Surprised, grateful for funds

Penticton Search and Rescue had been worried about their budget before this weekend, but a funding announcement Saturday afternoon gave them the best news they could hope for. 

"Well, we watched the announcement live, it was broadcast through the British Columbia Search and Rescue Association website," said PenSAR manager Randy Brown. "And we weren't aware of what the announcement was, but when we heard it, it was high fives all around."

Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth announced the province will be providing $18.6 million to help ground search and rescue groups with operations, training, equipment and activities over the next three years.

The B.C. provincial budget released last month didn't indicate any funds for B.C. search and rescue groups, which was a cause for concern. 

"We just did the budgets the other night, and we looked at what we can do and modify, and just knowing that this funding is coming forward is a huge boost to all of us, and I think everyone on the team is feeling a great sense of relief," Brown said. 

The lack of funds moving forward had been stressful for the group of volunteers, many of whom spend countless unpaid hours each year training for rescues and going out on rescue calls. 

"You know, you always hope for the best and plan for if you have to modify, but our resolve is still number one that we're here to help the community," Brown said. "But today's announcement surprised all of us, we're just so grateful and thankful."

PenSAR responds to around 50 calls for rescue each year. 


Nursery coming for kittens

Chelsea Powrie

Critteraid Animal Sanctuary has been working hard to renovate all of its rooms to provide the best care possible for rescued cats, and the only two left to go are an infirmary and a nursery. 

"We are really excited, we're almost completed our renovations," Byer said. "With so many animals unfortunately it's always going to be upgrades, upgrades, upgrades. We're very thankful for the community who supported all of this."

Recent upgrades include a fully refurbished retirement room, for elderly cats and those with health issues who need to call Critteraid home forever, and a general cat room complete with climbing apparatuses on the walls and cozy beds and scratch poles. 

The two rooms left to go will address pressing needs. One is an isolation room for very sick cats who need intensive care immediately, and one is for mothers and babies. 

"Sadly there's still a high influx of kittens, this year alone we're at 14," Byer said. "The nursery will help us provide better care, because unfortunately most of the mums are very weak and sick, they've been living on the street eating garbage, and that's heartbreaking."

She added that many of the pregnant cats they see come in are too young to be mothers, and stressed the importance of spaying and neutering. 

Critteraid relies on donations and help from the community to do their work providing animal rescue around the Okanagan, so to find out more or to donate, click here

Cake, music and crowds

Chelsea Powrie

The Cannery Trade Centre turned 35 Saturday with a birthday party open to the public celebrating its current businesses and historic past as the Aylmer canning factory. 

There was cake, live music and plenty of people. 

"So happy to see so many different kinds of people, people who had never been here, people who had been here but didn't realize all of the different businesses," said building manager Jill Bateman. 

Two of those visitors were women who remembered working at the canning factory decades ago when it was still in operation. 

"That was amazing, we have some old pictures up so I asked both of them to have a look at the old pictures especially the pictures of the canning line, because that's what they did," Bateman said. 

Bateman was kept busy all afternoon hosting the many people who came through for the festivities, slicing up a giant cake provided by the Nest and Nectar. She isn't sure how many people she saw, but knows about 70 were there at the beginning. 

"And it's been non-stop ever since then!" Bateman said. "And we almost demolished the giant cake, I'm amazed."

Kids loved the scavenger hunt. Papers were provided with the names of Cannery businesses and spaces beside them to collect a stamp, encouraging visitors to explore more of the building. 

"Running free, going to visit the different businesses, getting stamps, and meeting people, and they've had such a good time," Bateman said. 

Participants in the scavenger hunt were entered into a draw for a basket of Cannery business goodies. 


Hwy 3 open after rockslide

UPDATE: 11:50 a.m.

DriveBC reports that Highway 3 between Hedley and Keremeos is now open after an earlier rockslide.

UPDATE 9:15 a.m.

Keremeos mayor Manfred Bauer says a few people were forced from their homes late Friday night by the rockslide along Highway 3.

Emergency Social Services set up a coordination centre in the village to coordinate accommodation for those impacted. Bauer could not provide an estimate of how many homes were evacuated.

The provincial government is reportedly handling the situation. The highway remains closed with no estimated time of reopening. DriveBC will provide an update at 10 a.m.

Castanet will update as more information becomes available.

UPDATE: 7:08 a.m.

Highway 3 remains closed in both directions between Hedley and Keremeos due to a rockslide.

An assessment is in progress.

A detour is available via Highway 5A and Highway 3A. 

ORIGINAL: 10:30 p.m.

Highway 3 is closed in both directions between Hedley and Keremeos due to a rockslide.

DriveBC reports the highway is closed three kilometres west of Keremeos to two kilometres east of Hedley.

An assessment is in progress, but the road will stay closed until at least Saturday morning.

Social media reports indicate large boulders starting falling onto the highway some time after 8 p.m. and have continued to come down.

A RCMP roadblock has been set up on Highway 3 in Keremeos at the bypass.

Legal-aid withdrawal looms

A looming job action by B.C. legal aid lawyers on April 1 could bring the wheels of justice to a halt in Okanagan courthouses and across the province.

Over 600 members of the Association of Legal Aid Lawyers voted last week 97 per cent in favour of job action starting next month in protest of system starved for funding by successive NDP and Liberal governments.

Legal aid lawyers have received just one raise since 1991, when a 10-per-cent increase in 2006 lifted rates to about $88 an hour.

Penticton lawyer Paul Varga says he and many other criminal defence and family lawyers feel an ethical obligation to do legal-aid work, but have reached a tipping point, losing money on some files at $88 an hour.

