It’s been seven years of anguish, frustration and a constant battle for justice for the families of Derek Descoteau and Janelle Guyatt.
On May 20, 2016, Descoteau was stabbed to death while at his father’s residence in Chemainus. Guyatt, his girlfriend, suffered serious knife wounds but survived. The pair had been eating lunch and watching a movie when a shirtless man appeared holding a knife, then started slashing.
Colin John, found not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder March 20 after a long court process, has a B.C. Review Board hearing Wednesday that’s adding more fuel to the fire for the families.
Descoteau’s mom Brenda Smith and aunt Kristina Tkackuk, along with Janelle’s mom Leah Guyatt, are making the trip to the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital in Coquitlam where John is housed for the hearing.
The three of them are prepared to read victim impact statements, but it won’t be to the extent they originally intended.
“We all got our redacted copies of what we’re allowed to say,” noted Tkachuk.
“It’s disheartening,” said Guyatt. “You’re not really able to say what you truly feel. It’s got to be sugar-coated.”
“We feel like we’re suppressed every time we turn around,” added Tkachuk.
There’s no a guarantee the three will have their say at all, other than the written statements, with John expected to be in attendance to hear it. They’ve been told it’s only if time permits and the hearing must be concluded at 4 p.m. that day, with no extensions.
There are many other victim impact statements from family and friends. Family members have been told by Crown that all Review Board members are obligated to read them before the hearing.
The Review Board panel will consist of psychiatrists, a community member such as a social worker and lawyers for the Crown and defence.
“They discuss what’s gone on with him while he’s been there,” Tkachuk explained.
The Review Board has taken over jurisdiction of the accused and must make a decision within a month, by June 17, with one of three possible outcomes: an absolute discharge; a conditional discharge; or detention in custody in a hospital.
Those plausible outcomes have the families outraged since it means John could still be out within a year even with the third option when his case would be reviewed again.
“Seriously, he will be out by next year if he shows empathy,” stated Smith.
This case took what seemed like a dramatic turn in December of 2021 when John pleaded guilty to the second-degree murder of Descoteau and a downgraded charge of aggravated assault against Janelle Guyatt.
A subsequent court appearance led Justice Lisa Warren to order a pre-sentence report and then an application by the defence for a not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder determination came out of the blue.
That resulted in another series of hearings in 2022 and stretching into March of 2023 when Warren read a lengthy statement in which she agreed the assessment of John left him not criminally responsible for the death of Descoteau.
“We asked for an appeal,” said Smith. “They had the regional Crown review and there won’t be an appeal.”
The determination not to appeal was made by deputy regional Crown Counsel Joel Gold, but the families don’t feel his review of the case was adequate.
“We still want an appeal,” Smith reiterated.
She feels a second set of eyes needs to look more closely at all the facts.
“We need petitions,” said Smith. “He is a dangerous person. He could be back living in our little town of Chemainus. We could go over there on Wednesday and he could get partial discharge. We’re fearful for all the Chemainus community.”
Smith wonders all the time about what life would have been like if Derek hadn’t been taken away.
“I thought I’d be having little Derek babies running around,” she said.
Life’s been equally hard for the Guyatts. Janelle is now 23, but has been impacted heavily by four surgeries.
“She lives with a disability,” said her mother Leah. “I think she personally decided enough was enough (surgeries). She’s a young adult now and I let her be that way.”
The resolve all the family members have shown has made their bond stronger.
“This is the only good thing that’s come out of this is the group,” said Tkachuk.
The anniversary of Derek’s death will be marked as it is each year with a visit to the DD memorial site on the Pacific Marine Circle Route between Mesachie Lake and Port Renfrew that includes tributes to Derek’s brother Dustin, who died three years earlier in a car accident,
“It’s just so hard,” summed up Smith. “We’re caught up in this anxiety and stress.”