Making good guilt-free choices

From my Coast Reporter column, Flip of the Coin. One of my favourites. The feedback I got in the community from this little column was great!

In this day and age, we are bombarded by messages of what is and is not good for us. Vigorous debates have ensued over such matters, ranging from the food we buy to the car we drive to the type of activities we engage in.

One person will say stay away from red meat while another will proclaim the dangers of soy products.

A glass of red wine a day is good for you, but what about the pesticides sprayed on the grapes before they were picked, crushed and liquefied? What kind of labour was employed to pick them? And don’t forget the transport of the bottle. If it was shipped from the Okanagan, you might get some Brownie points, but if it was Australia, France or Chile, you just contributed to some pretty major greenhouse gas emissions.

I try my best to stay aware and do what I can to be healthy, both personally and ecologically. I make an effort to buy local, organic produce when available, and try to avoid processed food with its ridiculous over-packaging. I also unplug all my appliances when not in use and make an effort to leave my car at home when I can.

My co-workers will endearingly razz me for my ways, whether it’s for saying I only buy cage-free eggs, don’t own a microwave and avoid most seafood due to poor harvesting methods. I got some extra special razzing after I said I had not eaten a McDonald’s meal in almost 13 years.

The razzing is in good fun and I get it. My choices may seem extreme at times, but I often feel I am not extreme enough.

After watching a documentary on the commercial chocolate trade, I felt terrible about the near slave-like labour used to produce cocoa for processing the chocolate products I occasionally indulge in.

I later saw some photographs of the Alberta tar sands, and the images of people drilling for a highly coveted yet limited resource really stuck with me. By the end of the week, I ended up in a quagmire of consumer and energy-user guilt, nearly shedding tears over the paper coffee cup I held in my hand. Is everything really bad for me and bad for the environment?

The answer is probably yes, unfortunately, but let’s be realistic. It is nearly impossible to be perfect with every choice in life.

At some of the recent council meetings I’ve covered, there has been quite a bit of dialogue surrounding smart meters. Apprehension surrounding WiFi transmission has been expressed, and councillors have asked for further studies to be done on potential health risks.

I applaud the concern local governments have for the well-being of their constituents, but after conducting research into how minimal a health risk the meters pose, I wondered if councillors would also question the health risks from talking on their cell phones, heating food in their microwaves and using wireless laptops or tablets. Is the coffee served at meetings organic and fair trade with few greenhouse gases used in its transport?

Questions and concerns about consumption are important and should always be encouraged. The western world has proven this through epidemic obesity and cancer rates. Our energy consumption needs examination, too. Air conditioners, fuel, packaging — it all goes hand in hand.

As clichéd as it may sound, everything in moderation is probably the best way to go. Buy local when you can. Ditch the car and get on a bike, even if it’s one day a week. Don’t talk on your cell phone for too long. And certainly don’t spend the day hugging your future smart meter. Light some candles, have a relatively guilt-free glass of Okanagan wine, and toast to the good consumer decisions you just made.


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Local needle exchange co-ordinator works to provide a safe community

An older story from my time at Coast Reporter. Fitzsimmons was incredible to interview. The Sunshine Coast is lucky to have a such a dedicated person who exemplifies the benefits of harm reduction within the community.

Metro Creative Connections Photo
The Sunshine Coast needle exchange program is a non-judgmental outreach service for intravenous drug users.

In any community, big or small, addiction exists, but the issue of addiction is often swept under the rug. Or those who seek help are unable to receive it due to lack of resources.

Here on the Sunshine Coast, a program is in place to help those who suffer from addictions, and to keep the community safe and its members educated.

The Sunshine Coast needle exchange program is a non-judgmental outreach service for intravenous drug users. coordinated by Brent Fitzsimmons and facilitated by Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), it operates on a one-to-one basis, where every clean needle given must have a used needle returned.

By providing the service for anyone wanting to dispose of used needles in a safe and legal way, the program works towards its goals of reducing the spread of Hepatitis C, HIV and other diseases. The service also reduces the number of discarded needles in public and the incidents needle-stick injuries.

A Coast-wide initiative extending from Port Mellon to Egmont, the program runs five days a week, from noon to 7:30 p.m., and services its clients confidentially. It also works closely with the Powell River and Sea to Sky exchanges, with interaction from Vancouver exchanges.

Fitzsimmons said the exchange is 100 per cent client-based, and the Sunshine Coast program is unique in the fact that it’s considered a mobile exchange.

He said when he gets a page, he meets people where they want to meet to give them safer injection or smoking equipment. As a result, he is often invited into people’s homes, enabling him to make a personal connection.

