Fighting to keep a killer behind bars
Aug 23, 2012 / 2:30 pm
It's been 30 years since Westbank was stunned by the news of the horrifying murders of George and Edith Bentley, Jackie and Bob Johnson, and their daughters Janet, 13, and Karen, 11, in August 1982.
The four adults were killed immediately, while the children were kept alive several days and sexually assaulted.
Two years later David Ennis, formerly Shearing, was sentenced to life in prison without a chance of parole for 25 years.
Tammy Arishenkoff was a classmate of Janet, and knew both families.
"It had such a huge impact on everybody at the time, especially us kids. It was just devastating."
She has remained friends with the families, and still sees them on a regular basis.
Thirty years later the pain is still there.
"You look into the eyes of these family members and you just see the pain and the sadness that lives there. No matter what, no matter how good life is, that's a pain that they are never going to get over."
In fact, she was so close to the family she is a "registered victim," meaning the courts keep her appraised of what Ennis is doing in prison and inform her when he is seeking parole.
That will happen again on September 18 at Bowden House, the Alberta jail where he is being housed.
His first request in 2008 was denied and after passing on his next window to apply in 2010, Ennis requested a hearing this year.
Canada's Faint Hope Clause allows Ennis to apply every two years.
Arishenkoff is helping to lead the campaign to keep Ennis behind bars for life and working to change what victims have to go through in order to have their voices heard at these hearings.
"There's a lot of things that people would be really shocked to learn how these parole hearings are granted and the ease of it all. There's no requirements on these guys to do anything at all except serve their time. The onus is on the victims. We have to jump through all these hoops," says Arishenkoff.
"Our job is to make sure people don't forget and above all, to make sure that he knows we haven't forgotten."
What makes the job harder, is the fact that in two years, they likely will have to do it all again.
"It's a lot of work for victims to keep doing this over and over again. It's not just the work, but it's the emotional aspect that the families have to continually go through. That's why I have stepped up and other people have stepped up, because the burden is just too much to bear."
Earlier this month, Arishenkoff found an ally in Ottawa in the form of Senator Pierre-Hughes Boisvenu. Ten years ago, Boisvenu's daughter was raped and murdered by a repeat offender and when he heard about Arishenkoff's efforts, he contacted her to lend his support.
"He's very committed to pushing legislation that is going to make changes not only to the parole system, but for how victims are treated in this whole process. That at the end of the day was what I really wanted to have happen, aside from keeping Ennis in prison."
One of those changes would include allowing victim impact statements to be read by video-conference, which would ease some of the many costs the victims face every two years by eliminating travel costs.
It also frees the victims from having to be in the same room with the person who killed their loved ones and then reliving everything that happened to them.
Arishenkoff is also frustrated by Ennis' lack of effort at reform.
As a registered victim, she receives updates on his activities in prison, and can't believe that, according to the information she has, Ennis has made no effort to take advantage of prison programs designed to rehabilitate criminals, yet can still make this application.
"Why is it that a mass murderer is allowed to make an application for parole, just because legislation says he can when he hasn't done any preparation? Us on the other hand, we get the letter in May, we have to have all the paperwork and victim impact statements in by July 1."
On top of that, they started a nation wide petition to support their efforts. And all of it had to be done in 60 days, because the victims have to be ready at least two months before the hearing.
With so much work to be done, her group was unable to bring together plans for a candlelight vigil, originally planned for tonight (Thursday) at Johnson-Bentley Memorial Pool.
"It's almost a full time job. Once you make the decision to do it, there's no turning back," says Arishenkoff.
"And then the emotions come up. You have to look at all the old pictures and relive all the old details, all the horrible stuff. You have to go over it over and over again."
With Senator Boisvenu now on her side, she's hopeful that eventually there will be changes made to a system which forces the victims to go through so much hardship and pain every two years and instead, put the onus on the offender.
Until then, Arishenkoff says she will remain ready to do whatever she has to in order to keep Ennis and others like him behind bars for life.
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