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West Kelowna  

Westside Salvation Army raised more than $200,000 over the holidays

Record-breaking fundraising

Santa set a Westside Salvation Army record in 2020.

Well, his elves did – the bell ringers who (wo)manned the red kettles and the thousands of people who put money into them.

COVID-19 forced the cancellation of many Salvation Army money-raising events and cut the number of Red Kettle workers in half.

In spite of those restrictions, the Army raised more than $200,000 in cash plus another $30,000 in gift cards and new toys — a record. Almost $130,000 came directly from the Kettle Campaign. The overall goal had been $255,000.

“We did not reach our Christmas campaign goal, however, we are optimistic that we will continue to meet the increasing demand for our programs and services,” said Lenetta Perry. “We had a record-setting year and for that we are grateful. It is comforting to know that we live in a community that cares for one another.

“We are confident that the community will continue to support the work we do throughout the year to help us meet the ongoing need”

The Westside Salvation Army served 125 families, a 28% increase over last year and a 30% increase in children and teens, which means 268 local kids woke up to something special on Christmas morning.

“Thanks to our collective efforts as a community, the Westside Salvation Army was able to, for the first time, set up its own Christmas Toy Store,” Perry said

But the need, especially during the pandemic, never goes away and Parry is hoping the public will shop in its thrift store (101-3531 Old Okanagan Highway), volunteer or make a donation.

Donations can be made safely and securely online at WestsideSA.ca or at the Thrift Store, which is open Monday to Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

All donations support the Westside Salvation Army’s programs, services, and resources available to those in need living in the Westbank, West Kelowna, and Peachland areas.



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Rotten meat with written warning ends up in Peachland yard

A rotten meat warning

A woman in Peachland says she was shocked and appalled when she discovered two zip-lock bags filled with what seemed to be old hamburger meat in her yard – and one of the bags had a warning on it.

Leslie McKellar spotted the bags when she was cleaning her backyard on Thursday afternoon.

"STAY THE HELL FROM MY PLACE," one bag reads.

"I told my husband someone might be trying to poison the dog or it's a warning," McKellar says.

She is fairly certain the bags contain old ground hamburger meat.

"I opened one bag and the stench hit me," she said.

McKellar believes the strange message has something to do with her dog, but she doesn't understand why she's being targeted, as there are many dogs in the area.

"It's upsetting that somebody is pissed off and went to that extent," she said. "The actions that they did could have harmed my dog."

McKellar's four-year-old dog is a small Maltese-Shitzu. If he had eaten the meat, he could have gotten ill, as she suspects it was rotten.

She describes her Peachland neighbourhood as quiet and friendly, with neighbours knocking on one another's doors with homemade cookies in hand.

"If you have a problem, have the decency to knock on the door. I'll put the coffee pot on and we'll resolve it," she says.

McKellar and her husband filed a report with the RCMP and they have contacted the BC SPCA, but she's warning others to be on the lookout.

She and her husband will be monitoring the situation closely and contacting police if they receive another cryptic message.



Canadian business group backs MP bill in favour of cross-border shipping of alcohol

Support brews for booze bill

A national business federation has joined Dan Albas in advocating in favour of the cross-border shipment of alcohol.

The Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola MP introduced a Private Members Bill, C-260, which would amend the Canada Post Act and make it legal for producers of Canadian wines, spirits and craft beers to ship their product within Canada by Canada Post.

Albas received a letter of support Friday from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

“Like many sectors of the economy since the beginning of the pandemic, many small brewers, vintners, and distillers have had to make considerable efforts to sell more of their products online in order to generate revenues. As a result, being able to access a wider range of customers across the country is now vital to their survival," the letter stated.

"Allowing small producers to ship across the country would enable Canadians to safely access their products while directly supporting local businesses and jobs.”

Albas says he was pleased the business federation shared his view that the bill will help small businesses across the country open up new markets.

“I look forward to seeing similar support coming from local and provincial governments, as well as chambers of commerce," said Albas.

Summerland winery owner Ron Kubek has started a House of Commons e-petition in support of the bill.





Poacher faces heavy fines and loss of hunting licence

Poacher fined, loses licence

An Okanagan man is facing fines of nearly $5,000 and the loss of his hunting licence after pleading guilty to poaching charges.

Richard Fischer was caught red-handed by conservation officer's on Remembrance Day 2019.

Conservation Officer Ed Seitz tells Castanet Fischer was stopped in his pick-up coming down Glenrosa Road in West Kelowna.

When the officers conducted a search of Fischer's vehicle, they found he was in possession of an illegal bull moose, which he had shot that morning.

"He had taken steps to cover up the fact that it was illegal," Seitz says.

The decapitated moose was hidden under an ATV and ramp in the back of the truck box. Officer's then back-tracked to the kill site and found the head and antlers, which had been chopped off with an axe.

