A secret hearing related to the strangulation of mental health worker Valerie Wolski began Tuesday morning under a cloak of mystery.


Mental health worker Valerie Wolski was found dead inside a Camrose home Feb. 12, 2011. (Courtesy Craig Wolski)

The 41-year-old was strangled in Camrose, Alta., Feb. 12, 2011, while caring for Terrence Saddleback, a severely disabled man.

Saddleback, 26, was charged with manslaughter, but found unfit to stand trial.

A 2009 risk assessment prepared after Saddleback attacked a female staff member at a group home in Wetaskiwin, Alta., warned that the developmentally disabled man could be so aggressive that he posed a threat to anyone, but especially women, who cared for him.

'It's disgusting. We'll never find out what happens behind those doors.' —Theresa McGregor

Last summer, a preliminary OHS report found that the provincially-funded program Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD) had failed to alert the agency contracted to provide care for Saddleback about his violent history.

OHS ordered the Central Region of Persons with Developmental Disabilities to make immediate changes to how it handles high-risk patients.

On Tuesday the Occupational Health and Safety Council appeal panel began hearing arguments by the PDD Central Region.

Michael Shields, a spokesman for Alberta Seniors, the government ministry which funds PDD, says the central region implemented all seven recommendations made in the OHS report. He adds the remaining five regions voluntarily adopted the same practices.

OHS encouraged family to attend

Wolski's sister, Theresa McGregor, got a phone call two weeks ago from Occupational Health and Safety encouraging her family to attend the hearing.

She was told to "to let them know how many of us would be coming, so they could make sure to save seats for us," she said. "And the more of us that came as a family to show support, the better."

A few days later she got a second call saying she had to apply to go to the meeting.

The family applied, wanting to hear why the government wanted to appeal changes "that could save lives," said McGregor. "We were shocked they would make the appeal in the first place."

A government spokesman said that invitation was "an unfortunate error" because all OHS hearings are closed to the public.

"We have apologized to the next of kin, to the husband of the deceased," said government spokesperson Barrie Harrison.

Meeting location a secret

Pam Chamberlain, Wolski's friend, hopes the hearing is being kept secret to protect the investigation.

"But I am really worried about the level of secrecy and that, really, nobody knows what is going on there and there's no way to find out," she said.

"Valerie's death really was totally in vain if no changes are made to protect other workers who are in similar situations," said Chamberlain.

The hearing will last three days. Even its location is secret.

"Honestly I think it's disgusting," said McGregor. "We'll never find out what happens behind those doors."