

Films will be shown in downtown Vancouver this September by Vancouver Civic Theatres | LanaStock/Getty Images

Vancouver has a fair number of theatres, but they won't be needed for this film series.

Free film nights featuring flicks like Jumanji: The Next Level and Pitch Perfect will be playing this September under the stars and city lights. As of September 1, Vancouver Civic Theatres has been turning the courtyard adjacent to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre into a silver screen spot.

"We're saying goodbye to summer with 4 movies throughout September and hope you can join us at 630 Hamilton Street, movies begin at dusk," states the organization on Facebook.

People will have the chance to catch Spider-Man: Far From Home as well.

Films will start around dusk each night, so keep an eye on when sunset happens to make sure you arrive on time.

Sept. 8

Jumanji: The Next Level

Sept. 22

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Sept. 29

Pitch Perfect


Burnaby Asian food app sensation adds English version with a bazillion options

Fantuan rolls out new English version of app

Individualized hot pot | Dolar Shop

A Burnaby Asian food app that has been a sensation – growing across Canada and into major U.S. markets like New York and Los Angeles – has added an English version that includes a bazillion new options.

Fantuan has launched an official English app in Ontario and B.C., including Fantuan's HQ region of Burnaby. Fantuan has also welcomed a new diverse group of delivery staff, helping build bridges between cultures.

Fantuan says it grew by nearly 400% last year, and is seeing enormous demand across Canada and the United States.

“Throughout the pandemic, Fantuan has offered lower commissions, higher pay, and more opportunities to people affected by the pandemic (especially at-risk minority groups whose jobs were negatively impacted),” the company said in a statement.

Fantuan is now also adding more non-Asian options to the app, including Mexican food, pizza, burgers and sandwiches, fried chicken, and barbecue favourites.

The newest Fantuan feature allows users to have the app’s drivers run errands for them, like delivering flowers.

“Say you have a package that needs to be picked up in Vancouver, but you don’t have time, out drivers will pick it up for you,” the company said.

The main focus, of course, is on delivering food – mostly Chinese food. Fantuan orders are roughly 60-per-cent Chinese food and 40 per cent split between food from other Asian countries, such as Vietnam, Japan and Thailand, as well as fast-food outlets like Subway.

A person orders food from the hundreds of restaurant partners and a driver is notified through the app with a map to the eatery to pick up the food, as well as GPS directions to the customer’s home. Fantuan charges restaurants a lower percentage than other delivery apps.

Fantuan is the brainchild of Randy Wu, who came up with the idea while a student Simon Fraser University.

Wu noticed that life for many foreign students was difficult, especially when it came to feeding themselves. One reason was that many students didn’t know their way around the areas outside of their school’s campus. Another was that few students own a vehicle.

Randy Wu Feng Yaofei Fantuan Randy Wu (left) and Feng Yaofei, founders of Fantuan, have based their company out of Burnaby. (via Chris Campbell/Burnaby Now)


“If you don’t have a car, you don’t have legs,” Wu says.

So he went about developing a service in which Asian students could order the food they love and have it delivered to their door.

It is called Fantuan (Mandarin for rice ball) and it grew so fast that Wu took that gigantic risk by quitting school in 2014. The risks continued when, for an entire year, he didn’t tell his parents he was no longer a student.

In hindsight, founding the Fantuan app – along with Feng Yaofei – wasn’t really a risk at all because the company has exploded in the past few years.

There is also an English version of the app in the works before the end of the year. Fantuan has also expanded its app from food deliveries to other features, including self-pickup (with discounts), online reviews of the restaurants it delivers for, and online shopping in which users can order grocery items and have them delivered.

Follow Chris Campbell on Twitter @shinebox44.



What are we reading? September 2, 2021

Each week, BIV staff will share with you some of the interesting stories we have found from around the web.



Glen Korstrom, reporter: 

Interesting study shows the disturbing decline in Americans’ decline in trust in national media, particularly among Republicans. There’s a 43 percentage-point gap in that trust, between Democrats and Republicans – the widest gap since 2016.

The gap grows even wider – to 53 points – between liberal Democrats (83%) and conservative Republicans (30%). This is not good news for democracy, or debate on issues, which is something that requires a common understanding of facts.


Timothy Renshaw, managing editor:

If you really want to be riding the next wave in urban commuting, forget ground-bound electric vehicles. You'll want a car that can fly. Literally. – McKinsey & Co.


Ducks might hold the key to more efficient container shipping freight flow. – Popular Mechanics


And vertical farming might hold the key to more efficient, less water-dependent food production. – Salt Lake Tribune


Mark Falkenberg, deputy managing editor

The Canadian Medical Association throws its support behind vaccine passports, calling for them to be required across the county. – CTV


Watching old TV shows has been a big digital security blanket during the pandemic. But it’s time we stopped, says Toronto writer Lisa Whittington-Hill: “As the world reopens, our long-standing obsession with reboots, remakes, and rewatches—all of which thrived during the pandemic—might just be the thing we leave behind.” – The Walrus