Saskatoon man passes through Kelowna on wide to Vancouver to raise money and awareness for those suffering from addiction

Cycle to stop the harm

A 25-year-old Saskatoon man is passing through Kelowna while riding his bike from Saskatchewan to Vancouver in the middle of winter.

Iliajah Pidskalny started pedalling west on January 1. The idea for this trip started when he was bike riding in Quebec and Ontario last year. He met people who were homeless, sleeping on the streets in the harsh winter cold.

“It sucks. It really sucks being out there in the cold and I was doing it optionally so it just clicked one moment, I thought ‘wow this is pretty challenging and it’s optional. If this was not optional, it would be really really tough," Pidskalny says.

After talking to people who were living on the streets, Pidskalny learned that addiction and mental health were the biggest issues they were facing.

"I had nice conversations with them about struggling to quit or other reasons people fall into the grips of homelessness which is ultimately still mental health if no drugs are related, so I started to think about the war on drugs and our current drug policies – it just started to click," he explains.

Pidskalny's goal is to raise money and awareness for the Canadian drug policy coalition and moms stop the harm. Although the overdose isn’t something he has a personal connection to, it certainly has impacted families all over Canada.

Today, two mothers named Pam and Ann-Marie met Pidskalny outside of the Kelowna Visitor Centre to show their support. Both women lost children to overdoses and are a part of Moms Stop the Harm.

"He's actually doing this to bring awareness to people who have lost their children," said Pam. "And to call on the government to step up and help this crisis that has taken over so terribly bad."

"It can happen to anyone and anyone's family," adds Ann-Marie. "It could be a child who is experimenting for the first time in their life that end up having fentanyl."

Pidskalny has been riding for 22 days. The coldest day on his trip so far was a temperature of minus 18 degrees, but he refers to his tent as a luxury compared to the streets.

He says on the painfully cold mornings it can be hard to get out of his sleeping bag and start biking, but he reminds himself about all of the people that are dying because of drug overdoses and it helps push him.

Pidskalny has seven more days to go before his final stop in Vancouver. He’ll be leaving Kelowna Saturday, so if you see him on the road, give him a honk and wave, but don’t stop him to talk because he says it can be very unsafe for him to stop and he is trying to keep his body temperature up.

To support his cause, click here.


IH won't say how many care home residents have been vaccinated

IH mum on LTC vaccines

Interior Health continues to keep quiet on its progress vaccinating residents and staff in Interior long-term care homes.

Friday morning, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the province is on track to immunize all long-term care home residents and staff “within the next few days.”

But after Interior Health told Castanet last week that it planned to have “all of the priority one population” – which includes long-term care residents – immunized by the end of February, Interior Health could not provide an update Friday.

"The vaccination rollout is continuing. We don’t have the percentages for all areas to share," an unnamed IH spokesperson said in an email late Friday afternoon, adding they will try and get more details on their progress by Monday.

IH had a similar response back on Jan 13, when a spokesperson said they "do not have reporting numbers quite ready to go for IH."

On Friday, Dr. Henry, Premier John Horgan, Health Minister Adrian Dix and Dr. Penny Ballem outlined the province's COVID-19 vaccination plan over the next few months, with long-term care home residents and staff at the top of the priority list.

“We're focusing particularly on residents and staff in long-term care homes, as we know that is where the highest risk for both sickness and death is in the province right now,” Dr. Henry said.

Last week, Dr. Henry said it can take longer to immunize those in care homes in the Northern and Interior health regions, due to more spaced out geography. But other than an announcement about vaccinations beginning at the first Interior care home in Oliver on Jan. 8, Interior Health has provided no information about their progress.

To date, 41 of the 59 people who've died from COVID-19 in the Interior were care home residents.

Could Kelowna-Mission MLA Renee Merrifield be contemplating a run at Liberal leadership?

Merrifield for party leader?

As the BC Liberals start the process of finding a new leader, it is possible Kelowna-Mission MLA Renee Merrifield may be contemplating a run at the top job.

She was elected in her first foray into provincial politics in October, and was a surprise selection as the Liberal health critic in interim leader Shirley Bond's shadow cabinet.

Rumours circulating in Victoria suggest Merrifield may be kicking the tires of a leadership run.

When contacted by Castanet News, Merrified offered, "suggest away, no comment at this time though."

Meantime, the BC Liberals have established a leadership election organizing committee which will administer the leadership race as the party searches for a successor to Andrew Wilkinson.

The seven member committee will be co-chaired by former MLA Colin Hansen and lawyer Roxanne Helme.

The committee will determine the timeline for the election, establish rules to guide the race and implement the process by which party members will select the leader.

