Winter wonderland at Spring Valley Middle School gives back

Holiday magic at school

Spring Valley Middle School has created a "winter wonderland" display to raise money for the Central Okanagan Food Bank this season, a project that took about 50 students nearly 30 days to complete.

“Everything was looking amazing and everyone put so much effort into fluffing the trees. We put lots of effort into this, it wasn’t just a quick put together, which is really awesome. I really enjoyed helping and the product that came along was really awesome,” said grade 8 student Isabelle Klassen.

“I really like making the nutcrackers that are on every pillar because I got to spend a lot of time gluing on buttons and painting the nutcrackers and it was a lot of fun because I got to bond with some people,” added classmate Ashlyn Wasyliuk.

The project leaders say the display has allowed them to do something good for Kelowna while also inspiring younger students to be good leaders.

“Honestly, it’s been amazing,” said leader Mckenna Wiggin.

“It’s good to come together as a community and it’s been a great experience because the Grade 6 students have never seen a school community like this with all the decorations, and they get to enjoy it.”

The display will act as an attraction for the school’s weekly fundraiser, something the students came up with. It is not open to the public.

“We’re doing it to raise money for people who don’t have as great of a life as us or who are not as fortunate to have the amazing things that we do. As a community, we’ve been selling hot chocolate every week on Thursdays and we’ll probably do that until Christmas break,” continued Wiggin.

The school has already raised $1,000 for the Central Okanagan Food Bank, and they’re hoping to raise even more money through their Winter Wonderland hot chocolate drive.


Two supportive housing projects proposed for Kneller Road in Rutland

Supportive housing planned

Kelowna city council will be asked to throw its support behind two supportive housing projects planned for Kneller Road in Rutland.

While the projects are coming to council as separate items, both are are owned by the Okanagan Metis and Aboriginal Housing Society.

The first application, co-owned by BC Housing, would stretch over three lots on Kneller Road and one on the adjacent Kneller Court.

If rezoning to the Core Area Mixed Use zone is approved, the development would consist of a four-storey building with 40-units of supportive housing for the Kelowna Women's Shelter.

Office space for six employees of the women's shelter would also be included.

According to the presentation, the facility would serve as second stage housing for women and children for between six and 18 months.

"The proposed supportive housing use is consistent with the OCP policy which encourages the provision of supportive and subsidized housing in the core area," planning staff state in a report supportive of the rezoning application.

"The proposed office use is small-scale and directly connected with the provision of supportive housing and is unlikely to adversely impact the adjacent residential neighbourhood."

The second project, adjacent to the first, would feature a five-storey, 48-unit apartment complex owned and operated by the Okanagan Metis and Aboriginal Housing Society.

The building would include 15 market rental units and 33 offered at rents below market rate.

Those non-market rentals would be guaranteed through an operating agreement with BC Housing, a condition of receiving BC Housing funding for the project.

Proposed replacement of Parkinson Rec Centre put on hold

PRC removed from budget

The next phase in the planning for a proposed replacement of the Parkinson Recreation Centre has been put on hold.

A $3.9 million request included as part of the city's preliminary 2023 capital budget has been removed from the document until such time as the new city council has had a chance to review and endorse the overall project.

Should they approve the project, the money would be brought forward sometime in the new year.

The $3.9 million requested would come from city reserves and have no impact on municipal taxation.

The estimated cost of what is being called the Kelowna Community Campus is estimated to cost $164 million.

Borrowing for the project, if ultimately approved by council, would need voter assent before moving forward.

Overall, the preliminary budget includes a total tax demand of nearly $175.5 million, a 4.1 per cent increase over the 2022 budget.

Community safety, including RCMP, fire and bylaw accounts for $75 million of the $175 million requested.

The community safety budget is pegged at $52.499 million while fire comes in at just under $22.6 million.

While the budget does not include money for new RCMP officers, a non-funded Priority 2 item includes an ask for six new officers and four watch co-ordinators. The overall cost, if elevated to Priority 1 would be just under $530,000.

The only priority request for the fire department is $150,000 to undertake a fire department master plan.

Council will debate every capital and operational request contained within the 438-page budget binder next Thursday.


