West Kelowna  

West Kelowna is continuing efforts to opt out of spec tax

Spec tax still not for us

The City of West Kelowna is reaffirming its stance the city does not fit the criteria and objectives of the province's Speculation and Vacancy Tax.

To that end, the council is again asking the Finance Minister to have the city removed from the tax.

The city put forth its case to Finance Minister Carole James in the fall, explaining why West Kelowna should be excluded.

In 2018, the vacancy rate in the Kelowna Census Municipality, which includes West Kelowna, was 1.9 per cent. It rose to 2.7 per cent in 2019, which is higher than the provincial average of 1.5 per cent.

The increased rate is due, in part, to construction of new rental properties. The city also states it has not yet received promised revenues from the tax associated to West Kelowna.

Council says marginal and unquantified gains are outweighed by the significant negative impacts the tax imposes on the city.

“Council remains committed to be removed from the SVT, which continues to be damaging to our community,” says Mayor Gord Milsom.

“We are awaiting justification from the Ministry of Finance as to why West Kelowna remains mandated into this tax. We are also requesting a meeting with the Minster this spring as we continue to seek an opt-out option from the SVT.”

Accused trying to withdraw guilty plea for West Kelowna murder

Trying to recant murder plea

UPDATE: 11:45 a.m.

Crown lawyer Michael Lefebure responded to Tejwant Danjou's request to withdraw his guilty plea, calling it a "very serious application" for the defence to contemplate.

"The Crown felt that yesterday’s process was careful and thoughtful and in line with the requirements of the criminal code and the represented case law," he told the court.

Lefebure then emphasized that the onus is on the defence to produce sufficient documentation and prepare the Crown for Friday morning's proceedings. 

Judge Alison Beames says for the sake of counsel and witnesses, it is in the best interests of the court to proceed as quickly as possible with a decision. 

"I have no way of knowing whether the application will be successful, but I do know that all counsel came in yesterday prepared to proceed to trial and it seems to me that if the application is successful, that is to say that the guilty plea is withdrawn, I would think it makes imminent sense to start the trial effectively as quickly as possible after a ruling that sets aside the guilty plea.

"If there’s a ruling that the guilty plea is not to be set aside, then I would expect to proceed in a timely fashion to sentencing."

Beames concluded the session by asking counsel to keep themselves flexible and available in anticipation of application submissions in regards to the withdrawal of the guilty plea Friday morning.

"I ask that you be prepared to proceed with something - guilty plea not withdrawn then sentencing, or guilty plea withdrawn then trial - within a relatively short time frame." 

ORIGINAL: 10:30 a.m.

A Lower Mainland man who shocked his own lawyers Tuesday with a surprise guilty plea to a West Kelowna murder is having second thoughts. 

Tejwant Danjou, 69, pleaded guilty to the July 2018 second-degree murder of Rama Gauravarapu on Tuesday on what was supposed to be the opening of a weeks-long trial.

When lawyers reconvened Wednesday morning to submit an agreed statement of facts on the circumstances surrounding the murder, defence counsel dropped another bombshell. 

Danjou says he did not intend to plead guilty to second-degree murder because he claims he did not intend to kill the victim.

"When I went in with a set of admissions to sign - and this is why I wanted a set of admissions, to make sure we weren’t going to somewhere down the road run into this kind of issue - he refused to sign the admissions particular with the part that says he intended to kill the victim," says defence lawyer Donna Turko. 

Danjou then made a request to withdraw his guilty plea. 

Lawyers agreed to re-enter negotiations this week and reconvene in court on Friday morning when final submissions will be reviewed. If the guilty plea is withdrawn, a judge-alone trial will begin as soon as possible. 

Danjou, a resident of Surrey, is charged in the death of Gauravarapu at the Best Western Hotel in West Kelowna on the evening of July 22, 2018.

He was found hiding in a nearby dumpster a short time later. He has been in custody ever since.

Garage or large shed burns in West Kelowna Tuesday night

Minor injury in structure fire

UPDATE 8:25 a.m. Wed.

West Kelowna Fire Rescue says a firefighter sustained a minor injury while battling structure fire Tuesday night. 

Assistant fire chief Lionel Bateman says they were called to the blaze on the 2000 block of Colleen Road at 9:53 p.m., arriving to find a large outbuilding fully engulfed. 

Four engines and 15 firefighters quickly got the blaze under control. There were no occupants. 

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

UPDATE: 11 p.m. Tue.

A building burned Tuesday night in West Kelowna.

Emergency crews were called to the blaze, first reported as a garage fire, at the south end of Colleen Road shortly before 10 p.m. 

A structure with a rounded roof situated on the property behind Grace Lutheran Church was fully engulfed, according to photos sent from the scene. RCMP described the building as a large shed or garage, but it is not known if anyone was living inside. 

Two fire trucks, an incident command vehicle, ambulance and at least three RCMP vehicles attended. Firefighters were heard using saws, presumably to help access the burning building. 

While flames initially lit up the sky, by the time Castanet arrived crews had reduced the blaze to mostly smoke.

Firefighters were busy and not immediately able to comment.

ORIGINAL: 10:45 p.m.