“The power struggle doesn’t exist because I’m on their turf. Often times people are a lot more willing to discuss what’s going on in their life beyond just how much equipment they need,” he said.

Fitzsimmons clarifies that while he is not a councillor, he is able to offer referrals to those who may want to seek treatment for their addiction or any other health concerns.

Community support, Fitzsimmons said, is pivotal to the exchange. There is an advisory committee that meets approximately three times a year and a cross-section of people is invited to attend, ranging from members of the public to youth and mental health workers to RCMP officers.

“We try to pull in anybody that might have an interest in the program, and we really depend on that support for the community to keep the program going,” Fitzsimmons said.

Although Fitzsimmons is the sole co-ordinator for the program, he receives support from the advisory committee, a pubic health nurse and a manager. His role entails a large responsibility, but Fitzsimmons said his clients are well informed about how the program works and active in returning needles.

“We have a really high return rate. Last quarter, from January to March, we had a 97 per cent return rate. For the whole of last year, we had an 84 per cent return rate,” he said.

Sunshine Coast RCMP Const. Glen Martin represents policing interests at the advisory meetings. He said the high return rate is good to see.

“It’s putting innocent people less at risk from a discarded needle,” Martin said.

When asked if there is a drug user demographic on the Coast, Fitzsimmons said, “If I had to boil it down to a person, it would be a male, between the age of 40 and 50, who is a poly-drug user. People need to try to understand that no one wants to be a drug addict or alcoholic, no one chooses that. If a person’s only coping mechanism is drugs and alcohol, before we can expect them to stop that behaviour, we need to provide them with other coping mechanisms.”

Some may find the idea of needle exchange controversial and argue it may encourage drug use, similar to the controversy surrounding Insite, Vancouver’s supervised injection site. Fitzsimmons dispels this notion.

“It is my belief, and the belief of VCH harm reduction programs, that providing clean equipment for people does not encourage drug use,” he said. “By forcing people to use dirty equipment we are pretty much sentencing them to contacting HIV or Hepatitis C. These people using drugs, they’re our family members, our friends, our workmates, and it’s within all our interests to keep people healthy, both compassionately and financially.”

Martin, however, said he feels there are challenges with harm reduction.

“It’s difficult to encourage the harm reduction, I think, just because the drugs are so harmful themselves,” Martin said. “No matter how safe you are about the method you’re using, the harm of using drugs is so high.”

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Sustainability plan seeks community engagement – from Coast Reporter

This was fascinating to write. The Sunshine Coast has some incredible visionaries here.

After months of hard work and collaboration, a draft version of a long-range sustainability plan for the Sunshine Coast is being offered to residents for public feedback.

The plan, One Coast, lays out a vision for a healthy and sustainable future for the Coast and its residents and identifies key actions to take in the short term to achieve that vision.

To support the plan’s intention, which is a call to action at every level of the community, a discussion paper has been assembled. We Envision is a collaboratively created document that provides the plan’s vision via a set of core values: economic vitality, health and social well being, cultural vitality, and environmental responsibility.

From those core values, 13 strategic directions form the plan’s focus. They encompass a wide range of issues, including employment, housing, solid waste, and food security.

Julie Clark, education and outreach co-ordinator for the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) and plan team member, said in addition to setting the groundwork for a sustainable future, We Envision evokes a conversation.

“We hope it is a platform for collaborative action and a structure for holding ourselves accountable to the medium and long term goals that are suggested in the plan,” said Clark. “We also hope it provides citizens and community leaders with a snapshot of where we are today and what interconnect or collaborative work is needed in the future.”

When asked how the plan got started, Clark said its development came from a request from the SCRD board, which wanted a sustainability plan put together for the region. SCRD staff sought funding from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to get the process rolling.

“What we did then was put out an invitation to a series of community leaders who had been asking for this type of work over the years,” said Clark.

A diverse team, made up of self-employed individuals as well as those from various local organizations, was assembled.

“The way we wanted to develop this plan was not as the SCRD only and not only as one organization team, but rather as a community team,” Clark said.

As for the discussion paper, which took the team about a year to create, the current draft is based on planning and visioning documents, making We Envision what Clark calls “a starting point for further discussion.”

And the plan is taking its next steps in soliciting that very discussion.

Print, social media and event appearance campaigns have been launched to engage the public. The plan’s website,, contains a multitude of information and a survey. Clark said success stories of individuals and organizations related to the plan are in the works for the site as well.

Once feedback is compiled, a final draft will be presented to local government for adoption.

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Camp Kakhamela lets kids be kids

Abby Gordon hugs little sister Noelle Gordon at Camp Kakhamela, a camp for kids living with type 1 diabetes. Abby, a type 1 diabetic enjoys camp with her family while learning how to manage her disease.


