Family rallies for answers after charge stayed in Okanagan woman's death

arlene

More than four years after a woman drowned on Okanagan Lake, her friends and family have travelled to Kelowna from as far away as Quebec to demand answers.

Arlene Westervelt’s husband was charged with her murder, but this summer, prosecutors suddenly changed their minds.

“I was absolutely shocked. I almost fell off my chair. I had to live learning about her death all over again. I had the same reaction when she died,” said Westervelt’s sister Debbie Hennig. “She was my best friend. We did everything together,” she said. "Justice was not served. She deserves better than this."

Hennig, who lives in Quebec, was part of a large group of friends and family who gathered on the steps of the Kelowna courthouse on the day the preliminary hearing was to begin in the case. They held pictures of Arlene Westervelt and wore clothing adorned with butterflies that were special to her.

Westervelt was canoeing with her husband Bert on June 26, 2016, when the canoe capsized and she drowned. It was treated as a tragic accident at the time.

“We didn’t believe it. We’ve never believed it. She’s too skilled to make such a rookie mistake,” Hennig said.

Three years later, authorities charged Bert Westervelt with second-degree murder. But a year after that, in July, the charge was stayed because of new information, according to prosecutors. Exactly what that information is, they won’t share. And all of the family’s efforts so far, including hiring a lawyer and writing to politicians as high as the prime minister, hasn’t managed to get any clearer picture of what could have caused prosecutors to stay the charge. Shelley Westervelt, the wife of Bert Westervelt’s brother and Arlene Westervelt’s sister-in-law, said the death has ripped her family apart.

“I loved my husband, Bert’s brother. And this has shattered my life,” she said. She said that some nine months before the death, Bert Westervelt had said the couple was heading for a divorce. Bert Westervelt’s lawyer, Cory Armour, told CTV News that his client has claimed innocence since the investigation began.

As for the RCMP, a spokesperson told CTV News they have no other suspects but the one that faces charges: Bert Westervelt.

--with files from CTV News--