Former high-ranking Mountie facing discipline over letter to Arlene Westervelt's sister
A former B.C. Mountie is facing discipline for communicating with the sister of a woman found dead in Okanagan Lake.
In a news release Thursday, the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner said it has ordered a review by a retired judge into a disciplinary decision against Sgt. Brian Gately, who allegedly disobeyed orders during the investigation into the death of Arlene Westervelt.
In June 2016, Westervelt’s body was found in Lake Okanagan. The day before, the 56-year-old had been out in a canoe with 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. But 15 months later, the charge was stayed. The Crown said it had received new evidence that reduced the likelihood of a conviction.
Bert Westervelt has always maintained his innocence.
In an episode of CTV News’ W5 in January 2021, family members of Arlene Westervelt claimed that Gateley was a friend of her husband’s, and accused him of helping Bert Westervelt access her locked phone following her death.
Following the airing of the episode, Gateley, now a member of B.C.’s Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, penned a letter to the deceased’s sister, Debbie Hennig.
Within the letter, which was shared with CTV News by Hennig, Gateley wrote: “The conclusions … the program came to were regrettable and inaccurate and I want to assure you that my actions did not in any way compromise the police investigation into Arlene’s death.”
However, the OPCC notice states that in December 2020, Gateley was told by his supervisors not to have any contact with any witnesses from the investigation.
In June 2021, the OPCC tasked the Vancouver Police Department to investigate the matter.
The OPCC release said Gateley was found to have committed discreditable conduct under the Police Act.
A one-day suspension was recommended, but the commissioner's office says that did not reflect the seriousness of the misconduct.
“In this letter he makes a real lame attempt to put my mind at ease,” Hennig told CTV News. “This letter was all self serving to protect himself.”
Last May, Hennig and her mother filed a lawsuit against Gateley and one other police officer.
They allege there was a move to “shut down” a consideration of homicide in the case.
Gateley denied the allegations in a subsequent statement of defence.
CTV News has reached out to Gateley for comment, but has not received a response.
The OPCC said James Threlfall, a retired provincial court judge, has been assigned to do the review, but that a date has not yet been scheduled.
With files from CTV News Vancouver’s Maria Weisgarber and Kendra Mangione