For a majority of kids, summer camp can be a great experience. But for some, it can be a challenge, and children living with Type 1 diabetes are among that group.

Enter Camp Kakhamela — a unique camp that provides children seven to 16 with the tools needed to manage their diabetes while enabling them to have fun in a safe environment.

“It’s an experience you can’t get anywhere else,” said camp co-ordinator Jeff Chang. “For these kids, it’s about coming to camp to enjoy camp and know their diabetes is being managed by the doctors and nurses.”

Located near Gibsons, the camp is facilitated by the Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA). Skilled health care professionals are on staff to monitor the kids while teaching them how to self-manage their disease. They also learn about nutrition and how to stay healthy by maintaining an active lifestyle.

“The disease management is very complicated,” said Chang, referring to the food intake and insulin component. “It’s important for campers to understand the balance.”

In addition to learning about management, kids get the chance to discuss the disease amongst each other, providing a sense of understanding they may not have received with unaffected kids. Importantly, the kids get to have fun.

“The major thing is that the activities don’t differ from those of regular kids,” Chang said.

“They do all the same activities; they get to participate in everything. With that medical side taken care of, there’s no handicap involved in having diabetes in terms of being able to enjoy camp.”

Nine-year-old Abby Gordon of Tsawwassen is currently attending the family portion of Camp Kakhamela. Being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes two years ago has not stopped her from having a good time.

“The camp is really fun. You get to choose what you want to do, like kayaking or crafts or even sailing and canoeing and all that fun stuff,” said Abby enthusiastically.

When asked about the camp’s learning aspect, Abby said it can be hard, but she is learning a lot.

“It’s nice just to know there is somebody else like you,” said Abby.

Abby’s mother Sue Gordon said the camp is great not only for the kids, but also for the parents and helping them seek support.

“We’re sharing our tips and tricks and we’re learning tips and tricks from other parents. It’s nice to be in the company of others that can relate,” said Gordon, who added how beautiful the Sunshine Coast is to visit.

While the cost for Camp Kakhamela can be as much as $1,900 per child, the CDA offers a “campership” subsidy to families that cannot pay the full camp fee. Fundraising and donations enable the CDA to remain committed to making ensuring no child it turned away from the camp.

For more information, visit the CDA website at

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Local sailing instructor has wind in her sails – from Coast Reporter

Gibsons resident Gillie Hutchinson is on a mission to share her passion for sailing while encouraging women to take up the sport.

A Canadian Yachting Association certified instructor, Hutchinson runs the Gibsons Harbour-based Lady Sail, where she specializes in offering sailing lessons geared towards women.

“I don’t like to say I exclusively teach just women, because I will teach anybody who would like to learn,” she said. “What I’m trying to do is offer something for women that will help attract women to the sport.”

Having started sailing upon her move from England to Gibsons in 2006, Hutchinson caught the bug quickly, propelling her to share her knowledge and get women involved in a way that works for them.

“I figure I can offer teaching from a woman’s point of view and perspective and get those women understanding it, asking as many questions, however silly they might seem, without feeling intimidated,” she said. “I think it offers a different dimension to sailing that will help women, hopefully about how they’re learning, what they’re learning, and then continue on with it. I want women to think ‘yes, this is something I can do.’”

By offering lessons and charters on her 8.5 metre Grampian sloop sailboat Django, Hutchinson not only offers the ability to pick up a new skill, but promotes the natural beauty of Howe Sound and the Strait of Georgia.

“Gibsons is one of the top sailing destinations in the world. I feel very blessed every time I come out, and I want to share that,” she said.

As for the lessons, Hutchinson said she gains a lot of pleasure from teaching and there’s nothing like seeing women build confidence and empowerment through sailing.

“I think sailing is a fairly male dominated sport. There are a lot women coming in the sport, certainly in racing, but I’m here to provide access to a different perspective, for women who have never sailed and want to gain this different sense of self-esteem. There is a confidence that you get from having a life skill that is not very common,” she added.

Since discovering her passion for the sport, nothing has stopped the 55-year-old from excelling at it, and she wants other women to feel the same.

“Sailing has been something that came to me later in life, but there is no age limit,” she said with a smile. “Sailing keeps you young.”

For more information on her sailing programs, see

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My departing column from Coast Reporter news

Ferry godmother...


It is on a sad note I pen my last column here at Coast Reporter. No excited exit here, just one of obligation and pursuit of other opportunities only the city can offer.

The decision was not an easy one. Upon graduation last year, I knew there was a good chance of moving out of Vancouver to a smaller community to get my feet wet in the wild world of journalism — and I was happy to come here.

The Sunshine Coast may be small, but it is no small town with stereotypical small town thinking.