Grand Forks RCMP officer faces code of conduct hearing in Kelowna next month

Cop faces conduct hearing

A Grand Forks RCMP officer will face a code of conduct hearing in Kelowna next month, over a number of unknown allegations.

The RCMP conduct hearing schedule was recently updated, showing Const. Corey Flodell will face a hearing on Jan. 16 at Kelowna's Delta Hotel. Conduct hearings are initiated when the force is seeking an officer's dismissal.

While the details of the allegations he's facing have not been disclosed, he's facing five allegations related to Section 2.1 of the RCMP code of conduct. This section refers to “respect and courtesy.”

“Members treat every person with respect and courtesy and do not engage in discrimination or harassment,” Section 2.1 of the code of conduct states.

"The allegations are with respect to discourtesy and discreditable conduct under the RCMP Act. Any other specifics will be provided during the hearing," said BC RCMP spokesperson Dawn Roberts.

A news story from February 2018 shows Flodell has worked for the Grand Forks RCMP dating back until at least then.

A Corey Flodell is also listed online as the “Referee in Chief” for the Grand Forks Minor Hockey Association and a player in the Grand Forks Boundary Adult Hockey League.

According to online court records, Flodell is not facing any criminal charges.

He is currently suspended from duty with pay, and Roberts says his duty status is "subject to continual assessment."

Another officer out of Trail will also face a conduct hearing the following month. Const. Steven Murchie was acquitted of breach of trust charges this past August, but he faces an RCMP conduct hearing in Castlegar on Feb. 20.

Murchie is facing two allegations of using government-issued equipment for unauthorized purposes and two allegations of behaving in a manner likely to discredit the force.

Kelowna's Freida Whales and friends takes drag show on the road

Drag queens tour Okanagan

If you're looking for a unique way to celebrate the holidays this year, Kelowna drag queen performer Freida Whales has an idea for you.

The Holidrag Extravaganza Drag & Burlesque shows are coming to Penticton, Kelowna and Vernon.

Shows take place Dec. 3 at Slackwater Brewing in Penticton, Dec. 9 at Runaways Lounge in Kelowna and Dec. 17 at Status Nightclub in Vernon.

"We've been doing mostly shows in Kelowna, and people were like, 'well, we want drag shows in Vernon and Kamloops and Salmon Arm too,' and now we go everywhere," says Whales.

Whales, whose real name is Tyson Cook, has been in the spotlight for appearing in drag at the Kelowna downtown library as part of its children's programming.

Whales says the shows they have done over the years have been well-attended and (bad) drama free.

"I recently had my first personal attack where someone was targeting me as a drag queen," said Whales, who added the shows are well received.

"I've had a few small little protests here and there, but nothing major ever. They usually are just told to move along." Whales says if people react by protesting, it just makes it more appealing to keep going. "If anything, it gives me more power."

The Okanagan run of shows this month are 19+ and only for adults.

"We have a bit of Burlesque and then we have a drag. I'm a drag queen. We've got a singing drag king. We have a dancing queen and we have the Okanagan's oldest performing drag queen."

Whales says the shows will be full of holiday cheer and festive fun and the cast consists of local performers who bring a diverse show full of comedy, dance and singing.

Whales also says the children's programming events at the Kelowna library will return in the New Year, "those will be coming back as well."

'Set the Table' food drive making it easy to donate in Kelowna

'Set the Table' for food bank

Castanet is once again partnering with Total Restoration Kelowna for a city-wide holiday food drive.

The Central Okanagan Food Bank is currently serving 5,500 people every month out of their two locations in Kelowna and West Kelowna. That represents a 30 per cent increase over the same time last year.

Keeping the shelves stocked has been a challenge. Food bank CEO Trevor Moss said in an interview last month baby supplies, including formula and diapers, are low. Even staples like pasta and peanut butter have been in short supply.

With the holidays fast approaching, the Central Okanagan Food Bank is hoping the community continues to give generously to ensure local families and individuals don’t go hungry.

During the ‘Set the Table’ food drive, individuals and businesses who wish to participate can provide their pickup information between now and Dec. 8. Sign up here.

The crew from Total Restoration will then drive by your home or business for contactless, curbside pickup between Dec. 12 and 15. An email notification will provide a specific date and time.

