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Year in Review: A look back at the top stories of 2020

Last Updated Dec 19, 2020 at 7:29 pm PDT

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – It’s a no brainer that the most prominent story to come out of 2020 has been the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

But before the virus arrived in Canada and in the months that followed, there were plenty of other major events that have forced us to change our thinking, give thanks, and crack a few smiles.

Here is NEWS 1130’s Year in Review, with stories listed in no particular order of importance.

COVID-19: How it progressed

Since Canada’s first case of COVID-19 was recorded in Toronto on Jan. 25, those suffering most have been the country’s seniors.

In British Columbia, early success keeping the virus from spreading quickly gave way to frustration — and finger-pointing — as surging case numbers saw the death toll significantly jump in the weeks to come.

With a vaccine now being administered, there’s hope most the vulnerable people can be immunized by April.

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Nova Scotia massacre

Over the span of 13 hours between April 18 and 19, 22 people were killed across 16 crime scenes in several towns in Nova Scotia in what became Canada’s deadliest mass shooting.

The 51-year-old gunman was heavily armed, drove a replica RCMP cruiser, and was dressed, in part, as an officer as he targeted some of his victims and shot others at random.
RCMP cruisers in the parking lot of the Enfield Big Stop (Chris Halef/HalifaxToday.ca/NEWS 95.7)

Investigators believed the killing spree began following a domestic dispute with his common-law partner, who was later charged, along with two others, with supplying ammunition after it was revealed some of the guns were bought illegally and in three cases, smuggled into Canada from the U.S..

Among those killed were a teacher, a pair of corrections officers, a pregnant nurse, a retired firefighter, a 17-year-old girl, and an on-duty Mountie.

After repeated demands from the victims’ families, the federal and provincial governments gave in and a public inquiry was launched to prevent something similar from ever happening again. The inquiry is still underway.

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Black Lives Matter protests

On May 25, George Floyd, a Black 46-year-old man, died after a police officer pressed a knee on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, despite Floyd repeatedly crying out, “I can’t breathe.”

Cellphone video of Floyd’s death quickly drew attention to the treatment of Black Americans by police and the criminal justice system.

Peaceful protests started taking place in the U.S. against racial injustice and police brutality, with Black Lives Matter demonstrations quickly spreading all across the globe.

In the months that followed, people would also protest in the names of other Black Americans who had been killed, such as Breonna Taylor, 26,  Ahmaud Arbery, 25, Eric Garner, 44, Michael Brown, 18, Tamir Rice, 12, and Trayvon Martin, 17, to name a few.

In Canada, solidarity protests broke out in, with Canadians calling out racism and police brutality within their own country.

FILE – Thousands of people gathered in Downtown Vancouver Sunday as part of a protest against racism and police brutality. (Patrick Swadden, NEWS 1130 Photo)

Among those rallies were the demonstrations over the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year-old Indigenous-Ukrainian-Black Canadian woman who fell from a 24th floor balcony while Toronto police officers were in her apartment on May 27. Her family has questioned the role of officers in her death.

Confederate statues have been toppled, and many cities worldwide are debating overhauling, dismantling, or defunding police departments.

Beirut blast

On Aug. 4, a massive explosion at the Port of Beirut levelled parts of Lebanon’s capital.

The source of the blast was improperly stored ammonium nitrate which had caught fire. More than 200 people died as a result of the blast, which also left thousands hurt, many missing, and caused damage as far as 10 kilometres from the blast site.

In the days that followed, protests erupted, with the Lebanese people calling for change to what many have described as a political system marred by corruption.

The explosion was seen as a clear example of the government’s neglect and mismanagement of the country, with calls for reform continuing to this day.

Aid flooded into the Mediterranean country from around the world, including Canada, which tied its contribution to the promise of change.

An investigation is now underway to try to determine how things went so wrong, but it remains to be seen just what will come from it.

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Australia wildfires

It was a devastating and deadly wildfire season in Australia, and has been referred to as “Black Summer.”

Record-breaking temperatures and months of severe drought in a number of cities — including Sydney and Adelaide — fuelled the fires, which left 34 people dead across the country.

Related video: State of emergency declared in Australian state as bushfires spread

Tens of millions of acres of land were scorched and three billion animals were impacted during the bush fire season.

The fires were the costliest natural disaster in Australia’s history — with economists estimating the fires may have cost over $100 billion in property damage and economic losses.

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Wet’suwet’en protests

Before COVID-19 and demands for racial equality took over headlines, it looked like Indigenous land rights would be the top story in 2020.

This came after RCMP arrested several self-identifying land defenders on Wet’suwet’en territory, sparking solidarity protests across the world.

 

Related video: Tensions run high at blockade on CN Rail line in Edmonton

For weeks protesters targeted railways, ports, and urban intersections, declaring reconciliation dead and halting the shipment of goods from coast to coast.

It left Canadians frustrated and divided as the economy slowed and blockades went on for weeks.

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The U.S. presidential election

It was a vote like no other in American history. Like many things this year, the U.S. presidential election was made even more complicated by COVID-19.

The way the Trump White House managed the pandemic not only affected how Americans voted but perhaps who they voted for. A record number of ballots were cast early and by mail. Some swing states saw delays in vote counting and reporting because of the larger-than-usual number of those mail-in ballots. Trump sowed the seeds of doubt early, months before the election.