The antlers proved the animal was immature and the moose and Fischer's firearm were seized.

Fischer has been found guilty on two counts under the BC Wildlife Act, fined $4,900.00, and has had his hunting licence suspended for one year. Fischer will also have to retake the Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Education program before being allowed to hunt again.

Anyone who has information regarding violations can report them toll-free to the Report All Poachers and Polluters line or 1-877-952-7277.



Police investigate gunshots at West Kelowna gas station

Shots fired at gas station

Police are investigating a report of shots fired at a gas station in West Kelowna.

RCMP were called to the Petro Canada on the 1700-block of Ross Road just after 8 p.m. on Thursday.

“Witnesses reported seeing a blue car and a white SUV travelling at a high rate of speed on Ross Road before both vehicles pulled into the parking lot of the gas station where gunshots were believed to be heard before both vehicles fled the area,” said Cpl. Jocelyn Noseworthy in a news release.

Officers immediately flooded the area and conducted a thorough search but did not locate the vehicles. Police are back at the scene today and officers continue to canvass for witnesses and surveillance video from the area.

Anyone with information is asked to call the West Kelowna RCMP at 250-768-2880. Or remain completely anonymous by calling Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or by leaving a tip online at www.crimestoppers.net



West Kelowna senior finds weird substance in orange juice

Weird object found in juice

A family claims their 82-year-old mother found a handful of a disturbing material in her orange juice recently purchased at the Real Canadian Superstore in West Kelowna.

Scott Munro says his mother-in-law drank a considerable amount of the No Name brand juice until it seemed to be clogged and the juice wasn't pouring out. When she went to find out why, she pulled out a "bone-like substance."

"I'm worried, because she's going on 82-years-old, and I don't think anybody should be drinking that," Munro said.

To maintain the privacy of his mother-in-law and help her in the situation, Scott immediately contacted the Superstore himself and told them what happened.

They told him to phone the number for President's Choice on the juice container, who provided Munro with a file number and said they would get back to him.

"So far, this will be the second day I guess and they haven't gotten back to us yet," he explained.

Scott describes the object as having a, “human bone-like consistency." Although it does feel like cartilage to the Castanet reporter that examined it, it could also pass for a rotten orange peel.

Castanet emailed Superstore parent company, Loblaw Company Limited, with images of the object and told them the Munro family’s story.

"The safety and quality of our products is something we take very seriously and as such will be conducting a thorough investigation into this matter. We can understand how unsettling this must have been for all involved and sincerely apologize for any stress this may have caused or if the customer has felt like we aren’t reviewing this quickly enough," Loblaw told Castanet.

The company said it has an "entire team dedicated to ensuring the quality of our products," explaining an investigation is launched when a product falls below standards.

Although the object is concerning, there have been many food-related hoaxes over the past few decades of consumers claiming they have found things in their food from big corporations.

That's something Munro shrugged off.

"I really can't see an 82-year-old woman fibbing anything about orange juice that she usually buys from the Superstore."

In Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is responsible for safeguarding food.

In an email, the CFIA told Castanet it has not received a complaint regarding this issue. However, if a consumer submits a food safety complaint, the CFIA follows up with the complainant, the retailer, and the manufacturer, to determine if a food safety investigation is required. Anyone with a food safety concern is encouraged to submit it through the agency's website.

"I don't want to see some little kid or some older person get deathly-ill or super sick from this stuff," Munro added.

After Castanet spoke with Loblaw, the grocery giant contacted the Munro Family to apologize and requested a sample of the object for testing. Right now, Scott says his goal is simply to just inform the public.

Scott says he has set up a doctor's appointment for his mother-in-law to ensure she didn’t ingest anything toxic. He will also bring a sample of this object to the doctor to get a second opinion on what it might be.

Castanet News will update this story as soon as more information becomes available.



Westbank United Church hoping to sell location, move to smaller location

Westbank church for sale

The Westbank United Church congregation is on a mission to sell their current property and relocate to a more suitable and smaller location.

“We have an elderly congregation and our numbers were going down,” says Shelley Marks, chair of the Westbank United Church’s board.

Out of the 65 church members, only 10 aren’t elderly and with the extensive repairs needed for the building, Marks thought they were in over their heads when considering redevelopment.

“Financially, the writing was on the wall as the church is getting older and the repairs were getting bigger,” she says.

“We had a consultant in looking at what we actually needed to do to the church - the roof, plumbing issues, kitchen issues. So it came to repair, sell or redevelop - those were the three things we put on the plate.”

The church went up for sale in early 2020, originally listed at 1.75 million but it is now sitting at 1.65 million.

The large for-sale sign outside of the church was recently posted in December, catching the attention of media.

Some people have expressed interest in purchasing the property but no concrete offers have been made yet.