Simply bag or box your contribution and place at the end of your driveway or doorstep.

Last year, approximately 2,500 Christmas hampers were distributed by the food bank. It is expected that will rise to at least 3,250 this year.

The most needed items include:

  • Mac & Cheese
  • Chunky Soup
  • Pasta Sauce
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Healthy Cereal
  • Peanut Butter
  • Canned Fish/Meat
  • Canned Fruit
  • Canned Soup
  • Canned Veggies
  • Side Dishes/Stuffing Mix
  • Baby Food
  • Boost

Kelowna unemployment rate rises for third consecutive month

Jobless rate increases again

Central Okanagan’s unemployment rate jumped in November, marking the third consecutive month it has increased.

Statistics Canada on Friday reported Kelowna’s metropolitan area had a jobless rate of 4.9% last month, which was up from 4.3% in October and 4.1% in September. The region’s unemployment rate hit a nearly three-year low of 3.9% in August but is now on the way back up.

Kelowna’s labour force, which is all members of the population who are able to work, dropped by 1,200 people in November, but the number of those actually working fell by 1,900.

It was a different story in the Thompson Okanagan region as a whole, however, as the unemployment rate dipped to 4.5% from 4.9% last month.

The national jobless mark fell to 5.1% in November from 5.2% in October, and the country gained 10,000 jobs over the month’s 30 days. Canada added 108,000 jobs in October.

“The main overriding feature of today’s report was that you were continuing to gain jobs in Canada,” TD director of economics James Orlando said Friday. “If you add up just the number of jobs gained (in) November and October, it’s pretty substantial.”

Employment rose in several industries in November, including finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing, manufacturing and in information, culture and recreation, while it fell in construction as well as wholesale and retail trade.

Statistics Canada also noted in its report that the employment rate among core-aged women aged 25 to 54 hit 81.6% in November, a record high in comparable data going back to 1976.

Canada’s labour market has remained remarkably strong despite signs of an economic slowdown. The unemployment rate fell to a record-low of 4.9% in the summer and has edged up only slightly since then.

“The economy is clearly still doing very well,” Orlando said. “When you look at the labour market, you have not seen a slowdown.”

— with files from The Canadian Press

Kelowna Salvation Army kettle donations down 25% so far this season

Donations down this year

The Kelowna Salvation Army says donations to their annual Kettle campaign, which collects donations for families in need around the holiday season, are down 25 per cent compared to this time last year.

Major Mark Wagner says cash donations to the iconic kettles drive are slumping, but these are early days for the campaign, which kicked off Nov. 23.

A recent decision by the BC Liquor Distribution Branch to not allow the charity to collect funds in front of provincial liquor stores, including those in the Central Okanagan is not a factor, according to Wagner.

"Liquor store locations have been very generous with us. So we will miss being there. But, you know, that's just the way it is."

The BC Liquor Distribution Branch says they had previously committed to two other charity campaigns this year before the Salvation Army approached them.

An in-store fundraising campaign is supporting Food Banks BC from Nov. 12 to Dec. 31, in addition to the BCL Share-a-Bear program, which sees customers asked at the till "if they would like to purchase one bear to take home while its twin is donated by the store to a shelter, hospital, or other worthwhile charity in their community."

"To ensure we don’t overwhelm our customers with donation campaigns when they visit our stores, we are not approving any other fundraising activities at our stores throughout the holiday period, while our Food Banks BC or Share-a-Bear campaigns are running," the agency said.

Wagner says they have adjusted their locations in Kelowna and respect the BCL decision.

"You know the liquor stores are still supporting local charities, and we have no quarrel with them over that. We're pleased that they are. And we just want to, you know, move forward and see if we can get the best location possible so that we can raise the money we need."

Wagner says the Kettle campaign organizers have tried to stay close to the BC Liquor store locations in Kelowna. "I think we're at Urban Fare in the one location and Atmosphere in the other location. It's sort of in the same neighbourhood."

Wagner says they have added tap machines to some of their locations, which makes it easier for people who don't carry cash to donate and he's hopeful they will still reach their goal of raising $850,000

"It's the season of joy and hope."

