The family of a Lake Country woman who died while canoeing with her husband is sharing more details about what allegedly happened in the days after Arlene Westervelt’s death.
They’re also renewing their calls for B.C.’s attorney general to step in and take a closer look at the case.
“Arlene mattered. And her life mattered. And her story matters,” said Shelley Westervelt, who at the time was the wife of Bert’s brother.
Arlene died on June 26, 2016, after her boat capsized while canoeing on Okanagan Lake with her husband, Bert Westervelt.
Her family has always maintained that her death was suspicious and she knew how to swim.
Bert was charged with Arlene’s second-degree murder nearly three years after her death in June 2016.
However, Arlene’s family was stunned to learn the charge against him was stayed last summer, which means the Crown only has until mid-July to restart the prosecution.
“When the charges were stayed, all the ugliness and the suspicion and the sneakiness surrounding this story came to a head again,” Shelley said.
“We have a remaining six months to get some answers. It’s frustrating. It’s puzzling,” she added.
Shelley said she and her husband Ed Westervelt were with Bert in the days that followed Arlene’s death.
“We spent eight days, almost every moment of the day with Bert. How was he? Incredibly stoic. Never, ever saw him shed a tear,” Shelley said.
Nine months before Arlene’s death, Shelley said she learned that Arlene and Bert were heading for divorce.
She also said Bert’s story around Arlene’s death changed as time went on.
“He told us a completely different version of the events leading up to Arlene’s death,” Shelley said. “That’s when I changed and that’s when I really wanted answers from this family, from my husband. And I was met with roadblocks.”
Bert later admitted his wife had resurfaced and started trying to climb up into the boat, Shelley said.
Bert could not be reached for an interview but has always maintained his innocence.
“This loss (of Arlene) has affected so many lives, so many families,” Shelley said.
“Arlene’s death has shattered my life, my marriage and a number of people’s lives. We need answers.”
In the days that followed Arlene’s death, RCMP sent a release saying her death was not suspicious.
“I don’t know how this was never looked at as suspicious in the first place. Two people go out on a canoe. One makes it back; the other doesn’t. How could that not have even ever been looked at as a potential problem?” Shelley asked.
“I want to get this back before the courts. I want Bert to answer one way or another as to what happened to my sister-in-law,” Shelley said. “I want the truth.”
Meanwhile, the family is also calling for an investigation into the allegations of possible RCMP misconduct in the case.
Before it turned into a murder investigation, Shelley said she watched as Bert passed Arlene’s cell phone to an RCMP officer to be unlocked.
The allegation has not been proven, and RCMP said they aren’t able to confirm whether or not there was officer misconduct in the case.
However, police said that if there was, it would have been disclosed to the prosecution at the time.
Meanwhile, the family is hoping that B.C.’s attorney general will step in.
“We don’t have answers. We don’t have closure, and I feel that I really need to see this through,” said Debbie Hennig, Arlene’s sister.
“The Crown has refused to explain what changed between the time the charges were approved and the day the charges were stayed,” she added.
Through her lawyer, Debbie is also calling for the allegations into officer misconduct in the case to be reviewed.
“We are very hopeful that the (attorney general) will intervene and get this prosecution back on track,” Hennig said.
“Every road, every avenue, every direction that we’ve taken, we’ve had doors close in our face, slammed in our face.”
Although the family has written the attorney general, Hennig said she was disappointed to receive a response back from the assistant deputy minister.
“We got a response back from Peter Juk and not the minister David Eby himself, so I don’t understand why not,” said.
After being contacted by Global News, B.C.’s attorney general David Eby said in a statement that the investigation is still ongoing.
“In an effort not to prejudice that process, I am limited in my comments. I can tell you that I have full confidence in the operations of the BC Prosecution Service and that the decisions they make are based on sound judgment, according to the evidence before them and the charge assessment standard,” Eby said.
“My heart goes out to the family and friends of Arlene Westervelt, who have had to endure the emotional turmoil arising from her untimely death.”
Arlene’s family is still hoping that anybody who might have information will step forward.
“This case is not closed,” Hennig said. “(Bert) has not been proven innocent, nor has he been proven guilty, that still remains to be seen.”
“That’s why it’s crucial that this prosecution gets back on track, so that all the evidence, and the reason why the charges were laid in the first place, is aired in a court of law.”