"The election of a new leader is an integral part of the renewal and rebuilding process that the BC Liberal Party and its members are currently engaged in," said Lindsay Cote, interim executive director of the BC Liberal Party.

"I want to thank the members of LEOC for dedicating their time and expertise to this extremely important process that will have a significant impact on the future of both the party and the province."


CTV's W5 to air documentary about nurse who suspiciously drowned in Okanagan Lake in 2016

W5 to air late nurse's story

On Saturday, CTV’s W5 will air an in-depth documentary on the alleged murder of Arlene Westervelt, a 56-year-old Lake Country nurse whose body was pulled from Okanagan Lake in 2016.

Debbie Hennig, Arlene's older sister, who spearheaded a Facebook page called, 'Justice for Arlene,' remains hopeful that the B.C. Justice Minister will review the prosecution's handling of this murder case before the one-year stay period expires.

Arlene Westervelt's husband, Bert Westervelt was charged with her murder in 2019, but those charges were stayed with no explanation last year.

The family's lawyer, Anthony Oliver, has asked the Minister to directly intervene and determine what evidence changed between when the charges were approved and when they were stayed. The documentary is also expected to raise allegations related to the RCMP's handling of the investigation.

A news release from the family Friday night says they are also calling on the Crown to retain a forensic pathologist for further medical assessment review.

In September 2020, Westervelt's family held a rally in front of the Kelowna Law Courts demanding information as to why the murder charge was stayed.

The documentary will air on Saturday at 7 p.m.

Rutland Senior Secondary school announces a second positive COVID-19 case

COVID in Rutland school

Interior Health confirmed another COVID-19 case at Rutland Senior Secondary school today.

The person is self-isolating at home with support form the local public health teams.

"The safety and well-being of students, families, and staff remains our highest priority. Central Okanagan Public Schools will continue to implement the strict health and safety protocols and procedures that are in place so students and staff can continue to attend school as safely as possible," says Rutland Senior Secondary school in a letter to parents.

The school adds it will continue to work closely with Interior Health if any additional action is required.

On Jan. 6, Rutland Senior Secondary announced a school community member had tested positive for COVID-19, it the first case of the virus to be detected in a local school after the winter holiday break.

Canadian Blood Service's Week to Save Lives encourages people to donate blood

Blood donations are crucial

Canadian Blood Services (CBS) has partnered with Canada Life for the Canada Life Week to Save Lives, encouraging Canadians to donate blood in their communities, including Kelowna.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, CBS is emphasizing the importance of donating blood to help ensure blood and blood products are available to those who need it.

Every minute, a Canadian requires blood and this doesn’t stop for a global pandemic.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, CBS has seen a drastic drop in blood donations as many events were forced to cancel among other unforeseen issues.

Donation appointments dropped by nearly 70 per cent in 2020. An average year would see more than 10,000 group appointments.

“Every day, someone in Canada needs blood and even with a global pandemic, this need doesn’t stop,” says president and chief operating officer for Canada Life Jeff Macoun.

“We’re proud to be partnering with Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec to raise awareness of Canada’s lifeline in communities across the country. Together, we can help ensure a strong, national blood supply is available to patients where and when they need it.”

There are other ways to support Canadians in need by registering to become a stem cell donor, making a financial donation to CBS or registering your intent to donate your organs and tissues.

Enhanced safety and sanitization measures are being followed at all donor centres to protect staff and donors. Appointments are required to ensure physical distancing.

11 new COVID-19 cases linked to Big White, 45 still active in cluster

11 new Big White cases

Interior Health has announced 11 new COVID-19 cases linked to Big White.

Of the 11 new cases, seven reside and/or work at Big White. Of the 214 total known COVID-19 cases linked to the cluster, 137 resided and/or worked on Big White Mountain. 45 of the cases are still considered active.

Interior Health will continue outreach testing throughout the Big White community and environmental public health inspections of facilities on the hill. Those who may need to self-isolate due to a positive COVID test, or because of they are a close contact to a case, are being assisted as necessary by Big White, the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary and Interior Health.

A news release from Interior Health says, "everyone in the Big White community is reminded to avoid social gatherings. Please follow public health guidance such as physical distancing, washing your hands regularly and wearing a mask."

Interior Health maintains that the risk of COVID-19 transmission for families and individuals visiting the resort remains low.

The next update on the cluster will be Tuesday, Jan. 26.

Lawyers for accused murderer Jared Jorgenson were back in court Friday

Accused murderer in court

Lawyers in the Michael Bonin murder case were back in a Kelowna courtroom Friday morning for an evidentiary ruling ahead of a scheduled trial later this year.