Man hit with $6,253 Kelowna rental car bill after 30-day impound

$6k impound rental car bill

A man who planned to rent a vehicle from Kelowna's airport for just two days is stuck with a $6,253 bill after the car was impounded for a month in Revelstoke.

Amandeep Singh Dhindsa filed a dispute with the Civil Resolution Tribunal earlier this year, claiming Avis Car Rental overcharged him during a trip through the Interior last January.

Dhindsa rented the car from the Kelowna airport on Jan. 13, 2022. While he initially planned to rent it for just one day, he later extended it to a two-day rental.

But on Jan. 15, police in Revelstoke impounded the car for 30 days and had the car towed to a local impound lot. The recent decision doesn't disclose why the car was impounded, but notes that Dhindsa had possession of the car at the time.

The car was released from the impound lot on Feb. 15, and Avis had it towed back to Kelowna on Feb. 20. Avis billed Dhindsa for rental charges up to Feb. 16, totalling $2,111. Dhindsa was charged an additional $1,862 for towing and impound fees. With other fees and taxes, the total came to $6,253.

But in his claim to the Civil Resolution Tribunal, Dhindsa argued Avis “did not make any effort in getting the car released early from the impound yard,” which he says Avis promised to do.

Had Avis succeeded in getting an early release, Dhindsa says his rental and storage fees could have been limited to just 10 days.

Section 262 of the Motor Vehicle Act states that a car's owner can apply for its early release within 15 days after an impoundment. The section states that early release can be considered if a vehicle is used in a business and the impoundment imposes an “economic hardship” on the business. As such, Dhindsa argues Avis should have done more to secure the early release.

“I accept Avis could have applied for an earlier release ... there is no evidence before me that Avis would have been successful,” said Civil Resolution Tribunal Vice Chair Shelley Lopez in her ruling.

“In particular, section 262 of the MVA indicates Avis would need to show it would suffer economic hardship if the car were not released. Yet, it did not suffer any such hardship, because it charged Mr. Dhindsa for the storage and rental fees during the impoundment.”

As such, Lopez ruled that Avis was entitled to charge Dhindsa for the entire impound period, plus the time it took to have the car towed back to Kelowna and Dhindsa's claims were dismissed.

Cold and flu season is hitting BC Interior children hard this year

Flu earlier, more severe

After laying dormant for nearly two years, the flu has returned with a vengeance.

According to Interior Health medical health officer Dr. Carol Fenton, the respiratory season is earlier, and the virus more severe than pre-COVID baselines.

This is resulting in many more emergency room visits in both pediatric areas and adult visits.

"These viral infections we are seeing are causing illness and hospitalizations across all age groups," Dr. Fenton told Castanet News.

"But, we do know those that are hardest hit and most likely to get severe illness requiring hospitalization are those who are elderly, very young, and those who have other health conditions that make them more vulnerable."

Data provided by Interior Health indicates the number of pediatric respiratory-related emergency visits was about two-and-a-half times higher than normal in November.

Last month, Fenton says there were approximately 3,300 pediatric respiratory-related emergency room visits, or an average of about 131 per day across the health authority region.

"Our typical November would be closer to 1,350 on average."

There were also 106 hospital admissions in November.

The peak of the respiratory season is typically the week between Christmas and New Year, however, Dr. Fenton says it's impossible to predict where the virus is going and how bad it could be during that expected peak period.

"All I can do is urge people to take as many precautionary measures as they are able," she says.

"The more we can protect ourselves, we also protect those around us because we are not spreading germs to them."

Dr. Fenton recommended receiving the influenza vaccination which she says is a good match this year.

She also recommended people stay up to date with COVID vaccinations which can protect against systemic infection.

"For all the other viruses that are spreading, staying home when you're sick, being diligent about covering your cough and washing your hands frequently."

Dr. Fenton says it's impossible to know why this flu season is so much worse than normal, adding there is only enough data to hypothesize as to why.

"The hypothesis I tend to lean towards is we were very effective at preventing nearly all respiratory viruses for two years and, normally, when we were not under COVID, people would have a respiratory infection a couple of times a year and we eliminated that."

Children can get immunized with the influenza vaccine at pharmacies across Interior Health or at a number of pop-up clinics being offered.

Click here for a list of clinics.

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