A large structure fire is ongoing in a residential area on Colleen Street in West Kelowna.

Castanet received a report from a reader saying they overheard people screaming.

Fire crews are on scene to battle the blaze that appears to have started in the garage shortly before 10 p.m.

The blaze appears to be ongoing, and Castanet will update the story when more information becomes available.

A reporter is on the way to the scene.


Tejwant Danjou will face sentencing March 13 for murder charge

Surprise murder guilty plea

UPDATE: 2:45 p.m.

Friday, Mar. 13 has been set as the tentative date for Tejwant Danjou's sentencing in his murder trial.

Danjou plead guilty Tuesday morning to the second-degree murder of Rama Gauravarapu in July 2018.

The specific circumstances of the murder have not yet been revealed, but lawyers will reconvene Wednesday morning to submit an agreed set of facts regarding the case.

ORIGINAL: 10:40 a.m.

A shocking turn of events took place on the opening day of Tejwant Danjou's murder trial in Kelowna.

Danjou entered a plea of guilty to second-degree murder, surprising both the prosecution and defence lawyers.

As he stated his guilty plea, his lawyers attempted to correct him, telling the court his plea was, in fact, not guilty.

Danjou then reiterated his intention to enter a guilty plea, telling the court "I am guilty, I am sure." 

The surprise announcement forced a brief recess requested by Judge Alison Beames to ensure Danjou understood the consequences of the guilty plea, and that he would be pleading guilty to every aspect of the charge, including date, time and intentionality. 

Following the 15 minute recess, the judge accepted the plea.

Danjou also made clear he wanted the sentencing to be concluded today, and was initially under the impression he could get parole in 10 years by pleading guilty.

Judge Beames clarified with Danjou that the final decision on sentencing, including the parole period, was under her jurisdiction.

The court will reconvene at 2 p.m. to determine when sentencing will occur.

Danjou, 69, a resident of Surrey, is charged in the death of Rama Gauravarapu at the Best Western Hotel in West Kelowna on the evening of July 22, 2018.

He was found hiding in a nearby dumpster a short time later.

Police charged him with second-degree murder. He has been in custody since his arrest.

Cold snap in January used half a year's worth of sand resource

Cold snap swept away sand

In just two weeks, an entire winter's worth of sand was swept away as West Kelowna crews struggled to keep city roads clear during January's cold snap.

On Jan. 12, temperatures plummeted in the Okanagan as a snowstorm hit, and driving conditions became increasingly dangerous. 

The cold snap "provided various challenges" for contractors, reads part of a report which will be presented to West Kelowna city council on Tuesday.

“This stretch of prolonged cold provided various challenges as anti-icing chemicals were ineffective at returning roads to bare pavement.

“Throughout this timeframe, the contractor was actively sanding roadways in priority sequence. Unfortunately, due to the challenging conditions presented, there was a high volume of material loss as sand quickly blew off to the sides of roadways.

“The contractor reports that during the approximate two-week timeframe, they applied more than 50 per cent of their annual sand stockpile to city roads."

The 2019/2020 winter season is the eighth winter season that AEL, a division of Emcon Services, has provided the City of West Kelowna with winter road maintenance.

The eight-year contract, which expires in April, provides funding for 15 snow events and 20 freezing events.

To date, there have been 13 snow events and 10 freezing events affecting West Kelowna roads. According to city officials, this is comparable to previous years. 

"Although the City did see several very challenging back-to-back storm events and prolonged cold in early January, the winter response claims as a whole are in alignment with these historical averages," reads the report.

In a separate item on Tuesday's agenda, Council will be asked to renew the contract with AEL to provide road maintenance services through to April 30, 2025. 

A cupcake fundraiser on Feb. 26 will raise funds for the BC SPCA

Helping out our furry friends

A young girl with a big love for animals is gearing up for her fourth annual cupcake fundraiser to benefit the BC SPCA.

To celebrate the BC SPCA's Treat Week, 11-year-old Chevy Matthews plans to raise $800 for the province's most at-risk animals, by selling homemade cupcakes and pet treats.

"This is her fourth year doing this, we started very small, the first year we made around $400 which was amazing," says Barb Haley, Matthews' mom. "Bring your sweet tooth, it's just such a great cause."

Matthews will be selling her goods outside of the Peachland IGA on Feb. 26 at 4 p.m., and all funds raised will go directly to the Penticton SPCA.

To donate online click here. 

Grand Chief Noll Derriksan has passed away at 79

Former WFN chief dies

Westbank First Nation flags have been lowered to half staff in the memory of former chief Noll Derriksan.

Derriksan passed away late Wednesday night from natural causes. He was 79.

Born in Kelowna in 1940, Derriksan "grew up in the wilderness of the Westbank forests and Okanagan Lake during the 40s and 50s," according to a biography on the Penticton Art Gallery.

He was one of the first Indigenous students enrolled in the Westbank Public School, and later attended George Pringle junior, and high school.

"Through the 1970s and 1980s, Noll went on to become one of British Columbia's most recognized native artists, and a sought after mentor, teaching art to others in his Okanagan community," the biography stated.

