WATCH ABOVE: A fatality inquiry is underway for the death of a developmentally disabled woman in a case that sparked outrage and sadness. Betty Anne Gagnon was forced to live in a cage and was assaulted before dying in 2009. Vinesh Pratap has more. WARNING: Disturbing content.
It was the 2009 death of a developmentally disabled woman that sparked outrage and sadness. Now, a fatality inquiry is underway to see if similar circumstances can be prevented in the future.
“If a person had to die in this sort of a fashion we want to know that other people are going to be protected, ” Suzanne Jackett said Monday outside Sherwood Park Provincial Court where the inquiry is taking place.
For 16 years, Jackett lived with Betty Anne Gagnon as a supportive roommate in Calgary. Gagnon was in need of support due to the fact she had the mental capacity of a child.
“It’s been close to eight years, it’s been a long time coming,” Jackett said.
In 2005, the placement ended when Gagnon’s roommates decided to move to a rural area. Gagnon moved in with her sister and brother-in-law to an acreage east of Edmonton – an isolation Jackett didn’t know about at the time.
“If she had been going to a work site everyday, if she had been going to her bowling every week, if she had all of those things in place somebody would have noticed that there was something wrong,” Jackett explained.
The 48-year-old died in November 2009, weighing just 65 pounds. The cause of her death was blunt head injury, though it remains unclear how it happened.
Denise and Michael Scriven, Gagnon’s sister and brother-in-law, were charged.
At trial, court heard the couple did reach out for help to care for Gagnon, but nothing materialized. The Scrivens started to cage Gagnon, restricting her to a dog run and garage. Videos also showed Denise Scriven assaulting her sister, trying to control her behaviour.
In October 2013, the couple was sentenced to 20 months each for failing to provide the necessaries of life.
“We all want change, and we don’t want Betty Anne’s life to have been lost in vain,” said Sue Thomas, another former supportive roommate of Gagnon’s.
Now, a week-long inquiry will look to see if any changes should be made.
Gagnon’s friends hope the inquiry addresses what they see as a system defined by jurisdiction, rather than on simply helping.
“Just that there (has to be) checks and balances in place,” said Thomas. “That nobody can turn their back and say… ‘I don’t know,’ (that) we all take responsibility.”
Eleven people have been subpoenaed for the inquiry, including Denise and Michael Scriven.