B.C. looks to crack down on bogus organic claims by uncertified farmers

VANCOUVER — The British Columbia government is moving to stamp out bogus organic claims being made by farmers that do not have third-party certification.

New regulations will restrict the use of the word “organic” to describe only products that have been certified by a national or provincial certification program, effectively closing a loophole that had allowed local farmers to use the term without being certified, provided they were not selling their products outside B.C.

As part of the new strategy — aimed at providing consumers with assurance that products meet accepted standards — the province will create a new, streamlined provincial certification system.

“We are going to strengthen the standards and reputation of B.C. organic products by regulating the use of the word organic and by helping farmers who want to become organic to do so,” said Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick. “People at farmers markets and shopping at the store want some certainty that the same standards are being observed by everyone who is marketing products as organic.”

Producers marketing products outside B.C. will be required to hold certification by a federally recognized certification body, as is already the case under existing regulations.

“We as certified organic producers go through a process to be able to call our products organic,” said Mary Forstbauer, co-president of the COABC.

However, when the Canadian Organic Standard came into effect in 2009, producers were asked to refer to their certified products as simply “organic,” which has led to confusion among consumers faced with similar labels on goods that may have been produced in very different ways, she said.

“People presented with products that are both labelled organic wonder why one costs more,” she said. “Well, we go through a lengthy verification process, extensive paperwork and inspections for the right to call our food organic.”

The proposed regulatory changes will address a long-standing source of confusion for farmers market customers by providing assurance that farmers making organic claims are following organic standards, according to Vancouver Farmers Markets operations manager Roberta LaQuaglia.

Farmers who claim to be “uncertified organic” are a real source of irritation to vendors who have gone to the trouble and expense of certifying, she said.

“Organic is a word that carries a lot of weight with consumers, but when the consumer hears that a farmer uses organic methods, there is no way to tell what those methods are without certification,” she said. “This will help remove some of the guesswork.”

Vancouver Farmers Markets provide bright red signage to vendors that have organic certification to help differentiate them from conventional farmers, who have until now been allowed to legally use the word organic despite not having certification.

“We do have a problem at our markets where people say they are organic or they use organic methods,” said Ms. LaQuaglia. “We tell [uncertified farmers] they aren’t allowed to make those claims.”

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Jennifer Pan, Toronto woman whose plot to kill parents left mother dead, gets life in prison

Global Toronto TV grab

NEWMARKET, Ont. — A Toronto-area woman committed an “unfathomable” betrayal by arranging to have her parents killed in their own home over their strict parenting style, an Ontario judge said Friday in sentencing her to life in prison.

Jennifer Pan, 28, was convicted of first-degree murder and attempted murder last month in the Nov. 8, 2010 attack that killed her mother, Bieh Ha Pan, and left her father, Hann Pan, with a serious head wound.

Her three co-accused — Lenford Crawford, David Mylvaganam and her on-again, off-again boyfriend Daniel Wong — were also found guilty of the same charges.

All four were sentenced Friday to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years on the murder conviction, and life for attempted murder. The sentences are to be served concurrently.

In his decision, Judge Cary Boswell said he gave the maximum sentence for attempted murder because it was simply luck that Hann Pan survived such a “crime of terrifying violence.”

“Each of the offenders knew that he or she was involved in a murder plot,” and was aware of the “abject immorality” of the plan, he said.

Global Toronto TV grabJennifer Pan, right, was convicted of murdering of her mother Bieh Ha Pan.

None of Pan’s family members were in the Newmarket, Ont., court Friday, but her father and brother said in written statements that their lives have been shattered by the attack.

“When I lost my wife, I lost my daughter at the same time,” Hann Pan said in his statement. “On the day Bieh died, I feel I died too.”

Haunted by nightmares and hampered by lingering pain, Hann Pan said he can’t work or return to the family home more than four years after the attempt on his life. Selling the house has proved impossible given the taint of murder, he said.

“I hope my daughter Jennifer thinks about what happened to her family and can become a good, honest person someday,” he said.

Pan’s brother Felix said the stigma of his sister’s actions will follow him his whole life. Even now, he said, it’s difficult to think of, much less talk about, his loss.

Her lawyer, Paul Cooper, said Pan is “devastated” and plans to appeal her conviction.

The Crown said Pan started plotting her parents’ murder after they forced her to choose between them and Wong, her high-school sweetheart turned drug dealer.

Brett Gundlock/National Post/Files

Brett Gundlock/National Post/FilesThe scene of a deadly “home invasion” in Markham, Ont. Jennifer Pan, who lived at the mouse with her parents, was convicted of murdering her mother in the deadly 2010 attack.

The ultimatum came after the Pans discovered much of what their daughter had told them over the past decade was a lie. She had never gone to university, much less graduated, and was living with Wong rather than with a friend, as she’d told them, court heard.

Pan moved back home and appeared to submit to her parents’ wishes, all while planning the attack through text messages and calls on her “secret murder phone,” prosecutors said. That phone’s SIM card was never recovered, but the data stored on the device was presented as evidence during trial.

The killing cost her $10,000, to be paid out from her inheritance, the Crown said.

It’s unclear who shot Pan’s mother and father, though all three intruders were allegedly armed with guns. Mylvaganam’s lawyer told the court his client wasn’t inside the house, nor did he shoot anyone.

Prosecutors said during trial that neither Wong nor Crawford were at the Pan home that night, but acted as middle-men for her and the men who carried out the killing.

The attack initially appeared as a home invasion. Pan told police three men broke in, tied her up and ransacked the house before shooting her parents.

York Regional Police Det. William Courtice, said investigators began to suspect her after noticing discrepancies in her accounts of what happened. Their suspicions were cemented after it became clear her father would survive, he said.

“Mr. Pan was interviewed almost a week after the murder and his version of what transpired inside the Pan residence varied dramatically from the versions told by his daughter,” he said.

Then, he said, “statements were obtained from friends of Ms. Pan, some of which revealed she had previously hired persons to kill her parents.”

Pan admitted on the stand she had previously tried to have her father murdered, but said she abandoned that plan after the man she hired took off with her money.

Then, distraught at finding her life in shambles, Pan arranged for someone to kill her, she testified. But she said she called off that plan when her situation began to improve.

She told the court the attack was a violent home invasion committed by men she couldn’t recognize.

A trial for a fifth co-accused, Eric Carty, has not been held yet.