After the property sells, the Westbank United Church will continue.

“If the church was to sell, we have the option of purchasing a new building, something smaller. We would like to stay in downtown Westbank if we could…Or renting a building and I have a feeling we would lean towards renting a building at this point.”

Marks says the church would love the opportunity to lease back the current site if the buyer was not in a hurry to demolish it or if they were holding it for redevelopment.

“It was a very hard decision. I’ve been there 33 years and a lot of the congregation who are older than me, that’s been their home church for a long time so obviously quite a few feel sad but they also understand,” says Marks.

The church located at 3672 Brown Rd remains active and in the meantime, the congregation is trying their best to meet virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions.

BC Housing has been renting a portion of the building since 2018, providing 38 beds for a transitional housing program and a temporary mat program is set to start soon.



West Kelowna gas station wrapped in yellow police tape

Gas station a crime scene

The Petro Canada gas station at Highway 97 and Bartley Road in West Kelowna spent much of Thursday night wrapped in crime scene tape.

Few details are available at this time, but residents of the neighbourhood say they observed officers searching the ground near the gas station with flashlights at around 9:30 p.m.

Officers at the scene declined to comment and were dismantling the police tape by about 11:20 p.m. The gas station was closed while police worked.

It is not known if the gas station crime scene is related to another police incident in Kelowna Thursday night in the McKenzie Road area.

Castanet will update when more information becomes available.



Convicted rapist gets bail, appeals to Supreme Court of Canada

Rapist tries for 2nd appeal

Despite having been convicted of a violent 2016 rape, a West Kelowna man will be released on bail once again as he appeals his conviction through Canada's top court.

Jeremy Czechowski was convicted in 2018 of sexual assault causing bodily harm, unlawful confinement, attempting to choke and uttering threats, and sentenced to five years in prison.

While the 38-year-old maintained the sex he had with the victim in 2016 was consensual, the judge ruled that not only did the victim not consent, she also did not have the capacity to consent due to her intoxication at the time.

Following his conviction, Czechowski filed an appeal and he was granted bail once again. The Crown applied to have his bail revoked after he was charged with a separate charge of uttering threats in August 2020, but the Crown was unsuccessful.

Last fall, the BC Court of Appeal ruled that while the trial judge had made two “serious errors,” Czechowski's conviction was upheld, as the “circumstantial evidence against the applicant 'overwhelmingly established non consent' apart from the complainant’s testimony.”

But Czechowksi is now taking one more shot at appealing his conviction, taking the matter to the Supreme Court of Canada.

While a date has not been set yet for the Supreme Court of Canada hearing, the B.C. Court of Appeal recently granted Czechowksi bail while he awaits the top court's decision on his matter.

In her ruling last week, Justice Mary Saunders said Czechowski's detention is not necessary to maintain public safety and public confidence in the administration of justice.

“I recognize that the offences of which the applicant has been convicted are ones of serious interference with a person,” Justice Saunders wrote. “Yet the seriousness of an offence does not preclude bail.”

During the original six-day trial in May 2018, the court heard how the victim, M, had visited Czechowski's West Kelowna home after a night out clubbing in downtown Kelowna with a friend. M had believed they were going to the home to buy cocaine.

M testified Czechowski ripped off her underwear shortly after she arrived, and brought her purse to an upstairs bedroom. M followed him to retrieve her belongings.

“While in the bedroom, the accused pulled off her dress, pushed her onto the bed and began to have anal sex with her,” Justice Kenneth Ball said during Czechowski's sentencing. “He grabbed her throat and was squeezing hard. She was having difficulty breathing and worried that she would become unconscious."

Over a period of several hours, Czechowski left the room on several occasions, before coming back to the room and forcing M to have unprotected anal sex two other separate times.

After the third separate sexual assault that night, M found her cell phone and left the home. “Disheveled, intoxicated and terrified,” she was found by an RCMP officer hiding in a nearby bush just before 7 a.m.

Czechowski is still facing a separate charge of uttering threats stemming from an Aug. 3, 2020 incident in Enderby while he was on bail. While still in its early stages, that matter is scheduled to next be in Kelowna court in February.



Confirmed case of COVID-19 at Glenrosa Middle School on Wednesday

Another virus case at school

The Central Okanagan Public School Board has confirmed another case of coronavirus on Wednesday evening.

Interior Health has disclosed there was a COVID-19 exposure at Glenrosa Middle School in West Kelowna. 

"They are self-isolating at home with support from local public health teams. Interior Health follows up with anyone potentially exposed to a confirmed case directly through contact tracing," SD23 stated in a news release Wednesday evening.

There's no indication whether the infected individuals are students, teachers or staff members.

The school board states safety and the well-being of students, families, and staff remains their highest priority.

A full list of active COVID-19 school exposures in the Interior Health region can be found here.



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