As a result of the unprecedented advance voting numbers, major news outlets delayed their projection of the winners until four days after the election. Ultimately, it wasn’t all that close.  Biden won 306 Electoral College votes to Trump’s 232.

But Trump and many among the Republican party refuse to accept the result.

In the end, Biden received more than 81 million votes, beating the record of 69.5 million set by Barack Obama in 2008. And at age 78, Biden will be the oldest commander-in-chief to take the oath of office.

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Kobe Bryant dies

Kobe Bryant, the basketball legend who was celebrated after his playing days as a storyteller, entrepreneur, and loving father, was killed along with his daughter, Gianna, and seven others in a helicopter crash in the hills of Calabasas, California on Jan. 26.

A massive memorial came together outside Staples Center in Los Angeles, where Bryant played as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers for 20 seasons from 1996-2016.

Bryant was a five-time NBA champion and the 2008 NBA Most Valuable Player. The Lakers would go on to win the franchise’s 17th NBA Championship in October.

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Iran plane crash

On Jan. 8, Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 was shot down shortly after takeoff from Tehran, bound for Kyiv, killing all 176 passengers and crew on board.

Among the dead were dozens of Canadians and permanent residents who had just settled into their seats for the trip out of Iran.

The Iranian government was quick to claim it was some sort of engine trouble or mechanical problem that caused the sudden explosion and crash, which happened so fast that there was no chance for a radio distress call from the airliner.

A day later, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the nation, calling the downing of the plane an “unspeakable tragedy” that “shocked not only Canada, but the world.”

Under international pressure, it took three days for the Iranian government to admit that its military had, indeed, shot down the civilian airliner while on high alert amid tensions with the U.S. in Iraq.

It wasn’t until the summer that Iran sent the jet’s flight data recorders to France for data recovery, with Tehran blaming the missile launch on human error and bad communication.

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COVID-19: The creation of a vaccine

Dozens of research teams around the world spent 2020 trying to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, which was widely seen as the way to bring an end to the pandemic and see life return to the old normal.

While there was doubt as to how fast a vaccine could be developed, by March the first tests got underway. By the summer, human trials were showing promising results.

The first delivery of approximately 4,000 doses of the first approved COVID-19 vaccine has arrived in the province. (Courtesy B.C. Government)

Despite the progress, it still didn’t seem likely a vaccine would be available until 2021, at the earliest. However, by the fall, Pfizer said its vaccine candidate was 95 per cent effective.

The U.K. approved the manufacturer’s drug in December, paving the way for immunizations. Health Canada followed suit on Dec. 9.

Health-care workers are now rolling up their sleeves across Canada and provincial governments have plans to make the vaccine available to everyone in several months, offering hope 2021 will be a better year.

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COVID and sports

2020 was a year unlike any other in professional sports.

Seasons were put on pause. Cancellations and positive COVID-19 tests made headlines instead of scores and statistics.

But in the end, the games were played, champions were crowned, and professional leagues across the continent navigated the new normal during a sports year that was far from ordinary.

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COVID-19 and the economy

Mass unemployment. Market volatility. Businesses struggling to stay viable.

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t just been a health crisis, but an economic one as well. Debates have emerged about lockdowns, and the appropriate level of government intervention.

The crisis has also seen the emergence of unprecedent federal supports, including the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and the wage subsidy.

The arrival of vaccines is prompting many of us to hope this provides a shot of economic confidence as well, but given the billions of dollars spent propping people and businesses up during this crisis, the financial scars from the pandemic will be with us for some time.

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New Westminster pier fire

New Westminster’s fire chief called it the crown jewel of the city, but on Sept. 13, a fire tore through the waterfront pier, closing the area park for an extended period of time.

A 46-year-old man was arrested on charges of arson and mischief in connection to what happened, but the loss of the public space has created challenges for locals and nearby businesses.

(Courtesy Twitter/paulromein)

Burning creosote from the pier wafted into the sky, adding to an already problematic situation with wildfire smoke coming from B.C.’s Interior, but mostly from fires burning in states like Oregon and California.

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B.C. election

Another first for B.C. in 2020 was a pandemic election.

After weeks of rumour, Premier John Horgan made it official that British Columbians would go to the polls on Oct. 24.

Criticism from opposition leaders was swift, calling out Horgan for breaking his own party’s fixed-election date legislation and the NDP’s working agreement with the B.C. Greens.

There were fumbles. For Horgan it was saying he didn’t “see colour” when asked about racism and personal bias. He recovered after a swift apology. Then, Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson did not from inaction on crisis after crisis — including a sexist roast and homophobic candidates.

After all the votes were counted (a process that took an extra few weeks because of record mail-in ballots) the Liberals lost a number of seats, while the BC NDP won 57 and a solid majority.

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Snowbirds crash

People across Canada were stunned when a Canadian Forces Snowbirds plane crashed in Kamloops shortly after takeoff on May 17. Captain Jennifer Casey was killed that day, while Captain Richard MacDougall managed to eject himself from the plane before impact, surviving despite some serious injuries.

They were flying as part of Operation Inspiration, a salute to frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The incident grounded the fleet for some time.

But the Snowbirds were cleared to start flying again three months after the crash, with restrictions in place

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Check back as we review more big stories from 2020 as the year winds down.