Two Central Okanagan Mounties are facing allegations that their interference resulted in key evidence in a Lake Country murder investigation being destroyed.
Arlene Westervelt went missing while canoeing with her husband Lambertus “Bert” Westervelt on June 27, 2016. A day later, her body was recovered from the lake.
Bert was charged with second-degree murder in April 2019, after an extensive investigation into Arlene’s death. The Crown stayed that charge in July 2020, after more than a year of the matter winding through the courts.
The Crown has not provided a reason for the stay of proceedings, only stating that “new information” arose, making conviction unlikely.
When a charge is stayed, prosecutors have a one-year window to restart the proceedings. That deadline is about a month away.
Now, Arlene’s sisters, Deborah Hennig and Wendy Judd, along with her mother, Jean Hennig, have filed a lawsuit naming two Kelowna Mounties, alleging their actions interfered with the investigation of Arlene’s death. Insp. Brian Gately, who the family alleges was friends with Bert and Sgt. Chris Andrychuk is named in the suit alongside the Attorney General and Solicitor General.
In the lawsuit, the family claims they advised RCMP of their suspicion that Arlene’s death was no accident and Bert may be responsible. They said members of the Kelowna RCMP General Investigation Section (GIS), a unit headed by Andrychuk, who were investigating the matter had requested an autopsy be conducted on Arlene’s body.
The suit claims Gately, despite not being assigned to the GIS, quashed that notion and suggested Andrychuk “shut down” the consideration of homicide in Arlene’s death and instead deem it an accidental drowning. Andrychuk complied, despite, as the suit alleges, knowing it was contrary to the law and his duties.
“This consequently resulted in the Kelowna GIS Constables being denied permission they sought to properly investigate Arlene’s death, which included a request for an autopsy before the body was embalmed,” reads the suit.
An autopsy was eventually conducted after the embalming but the coroner was unable to determine a cause of death, according to a report released earlier this year. The family alleges the embalming destroyed critical evidence.
The family also alleges Gately knew Bert would be a suspect if the death were deemed a homicide and as such had “a duty… to avoid any actual, apparent or potential conflict of interest that could arise from his involvement in the investigation of Arlene’s death.”
Instead, the family alleges Gately directly “and with a bad faith purpose” interfered with the investigation, despite having no legitimate role in it.
Of particular note is Arlene’s cell phone, which the family claims Gately “cracked” using RCMP technology before giving the phone to Bert. This, they said, allowed Bert to destroy evidence related to the eventual homicide investigation.
The family is seeking damages from the plaintiffs.
The defendants have not filed a response to the civil claim and the claims made against Bert and the RCMP have not yet been tested in court.
Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org