More than four years after Arlene Westervelt’s death, her family is still demanding justice and answers.
Her husband, Lambertus Westervelt, was charged with second-degree murder in April 2019 after an extensive investigation into Arlene’s June 2016 drowning death on Okanagan Lake. The Crown stayed that charge in July 2020 after more than a year of the matter winding through the courts.
On April 5, 2019, the RCMP charged Westervelt with the second-degree murder of his wife Arlene. In July, 2020 the Crown stayed that charge. pic.twitter.com/Q5lT9lcheJ— Daniel Taylor (@DanTaylorKCN) September 14, 2020
The grieving family gathered on the steps of the Kelowna Law Courts on Monday, Sept. 14 — the day Westervelt was set to face a preliminary inquiry into the matter.
“My sister Arlene lost her life under very suspicious circumstances,” said Arlene’s sister, Debbie Hennig, during the gathering at the Kelowna Law Courts.
“He said she disappeared into the lake and was gone. We don’t believe it. We have never believed that. Arlene was too skilled to make such a rookie mistake. She was an experienced canoeist, a member of the rowing team (formerly for the University of Alberta), she knew how to swim and always wore a life jacket.”
Of particular concern to the family is what they heard at a bail hearing following Westervelt’s arrest.
During that hearing, the Crown presented the court with what Arlene’s family claims to be “evidence in support of the murder charge.”
That information is currently protected by a publication ban. As a result, the family is unable to comment on the evidence which they heard at that hearing but which they cannot easily forget.
Witnesses had already received subpoenas for the preliminary inquiry when Crown advised Hennig in July that they would stay the charge on the basis of “new information” which wasn’t detailed to the family.
“We were told they cannot give us that information,” Hennig said.
“We have been denied the right to hear evidence and understand how and why Arlene died. We have been denied the right to the trial process that would re-assure us justice has been served. Not only must justice be served, but it must be seen to be served. We haven’t received any justice, we’re in the dark. We need answers.”
Arlene’s family is now asking Crown to explain what happened at the eleventh hour to dismantle the proceedings.
The BC Prosecution Service charge standard requires Crown to independently, objectively and fairly measure all available evidence against a two-part test which determines whether there is a substantial likelihood of conviction, and if so, whether the public interest requires a prosecution.
“This test continues to apply throughout any prosecution. Where this test is no longer met, it is appropriate for Crown counsel to direct a stay of proceedings,” said Alisia Adams, a spokesperson for the BC Prosecution Service.
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 notes that a stay of charge 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.
Because the charges are stayed and not withdrawn, Oliver said, they are still technically active. Should Crown decide to advance its case against Westervelt, the charge that was previously stayed may be reactivated and he may once again be required to go to trial and face a verdict.
He also notes that 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 and be considered by authorities.
“Unfortunately, there has been very little communication by Crown with Arlene’s family, whose views don’t appear to have been considered,” Oliver said.
“As a result, the family has been further traumatized by a confusing and seemingly shadowy process.”