VANCOUVER – The daughter of a wrongfully convicted British Columbia man turned to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain she felt following her father’s arrest, 27-year imprisonment and eventual release, a court has heard.
It was a coping mechanism that would eventually take her life.
Tanya Olivares, 42, told a B.C. Supreme Court hearing considering compensation for Ivan Henry — who spent almost three decades behind bars — that her sister, Kari Rietze, died of an overdose earlier this year.
“She really was tortured by (Henry’s) loss on a daily basis,” said Olivares, stifling sobs as she spoke about her sister’s recent death in testimony on Tuesday.
Henry, 69, is suing for damages after he was wrongfully convicted of 10 counts of sexual assault in 1983. The B.C. Court of Appeal acquitted him in 2010 following protracted efforts on the part of his two daughters to have his case reviewed.
Olivares described her father as a caring and supportive man but said everything changed in 1982.
“From the moment we learned he was arrested our world kind of crashed down on us,” said Olivares.
She painted a grim picture of a troubled childhood, living with a intermittently drug-addicted mother, moving homes constantly and spending a year-long stint in foster care.
Olivares spoke of having to call an ambulance “six or seven times” to save her mother’s life after she overdosed.
“I guess I thought at the time that was normal,” said Olivares. “But I lived with a lot of anxiety and constant worry. I was scared and fearful most of the time.”
After her father was taken away, she would tell friends he had died to avoid anyone asking about his whereabouts.
“I quickly realized that if I said he was dead that would end the questions,” she said.
Olivares looked composed as she addressed the court, while her husband and two grown children watched from the public gallery.
Henry was released on bail in 2009 to live with the Olivares family in their Vancouver-area home, a year before the court fully quashed his convictions.
“It was very surreal,” she said, describing Henry’s transition as “really hard.”
“He didn’t know how to get into the car; he didn’t know how to use the seatbelt.”
She recounted the only conflicts between the pair being the sporadic instances when Henry would beg her to take him back to prison.
“He just couldn’t adjust,” she said. “He has a lot of regrets of the fact that he wasn’t around to help with my sister. He felt he contributed to her death and to the sadness she went through.”
Additional hardships included his violent nightmares, as well as neighbours campaigning to have Henry removed from the family’s neighbourhood, she said.
“It’s taken a toll on all of us. I have to reassure my dad all the time that it’s going to come to an end,” she said. “We’re in a marathon. We’re in the last two miles — the hardest two miles — but we’re coming down the downhill.”
Henry is suing the province, the federal government and the City of Vancouver for damages. The trial is scheduled to last 100 days.