“If I continue to fulfill my ethical obligations by continuing to do this work, I’m not actually fulfilling my ethical obligations for future generations because we're not going to have this fixed, it's going to stay broken.”

“At what point do you say enough is enough?” he added, suggesting the system will have a hard time attracting newly graduated and student-loan burdened lawyers if things continue.

The Legal Services Society of B.C. receives roughly $90M a year from the provincial government, about what it received in 2002. Had the province budgeted for inflation and population growth, that figure should be at $146M today, lawyers say.

Varga says it's criminal defence lawyers that defend Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms everyday, “if we don’t defend the Charter in the courtroom, who will?”

But even if you don’t care about ensuring those accused of a crime have access to a lawyer, from a purely economical point of view, Varga says the fewer self-represented participants in the legal system, the better.

“Do you want people to go unrepresented and cost the system more?” he said, suggesting a courtroom costs upwards of $3,000 an hour to run when factoring in sheriffs, judges, prosecutors, clerks and the building itself.

“Unrepresented litigants drag the system down, and that’s what we are going to see in the next while,” he said. “You are going to see things slow down, bog down, there is going to be a crunch.”

On April 1 legal-aid lawyers throughout B.C. will withdraw family and criminal duty counsel services — offering free legal advice at courthouses — for those not in custody. If the dispute drags on, services will be withdrawn from in-custody clients and lawyers stop taking new legal-aid cases and consider dropping existing ones.

Varga says the funding crunch also means fewer and fewer parents are being considered eligible for family legal aid. Right now, the bar is set at income of about $1,500 a month, well below minimum wage.

“So you’re telling me, someone making less than minimum wage… has the financial wherewithal or ability to hire their own private attorney?” Varga asked.

“There are parents that are struggling that just don’t have the finances,” he added. “Who is going to represent those people? Are they somehow deserving of less service than others?”

The Association of Legal Aid Lawyers has tabled a proposal for the provincial government requesting the office of the Attorney General increase its finding back to 1992 per capita levels adjusts for inflation.

In 1992/1993, per capita spending on legal aid was $25.22. If it was indexed to inflation, spending should be about $40 per capital. Instead, it sunk to $15.00 by 2017/2018. That represents a 60 per cent decrease in per capita spending since 1992 when factoring inflation.

The provincial government says talks remain underway with lawyers about the proposal.

Teens tackle firefighting

Chelsea Powrie

For the second year running, the Penticton Fire Department is running a youth fire academy, attracting 10 teenagers from Penticton High and Princess Margaret Secondary Schools to spend their spring breaks training like real firefighters.

Friday was the culmination of five straight days of rigorous activity, during which the kids climbed 70-foot ladders, tore open cars with the Jaws of Life, learned all about the safety gear firefighters wear and, finally, interacted with real fire scenarios. 

"We did a vehicle fire, we did a compressed gas-cylinder fire, and we just came out of the burn building so they got to feel what it was like in a real building with real heat and real fire and smoke," explained firefighter and project coordinator Ryan Hvidston on Friday afternoon. 

The exercises all took place at the Penticton Fire Department training facility in town. The teens learned techniques to douse interior fires while inside a burning shipping container, coming out sweaty, exhausted but exhilarated. 

Sixteen-year-old Abigail Hylins is the program's only girl, which made her a little nervous at the start of the week. 

"Would I be like, an outcast?" Hylins said. "But honestly it's been a really good experience, it hasn't changed anything. It was amazing."

She said the training has been no picnic, with long hours and tough physical situations. 

"It's crazy to have all the gear on, and I've been trying to work on my fitness so I can carry all the gear and all that, but it's so heavy after a while and you just get really tired at the end of the day," Hylins said. 

The program gives kids a taste of firefighting a taste of firefighting at an age when they're thinking about future careers. Six graduates from last year's program are now on track to become auxiliary members of the Penticton fire crew. 

Hylins, whose two brothers are firefighters, is keeping her options open. 

"I think I'm going to continue looking into it, I'm also looking into the police force," Hylins said. "I'm still kind of iffy about it at the moment, it's hard work!"

Her fellow youth  academy member, 17-year-old Kieran Simpson, also has family ties to firefighting, and jumped at the chance to spend his spring break learning more. 

"I was keen, I was excited, got some buddies to come do it," Simpson said. "I'm happy doing it, I wouldn't want to be doing anything else right now." 

Hvidston said he wouldn't be surprised if some of the kids he has been training this week end up pursuing the career after they graduate. 

"I think it gives the students who may be thinking about this as a career to see really what it's about and maybe make that decision," Hvidston said. "And I know some of them have really enjoyed the week so far."

The teens' training will continue in the coming weeks during ride-alongs on actual fire calls with members of the department. 

Brush fire from nearby burn

UPDATE: 7:30 p.m.

Oliver Fire Department says the Friday afternoon grass fire was caused by embers from a nearby burn pile that spread into an oxbow. 

"The fire did spread into some treed area and some trees did have to be taken down," said OFD representative Rob Graham. 

Wind fuelled the fire for a while, but crews kept a guard up around the flames and kept it from spreading further.

Nearby structures were of concern, but crews extinguished the fire before they were involved. 

The fire department estimates the size of the blaze at two to three acres. 

ORIGINAL: 3:40 p.m.

The Oliver Fire Department responded to a brush fire on Island Road this afternoon. 

The fire was in the 7000 block of Island Road, according to reports from the Oliver Daily News. 

OFD posted on Facebook to "please avoid the area if at all possible and watch for emergency vehicles in the area."

Castanet has reached out to OFD and will update with more information. 

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