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Private prosecution in B.C. woman Arlene Westervelt’s death creeps forward

Click to play video: 'Private prosecution moves forward in Lake Country woman’s death'
Private prosecution moves forward in Lake Country woman’s death
WATCH: Seven years ago, Arlene Westervelt’s body was pulled from Okanagan Lake. Those who believe she was murdered are trying to seek justice by using a private prosecution. Jules Knox reports – Mar 23, 2023

A former RCMP officer who believes that two men should be facing charges in connection with a Lake Country woman’s death was back in court on Thursday.

In June 2016, Arlene Westervelt died while canoeing with her husband on a calm day.

Former Mountie Don Matheson, along with several of Arlene Westervelt’s close friends and family, believe that she was murdered by her husband, Bert Westervelt.

Bert has always maintained his innocence and says her death is a tragic drowning accident.

However, he was charged with Arlene’s second-degree murder three years after her death. Shortly before a preliminary inquiry was set to begin, the charge was suddenly stayed with little explanation.

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Matheson is pursuing a private prosecution against Bert and Brian Gateley, who was an RCMP officer at the time.

The two men knew each other personally through their wives. Although Gateley was not supposed to be involved in the case, Bert asked the officer if he could somehow get Arlene’s cellphone unlocked. Bert told Gateley he wanted the pictures from their last day together.

Gateley asked another officer to use specialized RCMP resources unlock the phone, and it was then returned to Bert with his wife’s personal information on it. At the time, Arlene’s death was not considered suspicious.

Canada’s privacy commissioner recently ruled that RCMP inappropriately collected and disclosed personal information in this case.

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“The RCMP had no legislative authority to collect, access or use the information contained on the device,” the privacy commissioner said in a letter to Arlene’s sister.

Matheson believes the Crown is trying to cover up alleged Mountie misconduct in the case by refusing to bring the case to trial. That prompted him to start a private prosecution.

“It’s one cover-up after the other. The coroner didn’t do their job properly. The Crown has not done their properly. The court is not doing their job properly. That’s why I’m here today,” he said.

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In Canada, any citizen can start a private prosecution.

However, the judge must hold a hearing to determine whether or not to move forward.

This hearing was done in-camera, so Global News was not allowed in the courtroom.

Even though he’s not allowed to witness what’s happening, Arlene’s uncle Don Hennig hasn’t missed a court date.

“It’s kind of tough, but I’m doing it for Arlene because she meant the world to me, and she was just like my daughter,” Don said.

“I want an end to this, which I believe is a cover-up, and I want justice served.”

Gateley has claimed that the murder charge was dropped because of an issue with the pathologist’s report and not because he had Arlene’s phone unlocked.

Bert’s lawyer Cory Armour has said that there was no cover-up.

“As much as Arlene’s family does not want to hear it, justice actually has been served, as this case was stayed for the simple reason that Mr. Westervelt was innocent,” Armour said in an email.

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Those supporting the private prosecution hope that Gateley will be charged with obstruction of justice, and they ultimately want to see Bert on trial for murder.

Neither Bert nor Gateley have been required to attend these proceedings.

Matheson expects the case to be back in court in late April.

Click to play video: 'Extended interview with Arlene Westervelt’s sister'
Extended interview with Arlene Westervelt’s sister

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