Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hugs and hope for crime victims in times of despair

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A shoulder to cry on. A person who calls unannounced to check on your well-being. A hug when you need it. The knowledge someone is always there to offer help.

It's one thing for the provincial government to have victims' bill of rights legislation -- the first in the country -- which came into force last August.

But to two women who each had sons tragically taken away from them, what matters most is the help they've received to rebuild their lives and guide them through complicated court processes.

Both Diane Grisdale, whose two-year-old son Randy died in November 1998 after being kidnapped and left to die in a freezing van, and Brenda Watling, whose son Steven Ewing died in August 2000 after an explosion blew apart the Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting furnace in Flin Flon, don't know what emotional state they'd be in today if not for the help they got.

"Before the trial started I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown," Grisdale recalled yesterday.

"They always made sure I was OK. They were always there. Ken (Cameron, a provincial crime-victim rights worker) was a really good support. I had all their phone numbers in case I needed to talk.

"I had become suicidal after my kid passed away. It took me a year to get myself back together.

"If Ken hadn't been there I would have drunk myself into oblivion."

Last summer, her son's killer, Daniel Younger, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. Younger has since appealed.

Last August, the province introduced the law giving victims of serious crimes, including murders and workplace fatalities, the right to be informed and consulted on all aspects of the case. They also have the right to submit a victim impact statement and consult the Crown attorney on plea-bargaining and sentencing.

The second phase of the victims' bill of rights came into force yesterday, adding the crimes of aggravated assault, assault against a police officer, discharging a firearm with intent to kill, and attempted murder.

"Victims have the right to have their concerns heard," said Attorney General Gord Mackintosh yesterday.

"We're intent that where victims want information, they will get it. And it's also important for victims to be left alone, too, if that's what they want."

Brenda Watling said she now considers the provincial worker responsible for her case a friend.

"When you suddenly find yourself a victim, you are lost," Watling said.

"Your life is crashing down and everyone else around you is having the same reaction. You're in such pain and anger and you don't know where to direct it."

Watling said her worker helped her family know what was coming up throughout the process leading to the company's guilty plea to keeping an unsafe workplace. The company was fined $150,000, the largest fine that can be levied.

She said the worker will continue to help her through an upcoming inquest into the 33-year-old Ewing's tragic death.

Last week, the province's chief medical examiner ordered the inquest to determine what caused the explosion and how to prevent it from happening again.

"It's nice to know there is someone you can reach out to. I had a terrible time and she got me in touch with counselling -- she even made the phone call for me. And she would just call me at random to see how I was.

"I can't thank them enough. Nobody wants to be a victim, but it's nice to know there's a support system if you are."

Both women urge other victims to call the government's hotline of 1-866-4VICTIM (1-866-484-2846) to get the help they'll need.

Mackintosh said the province will continue to add new crimes to the victims' bill, but they are being added in stages to ensure any glitches can be dealt with promptly.

So far, 46 victims, representing 68 family members, have availed themselves of the help, while the provincial program is waiting to hear back from another 14 victims.

Lesley McCorrister, a crime-victim rights worker, says there's potential for hundreds of victims to ask for help because about 600 of these crimes occur annually in the province.

"They want to be part of it instead of being excluded," McCorrister said.

"They want to be informed. They won't always agree with what's going on, but they want to be part of it."

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 2, 2002 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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