Defence attorneys for Jared Jorgenson and one of the co-accused along with Crown Counsel all appeared by phone before Justice Allen Betton.

At issue was the admissibility of evidence from a voir dire earlier in the proceedings.

Following a 90 minute decision, Mr. Justice Betton allowed the evidence to stand. The nature of that evidence is not being reported due to a publication ban ahead of what is expected to be a jury trial.

Jorgenson, Ryan Watt and Joshua Fleurant have all been charged in the April 19, 2017 murder of Bonin on a logging road off the Coquihalla Highway near Hope. Jorgenson has been charged with second-degree murder while the co-accused have each been charged with first-degree murder.

Prior to the start of the trial, scheduled for May 21, Justice Betton still has to rule on a Jordan application brought forward by Jorgenson's lawyer.

That application seeks a stay of proceedings against Jorgenson arguing a delay in bringing the case to trial violated his Charter rights.

Justice Betton indicated in court Friday he expects to have a decision on the Jordan application sometime in February.

Several Interior BC provincial parks getting improvements

Parks getting improvements

Several parks in the BC Interior will be getting improvements thanks to $5M in funding from the provincial government.

"We have heard the call for greater access to the outdoors to promote health and well-being during COVID-19. These meaningful projects create jobs to address those needs as part of our support for B.C. communities," said George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy.

"Investing in provincial parks also protects sensitive ecosystems, supports our climate change goals and makes parks more accessible for everyone to enjoy."

The government says it has added 1,205 new campsites to provincial inventory in the last three years. A new fully serviced, 90-site campground in Manning Park is under construction and set to open in the spring.

Southern Interior provincial park improvements

  • Fintry Provincial Park: transform the boarded-up historic Packing House structure into a safe, useable day-use shelter.
  • Bear Creek Provincial Park: 30-amp electrical services added to another 35 campsites.
  • Ellison Provincial Park: re-pave campground entrance road, campground loop roads and day-use parking lot.
  • Shuswap Lake Provincial Park: water treatment and water heating system improvements.
  • Lac Le Jeune Provincial Park: water system improvements.
  • Tweedsmuir Provincial Park South: water quality improvements.
  • Wasa Lake Provincial Park: water system improvements.
  • Syringa Provincial Park: water system improvements.
  • Kokanee Creek Provincial Park: new accessible pit toilets and mobi-mat.

Northern B.C. provincial park improvements

  • Mount Robson Provincial Park: upgrades to the Berg Lake Trail, including bear cache replacement, foot bridge repairs and a new shelter at Marmot Campground. Upgrades will also be made to ranger station buildings in the service compound.
  • West Lake Provincial Park: service building renovations.
  • Swan Lake Provincial Park: boat launch dock installation.
  • Lakelse Lake Provincial Park: new electric vehicle (EV) charging station in day-use area.
  • Tyhee Lake Provincial Park: new EV charging station in day-use area.
  • Naikoon Provincial Park: new EV charging station and water quality upgrades.
  • Babine Lake Marine Provincial Park: new pit toilets and furniture.
  • Nisga'a Memorial Lava Beds Provincial Park: upgrade the interpretive audio-visual experience at the visitor centre to provide an accessible cultural experience.

Mission Creek Regional Park's east end is about to expand

Mission Creek park expands

Mission Creek Regional Park is about to get a snazzy new expansion on its east end.

"We're seeing this park is busy all year round," says Wayne Darlington, manager of park planning and capital projects for the Regional District of Central Okanagan.

"And we're seeing a huge increase in the population that's using the park, so we need to expand the park in order to provide that opportunity for those residents."

The Regional District of Central Okanagan funded the $400,000 project as part of its five-year financial budget plan.

"We're going to see an extended picnic area and turf area," Darlington explains. "We will also see a natural obstacle equipment and course that will be multi-age – so not just little kids but also some adults as well will be able to utilize that."

The trail systems, bridges, and boardwalks will also be expanded.

Darlington says Mission Creek Regional Park is the most popular natural park in the Central Okanagan region and regular visitors of the park are looking forward to the expansion.

"I think it's well overdue, there's more and more people here now so there needs to be more trails and, yeah, it's exciting! It's good walking through here," says a woman who regularly hikes through the park.

Wayne hopes the gates to Mission Creek Park’s new east expansion will be open by June.

Regional District of Central Okanagan is kindly asking the public to respect the construction signs and fenced off areas around the east end of Mission Creek Regional Park as they are there for safety.

To read more about the Mission Creek Regional Park expansion, click here.

More Kelowna News