Family of B.C. woman launches lawsuit against ex-Mounties alleging interference with investigation into her death
VANCOUVER -- The mother and sisters of an Okanagan woman whose death remains a mystery have filed a lawsuit against two former RCMP officers they say were involved in the case.
Lawyer John Cameron said Arlene Westervelt’s family is alleging there was interference with the police investigation into her death, leading to evidence being lost.
“They’re seeking an examination into whether the police procedures that were followed were proper from the outset and all the way through,” he said. “And that’s something that they’ve been worried about for some time now.”
Westervelt’s body was found in Lake Okanagan in June 2016. The day before, the 56-year-old had been out in a canoe with her her husband Bert, and the boat capsized. Initially, it was treated as an accident.
In 2019, Arlene’s husband was charged with second-degree murder. Last year, the charge was stayed. The Crown said they’d received new evidence that reduced the likelihood of a conviction. Bert Westervelt has always maintained his innocence.
In the notice of civil claim, Arlene’s family alleges former RCMP inspector Brian Gateley was a friend of her husband.
They allege there was a move to “shut down” a consideration of homicide in the case.
“This consequently resulted in the Kelowna GIS (General Investigation Section) Constables being denied permission they sought to properly investigate Arlene’s death, which included a request for autopsy before the body was embalmed,” the court document said. “As a result...critical evidence in relation to Arlene’s death was lost.”
They also allege Arlene’s phone was unlocked using RCMP technology and returned to her husband.
None of the allegations have been tested in court. A statement of defence has not yet been filed.
Cameron said Gateley retired from the RCMP prior to the conclusion of an internal investigation, and took another job at B.C.’s Organized Crime Agency.
“I was a police officer myself for 12 years here in British Columbia,” Cameron said. “The allegations, if proven in court, as to what is alleged to have occurred, will be shocking to everyone, including all good police officers.”
CTV News has reached out to Brian Gateley and Bert Westervelt, but has not received a response.
This year, a coroner’s report revealed Arlene’s body showed signs of possible strangulation, but her cause of death remains undetermined.
“The family is essentially living with this nightmare without answers all this time,” Cameron said. “There has been really no peace for them.”
Her family hopes the criminal prosecution can be brought back to court before the stay expires in July.