'We need answers:' Family of Lake Country woman protest at Kelowna courthouse | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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'We need answers:' Family of Lake Country woman protest at Kelowna courthouse

On the day the preliminary inquiry was set to commence for Lambertus (Bert) Westervelt, 65, for the alleged murder of his wife, Arlene Westervelt’s family gathered on the steps of the Kelowna Law Courts to demand answers about why the B.C. Crown Prosecution Service has decided to stay the proceedings against her husband, Bert.
September 14, 2020 - 10:59 AM

Arlene Westervelt’s family gathered on the steps of the Kelowna Law Courts today to demand answers as to why the man who was charged with her murder is not standing trial.

It's been four years since the family had been led on what they described as a heartbreaking journey. On June 26, 2016, the canoe Arlene and her husband Bert took to Okanagan Lake capsized and Arlene fell into the water and drowned. Her body was retrieved the next day at the edge of one of the deepest parts of the lake.  

Westervelt was charged April 5, 2019, with the second-degree murder of Arlene.

The preliminary hearing was set for today, Sept. 14, and Crown witnesses had already received subpoenas. In recent weeks Crown told Arlene’s sister Debbie Hennig it now planned to exercise its authority to stay the charge on the basis of “new information” which the Crown refused to disclose. Hennig decided to make her way to Kelowna from Quebec, anyway, and she was joined by a dozen supporters.

"We need answers,” Debbie Hennig said. “Arlene was a beautiful person who lost her life under very suspicious circumstances. We need to know how and why she died. And we need to know how it is possible that a man charged with intentionally murdering our sister is not required to stand trial?”

READ MORE: Charge against Lake Country man accused of killing his wife stayed

Hennig said the story she was told about how Arlene died has never made sense to her.

"She was an experienced canoeist, a member of the rowing team, she knew how to swim," Hennig said. "She always, always wore her life jacket. How does an experienced canoeist accidentally tip a canoe on a calm lake and drown? Why was Arlene, who was fanatical about water safety, not wearing a life jacket?"

She's not sure she'll ever know. With the charges stayed, Crown has a year to bring the case before the courts again. Regardless, Hennig is in the dark — she's been told that she's not entitled to coroner's reports or police files. Arlene's next of kin is her husband, Bert. He's able to access that information.

"We were given no explanation, except the case no longer (has) a substantial likelihood of conviction," she said. "We have been denied the right to the trial process that would reassure us that justice has been served. Not only must justice be served, but it must be seen to be served. We haven't seen any justice."

Bert's sister-in-law, Shelley Westervelt, said it's not a matter of seeing him convicted. She said she loved Bert and Arlene, and in the eight days after Arlene's death she was by Bert's side. She just wants to see the trial process play out one way or another.

Shelley said the aftermath of Arlene's death tore her apart and destroyed her marriage. Her husband, Bert's brother, like the rest of his family, is standing behind him.

Arlene’s family has since hired Alberta lawyer Anthony Oliver to represent their interests under both B.C.’s Victims of Crime Act and the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights. Oliver noted a Crown stay may occur because it has become clear that something in the prosecution has gone wrong and new evidence is required to advance the case to trial.

Oliver has said because the charges are stayed, and not withdrawn, they are still technically active.

Oliver also told Arlene’s family, in the case of a victim’s death, the relevant legislation protects the rights of a deceased person’s family to be informed about the investigation and prosecution at every stage of the proceedings. The legislation also allows the victim’s family to convey their views about decisions to be made by the authorities and to have those views considered.

The Hennig family has written letters to the B.C. Coroner’s Office, the B.C. Office of the Ombudsperson and even the Prime Minister. Their lawyer has petitioned the B.C. Attorney General David Eby to intervene and to ensure that the rights of the deceased’s family are upheld in this case.

Find past stories on this case here.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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