After my daughter’s sexual assault and subsequent sudden death in 2015, six days after she met with police, I spent a few years engaged with the BC Coroners Service and the Vancouver Police Department, both the Sex Crimes and Homicide departments, in pursuit of justice for my daughter.
Thank you to the two firemen, who performed CPR on my daughter, in an attempt to save her life. Apart from them, a Sex Crimes detective and an attending patrol officer, who both interviewed Guinnevere, believed her and were excellent, those experiences pursuing justice created a cascade of incidents and meetings that were damaging to myself and my family. We were not supported by Victim Services at the death notification by police, nor Homicide detectives later. In fact a Homicide detective told me, and my partner, that he did not believe that my daughter had been sexually assaulted. In 2016, he told us that he had received the Coroner’s final written report, when it had not yet been written or released.
After a new, second Coroner’s report in 2018, which I lobbied for, a VPD Homicide Sergeant decided that the new report did not meet the bar for sufficient evidence to re-open my daughter’s sudden death case. I was emailed just before Mother’s Day, in 2018.
That summer of 2018, I fell and fractured L2 of my lower back. It was a turning point for me, where I had to accept that I would not get justice for my daughter’s death. I felt that I had spent several years banging on the front door of the justice system and it would not open for my daughter. If I continued, I would be broken down further.
I started the Critical Incident Stress Management program, at the Justice Institute of BC, in September 2018. There I learned that my daughter’s sudden death was also a critical incident. Through the JIBC program, I was taught that early critical incident debriefing and education about critical incidents can arrest the long-term development of PTSD and other post critical incident reactions. As well, first responders, including police, can both experience vicarious trauma from critical incidents and not receive the necessary critical incident debriefing. They may not have received critical incident education, which includes diversity and mental health awareness, in their training. The result is felt on the backs of the families, bereaved, while navigating the criminal justice system and BC Coroners Service.
At the very least, the motto of these services should be: do no more harm to families.
While in that program, I began to get the idea of a remedy for myself and my daughter, to move the energy away from injustice, to help families navigate those systems that broke me. This remedy is something that I feel from the core of my being, and it uses all my experiences as a peer: a mother who lost her daughter to sexual violence. I completed the Critical Incident Stress Management program, at JIBC, and received a certificate in April 2019. I also bring 12 years in adult mental health rehab and 20 years working with youth at risk (including 8 years in youth mental health) to The Guinnevere Project.
I want to acknowledge The Forgiveness Project, by Marina Cantacuzino, that I read with resistance in September 2018. I don’t know if I will ever be able to forgive the man who sexually assaulted my daughter and caused her death, or the Homicide detective, who blamed my daughter for her death, and ignored her disability as a vulnerability for sexual assault/homicide. This book has a full range of positions on forgiveness. By reading it, I was able to begin to shift my attention, away from anger/bitterness/defeat/despair, to the possibility that one day the remedy from helping bereaved families might be greater than my pain and devastation. In September 2018, that felt impossible.
I also want to acknowledge the importance of the Black Lives Matters movement and the BC Minister of Health apologizing to Indigenous people for anti-Indigenous racism in the healthcare system, in 2020. It helped me to articulate the systemic discrimination of my daughter’s mental health disability in the Justice System, which was a barrier to accessing justice for Guinnevere. This is not something that can be forgiven, as systemic discrimination has to be broken down by being exposed, dismantled, changed, with education and new policies. There has to be accountability and consequences for continued discrimination.