"As the executive president of the National Indian Arts and Crafts Corporation based in Ottawa, he promoted native art across Canada, establishing societies in each of the 10 provinces and two territories.

"For over 17 years Noll served as president of the BC Indian Arts and Crafts Society an organization which provided grants to over 100 artists and craftsmen, allowing them to become self-sufficient in their craft. In addition he helped organized an annual exhibit showcasing native arts and crafts in Vancouver."

Derriksan served as chief of the Westbank Indian Band for 12 years, and was granted the honourary title of Grand Chief.

School District 23 pledges to support Indigenous students

Working for 'bright futures'

Schools in the Central Okanagan committed to increasing opportunities for Indigenous students while ensuring the voices of Indigenous people are represented in the education system Thursday night.

At the Sensisyusten House of Learning on Westbank First Nation land, representatives from the Central Okanagan School District signed the Equity in Action for Truth and Reconciliation Agreement, a new five-year agreement that sets measurable strategies in accordance with provincial mandates for truth and reconciliation.

“This agreement helps us realize a shared vision of how we will support our Indigenous learners," said Moyra Baxter, chairperson for School District 23's board of education.

“As educators, we must learn from the past together and work together now to make sure that each student has opportunities for a bright future.”

The agreement stems from the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Call to Action report, published in 2015.

“It is encouraging to see that our educational institutions are implementing the TRC Calls to Action,” said Westbank First Nation Chief Christopher Derickson.

“This agreement demonstrates our ongoing commitment to work with our partners in creating space for our Indigenous learners and knowledge systems.”

The agreement was created with the help of the the Westbank First Nation, Okanagan Indian Band, the Okanagan Nation Alliance, local Indigenous community partners, and the Ministry of Education.

9 members of Telemark club compete at BC Winter Games

Youth athletes off to Games

Nine young cross-country skiers are representing the Okanagan Zone at the BC Winter Games in Fort St. John.

The Games begin today and run through Monday.

Seven athletes are from the competitive racing program at Telemark Nordic Club in West Kelowna, and three are from its biathlon team. 

Timur McNern, Camille Hanry and Catherine Robinson are the three biathletes attending, having advanced from the regional trials at Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre in Vernon. 

“I am thrilled to accompany these dedicated athletes to the Games, it is sure to be a great experience for all," said head coach John McNern.

The cross-country qualifier was held in Revelstoke in December, with 13-14-year-old skiers from all five clubs in the Okanagan Zone competing for the coveted eight spots at the Games.

Three skiers from Telemark were awarded immediate spots for their performance: Sofie Steinruck (first in 2005 girls) Finn Redman (first in 2006 boys) and Nathan Achtem (second in 2005 boys).

In addition, Alessia Galvagno (2006 girls) Evan Edwards (2006 boys) Jacob Miller (2005 boys), and Justin Siever (2005 boys) were also invited.

“We are fortunate in the Okanagan to have a large group of competitive youth skiers and therefore a few additional spots are awarded to our zone,” said coach-trainer Michele Wolfe. 

“I am proud of the dedication, effort and passion the athletes demonstrate week after week at practice as well as the various races this season."

Local director nominated for 'Music Video of the Year' at Junos

Local nominated for Juno

Sarita Patel

West Kelowna’s Johnny Jansen has been nominated for direction of the ‘Music Video of the Year' at this year’s Juno Awards, thanks in part to his use of the earliest form of animation; phenakistoscope. 

Dating back to the 1800s, phenakistoscope uses the persistence of motion to create an illusion of animation. He used vinyl records to create the video ‘Record Shop’ for ‘Said the Whale.’

The Mount Boucherie Secondary School graduate was surprised by the nomination one morning after forgetting that the video was submitted.

“Last year’s video with ‘Said the Whale’ I did for ‘Unamerican’ there was hype around it because we were nominated for other awards. I had won a Leo Prism Prize for it so we had all this buzz about,” he told Castanet. “But it never ended up happening and then this year all of a sudden I get an email that says ‘Congratulations’, it came out of nowhere.”

When asked what it would mean to win the award, Jansen said he’s just honoured to be nominated alongside talented filmmakers and artists across Canada.

“This project, in particular, is the most technically challenging video that I’ve ever done… the whole process of making it, nobody really understood what it was. I was the only person that kind of had it figured out in my mind.”

He says this video feels like the first true art project that he’s created and to have it recognized feels incredible. 

Jansen is fascinated with the history of animation and this specific project has been in the works for over a year. 

The shooting of the video only took one day, but behind the scenes was where the most time was spent. There is no real “technique” for this type of work, Jansen said, adding he was just figuring it out as he went along.

“I was just discovering a new technique to spin in a unique way and I would go back through the whole edit just change everything.”

Each sticker printed was meticulously cut and placed in the right exact spot on the record.

“Once the images were on the records, there was no turning back, we can’t fix it in the post,” laughs Jansen. 

Overall, Jansen says he was definitely happy with the end product. 

As this is the first time Jansen will be walking the red carpet, we had to ask who he will be wearing. He says, as long as it fits, he will most likely be donning a custom flowery suit he got made years ago when he was in Thailand. This year's Juno Awards take place in Saskatoon on March 15.

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