Arlene Westervelt’s family, friends hold Kelowna, B.C. rally calling for coroner’s inquest

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Arlene Westervelt’s family holds Kelowna rally calling for coroner’s inquest
Arlene Westervelt’s family holds Kelowna rally calling for coroner’s inquest – Jun 25, 2021

Family and friends of Arlene Westervelt held a rally on the Kelowna, B.C., courthouse steps Friday morning demanding a coroner’s inquest.

They also want the BC Coroners Service to release the full forensic file to RCMP so police can have their own certified independent forensic pathologist review the case.

“We are done begging. We demand that Chief (Coroner) Lisa Lapointe answer the RCMP request affirmatively and accept our request for an inquest,” said Debbie Hennig, Arlene Westervelt’s sister.

In 2016, Arlene Westervelt’s body was pulled from the lake after the canoe she was in with her husband Bert Westervelt tipped.

Bert has always said she drowned, while her family immediately called foul play.

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Bert was charged with his wife’s second-degree murder nearly three years after Arlene’s death. But Bert has always maintained his innocence, and last summer the charge against him was stayed.

In February, the BC Coroners Service finally publicly released a four-page report into Arlene’s death, and ultimately couldn’t rule out an underlying heart condition, drowning or strangulation.

“What we understand is that the RCMP want to have an external review conducted by a certified forensic pathologist, then take that to the Crown service and say to the Crown, ‘If this is why the prosecution was stayed, here you go, get it back on track’,” said Anthony Oliver, Debbie Hennig’s lawyer.

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The stay period on the murder charge is set to expire in less than three weeks. After that, it’s unlikely the case against Bert Westervelt will ever be revived.

“When that one-year mark strikes and that one-year stay period expires, it’s as if the file didn’t exist,” Oliver said.

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The family believes part of the problem in the case is a series of possible mistakes made by the BC Coroner’s Service.

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“Those failures begin with a shoddy investigation by a local coroner who was not medically trained and who refused to direct an autopsy in circumstances that clearly warranted it,” Oliver said.

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There are also questions around the forensic qualification credentials of the pathologist who performed the autopsy on Arlene’s body, he added.

“We ask you, Chief (Coroner) Lapointe, to do the right thing, even if it means casting a dark shadow on your organization,” Hennig said.

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“I must say I am grateful for the (RCMP) major crime unit who has not given up this fight,” she added.

“What now appears to stand in the way of Bert’s renewed prosecution may be the BC Coroner’s Service refusal to give their file to RCMP,” Hennig said. “We are dismayed. We are alarmed.”

The BC Coroners Service declined an interview.

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“The coroner’s report that was issued is a public document and details the reasons for the coroner’s findings in Mrs. Westervelt’s death,” spokesperson Ryan Panton said in an email.

“Anyone can request that a case be reopened if new information arises that is substantial and material to the investigation.”

Although the family has received a copy of the coroner’s report, they say they have been begging for access to the in-depth autopsy report since Arlene died.

They’re also hoping the prosecution against Arlene’s husband will be restarted.

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Mystery in the Okanagan: Man accused in wife’s death speaks out for the first time

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