Manitoba

The chaplain, the stranger and the friend: Faces at the Candace Derksen murder retrial

Some days the gallery’s folding chairs are full with members of the public. Other days the crowd is small. But a handful of observers come consistently to the retrial for Candace Derksen's accused killer.

The Candace Derksen case has touched people across Winnipeg, some of whom are regular faces at the retrial

Candace Derksen was killed in 1984. A retrial began Jan. 16 for Mark Edward Grant, the man previously convicted of her murder. (CBC)

Each morning, just before 10 a.m., dozens of people make their way through airport-style metal detectors, up two flights of stairs and a down a long, winding marble hallway to Winnipeg courtroom 230. 

The wooden blinds are typically drawn and the public gallery holds around 50 people.

Wilma and Cliff Derksen usually sit somewhere in the third row.

The man accused of killing their daughter makes the same trek down the hall, escorted by two sheriffs. Mark Grant's shackles jingle as he takes his seat in the prisoner's box.

Candace Derksen, 13, went missing on Nov. 30, 1984. Her body was found frozen and tied up with twine in an Elmwood storage shed nearly seven weeks later.

Grant was convicted of killing Candace in 2011, but the Manitoba Court of Appeal overturned the conviction two years later and ordered a new trial, which began on Jan. 16 of this year.

Some days since then, the gallery's antique folding chairs have been full with students, lawyers and other members of the public. Other days the crowd is small. But there are a handful of observers who come consistently.

These are their stories.

The chaplain

Glenn Morison usually sits somewhere toward the back.

He is, admittedly, maybe the only person attending the retrial in support of the accused, Mark Grant. 

He says he makes a point of waiting for Grant each day in the hallway.

"Just so he has that experience of seeing one person who knows him more than simply as a person on trial," Morison said.

"The fact that I think that he sees me when he's going in is some level of support to him."

Morison was a chaplain at Winnipeg's Remand Centre when he first met Grant in 2007, shortly after Grant's arrest for Candace's murder. 

"[We] developed a relationship at that time that I maintained," Morison said.

Glenn Morison first met Mark Edward Grant, accused of killing Candace Derksen, shortly after Grant's arrest in 2007. At the time, Morison was a chaplain at Winnipeg's Remand Centre. (Tom Andrich)
The pair speak on the phone regularly and Morison visits Grant when he can.

When the Manitoba Court of Appeal ordered a retrial in this case in 2013, Grant asked Morison if he would come. And so he is. Morison is currently on leave from his job in restorative justice and has been attending most days. 

Some evenings, Morison speaks on the phone to Grant and debriefs the day in court. In the 10 years he has known Grant, Morison said the accused has always maintained he is innocent.

And while he acknowledges the tragedy before the courts, on a personal level, what Morison wants the public to know about Grant is that he is human.

"He's a person with hopes and dreams like the rest of us," Morison said.

"Even if you read a lot of the newspaper reports or listen to whatever, you're still far short of the whole thing, so I guess it's to just understand that he's a human being with a whole life above and beyond this chapter."

Morison said he has met and admires the Derksen family and appreciates their understanding of why he's there. 

Innocent or guilty, Morison will continue his relationship with Grant. 

"If you perceive it in two sides then you have to choose a side and be on one," Morison said. "The phrase I always use is, 'They don't pay me enough to be the judge.'"

The retrial, in his words, gives him confidence in Canada's justice system. 

The stranger

Kyle Ashuk is 41 years old. He finds a seat in the middle.

The Corrections officer was just nine years old when Candace disappeared in 1984. 

"I just remember going to swimming lessons at Concordia pool and seeing a poster of Candace Derksen," he said.  

"On the way home from school, you walked in groups back then … your parents told you, 'Who knows what happens to her and if it could happen again,'" he said.

Ashuk never knew Candace or her family. But he said her disappearance "struck enough fear" in him that it stuck with him as a boy and throughout his adult life.

To this day, as he drives over the Nairn Overpass, he still looks to the right.

"Because that's sort of where the shed was and I just automatically remember this case and Candace," Ashuk said.

He wasn't able to attend the first trial, but on his days off he's making a point to attend the retrial. Ashuk said he just wants an answer to what happened to her.

This week, he met Candace's mother as they walked the marble hallway to room 230.

"I just told her how brave and strong I always thought she was going through this for so many years," he said.

As for the retrial, Ashuk said he would like to think the judge "got things right" the first time.

"If it gets an innocent man off, then good. If it gets a guilty man off then that's awful."

The friend

Sue Simpson is warm, short and soft-spoken. She sits beside her husband in the second row with her pen poised.

Few know this case like she does. Simpson attended the preliminary hearing, the first trial in 2011 and the Manitoba Court of Appeal hearing two years later. She and her husband even travelled with the Derksens to Ottawa for the appeal hearings at the Supreme Court of Canada.

"I'm really interested in seeing this through to the end," she says.

Simpson is a longtime friend of Wilma Derksen. The pair met at a Bible study group some 25 years ago. Simpson was new to Winnipeg at the time and said she had no idea Wilma's daughter had been murdered.

Sue Simpson is a longtime friend of of Wilma Derksen, seen here with husband Cliff. Simpson said she attends the retrial in Candace Derksen's death every day to show support for the Derksen family. (John Woods/Canadian Press)
"Sometime later I was in a bookstore and I found this book, Have You Seen Candace?, written by Wilma Derksen. And I bought it and I read that Candace had been abducted and murdered and suddenly had this revelation that Wilma was the mother of a murdered child," she said.

Simpson admits had she known that when she first met Wilma, she's not sure if they would have the same relationship.

"I met her as a person … and that's how the friendship started," she said.

Simpson said she will be at the retrial every day, being a second set of eyes and support for the Derksen family. 

"I'm just always amazed at Wilma's courage and her positive attitude," Simpson said. "I think she and Cliff have been an amazing example to the people of Winnipeg of their faith and just keeping on going in a quest for truth."

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Karen Simonsen is presiding over the retrial. Brent Davidson and Michael Himmelman are acting for the Crown and Saul Simmonds is representing Grant. 

The retrial is expected to run for at least another three weeks.

I am covering it from the front row — in the third seat.

About the Author

Jill Coubrough

Reporter, CBC News

Jill Coubrough is a video journalist with CBC News based in Winnipeg. Before joining CBC Manitoba, she worked as a reporter for CBC News in Halifax and an associate producer for CBC's documentary series Land and Sea. She holds a degree in political studies from the University of Manitoba and a degree in journalism from the University of King's College in Halifax. Email: jillian.coubrough@cbc.ca.