I agree with my predecessor Brent Richter, who in his exit column said Coast Reporter is the perfect training ground for a green reporter. He couldn’t have said it better.

I have been lucky enough to cover a wide array of topics and continue to be blown away by the passion in the community. People here will certainly tell you what they think, both positive and negative sides. Even the negative is something I’m grateful for, as I’ve learned to develop a thick skin — one, as a fresh graduate, I was in need of.

While I have covered a variety of issues, I’d be lying if I said every story I’ve written is near and dear to my heart, but many will certainly stick with me.

I will never forget covering a Gibsons bylaw meeting and hearing a resident refer to renters in the neighbourhood as “undesirables.”

I think I’ve discussed that one over drinks at Smitty’s too many times to count. But, that’s what makes this community so special — everyone has the right to share their opinion — and share they do.

So, while I may not exactly get fiery in this column, I am going to take advantage of the right to free speech and share some opinions I have formed during my time here.

Coasters, please stop fearing change. This wonderful, beautiful place you call home is in need of economic development in order to keep it wonderful and beautiful. I toyed with the idea of getting a second job to help pay down student debt, but it was challenging to find anything Coast-based. I looked into maybe taking a course or two in the future to keep on working towards my degree, but the courses offered locally are very limited. Trying to find a place to rent was challenging as well — no need to dive into that one, as everyone is well aware of the housing issue.

By no means am I trashing the Coast by making these remarks. Those issues are prevalent in every community, big or small. What makes the Sunshine Coast unique is the people here are working to make it a better place. They do a damn fine job, but seem to get caught up in the red tape of slow government decisions or the feet-dragging of residents resistant to even the slightest bit of change.

I hate to break it to the naysayers, but this place is going to grow one way or another. Embrace the genius planners and developers here who want to make sure it grows in the right way, a sustainable way, or the only “undesirable” thing you will have is every person under 40 lining up for the ferry to escape narrow-minded ideas.

While there are aspects of city life I’m looking forward to, such as the ability to walk to a pub for a beer, go to a deli for a proper bagel, and walk my dog without worrying about bears, I can say I will truly miss Coast life and hope to one day return.

Thank you to my wonderful coworkers and the community at large for my experience here. Keep up the good work, work together on all fronts, keep the youth here, and build a bright, vibrant Coast.

I’ll wave with gratitude from the ferry.

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Coast Cops for Cancer

While many love to have their tresses tended at the local hair salon, two Sunshine Coast RCMP constables received haircuts this week to do more than just look good.

Sechelt’s Rainbow Room salon hosted its second annual Cops for Cancer cut-a-thon on Monday and constables Colin Bissell and Mark Wiebe were on hand for a trim and to support fundraising efforts as the local officers get set to ride in September’s Tour de Coast.

The cut-a-thon was just one of many fundraising efforts that will be put on over the coming weeks by the Ladies Red Serge Gala committee.

Bissell and Wiebe are riding for their cancer buddy, seven-year-old Ryan Moore of Sechelt, who is in remission from leukemia. The Tour de Coast promotes cancer awareness and raises funds for pediatric cancer research and Camp Goodtimes.

“Today means a lot to me. I’ve been lucky that cancer hasn’t touched my family, but I have several friends who have lost loved ones to cancer and I’m happy to support this,” Bissell said. “It’s fantastic that the Rainbow Room supports Cops for Cancer and the Canadian Cancer Society and they are able to do this for the day.”

Wiebe echoed similar sentiments.

“It really touched me when my friend’s dad passed away from cancer last summer,” Wiebe said. “Basically, the Sunshine Coast raises some of the most money for cancer research through the Cops for Cancer and ladies’ night gala. Working with the Red Serge ladies is really showing what people will do to help out with research and it’s amazing.”

As for his buddy Ryan, Wiebe said it saddens him to see someone so young deal with cancer.

“That’s another reason why we’re doing this, hoping to get that money to research to eradicate this earlier so kids don’t have to go through it. Anything to help with cancer research and raising money, I’m all for it,” he said.

The event paid off with the salon collecting $752.

Gala committee member Patti Kennedy volunteered at the salon for the day and said fundraising efforts have been coming along well.

“Our community is incredible. It’s just amazing when you live in a small community how people come forward and do this,” she said. “The least we’ve raised at one of the ladies’ night events is $30,000. It’s wonderful and that’s why we keep doing this.”

The popular gala event is set for Thursday, Sept. 15, at Sechelt Seniors Centre. Tickets are $60 and can be purchased at the Sechelt RCMP detachment.

Cops for Cancer is a partnership between the Canadian Cancer Society, the RCMP and other community police officers. For more information on cancer research and donating, visit

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