Manitoba

'It's over. Let's let it go': Wilma Derksen wrestles with emotions after Mark Grant acquitted

Wilma Derksen's thoughts swirl as much as the squalls that rattled Winnipeg on Wednesday, the day Mark Grant was acquitted of murdering her teenage daughter.

'Let's feel sad that Candace was murdered and that we didn't get to where we wanted to go'

Wilma Derksen has mixed emotions after Wednesday's verdict, but one of them is relief that she doesn't have to go back to court for another trial. She does not want the Crown to appeal the ruling. (CBC)

Wilma Derksen's thoughts swirl as much as the squalls that rattled Winnipeg on Wednesday, the day Mark Grant was acquitted of murdering her teenage daughter.

"[I'm] full of different emotions, I have to admit. I'm in transition," Derksen said Thursday morning. "I'm processing and I'm learning and I'm thinking."

The closure the family thought they had was thrown into the air when Justice Karen Simonsen ruled the evidence presented at Grant's trial left reasonable doubt about his guilt in the slaying of 13-year-old Candace Derksen.

"It feels kind of like that wind was symbolic, yesterday, of what we were going through," Derksen said, referring to Wednesday's gusty weather.

"Even though we thought we were prepared for either decision, it still was new when it actually came down. I wanted to remember every word, which I can't. It was very intense."

Despite the upheaval, Derksen said one thing remains the same.

"Candace was murdered. Somebody took Candace to that shack and tied her cruelly and tortured her, and she was left to die."

Candace disappeared on her way home from school on Nov. 30, 1984. Her body was eventually found frozen in an industrial storage shed, on Jan. 17, 1985, less than 500 metres from her family's Elmwood home.

The family grasped for answers until Mark Grant was arrested in 2007. In 2011, a jury sentenced him to 25 years in prison, but that decision was overturned in 2013 by the Manitoba Court of Appeal.

There's no single word to describe Derksen's reaction to Wednesday's verdict. The many adjectives in the mix include relief, sadness, confusion and altruism.

Though she won't absolve Grant, she called Simonsen's decision a "second chance" for him.

"How do we now give that person freedom?"

Regardless of the verdict, there would have been no escaping a sense of anguish, Derksen said.

"I think there is some sadness in this, but I think there would have been sadness the other way, too. This is not a happy story," she said.

"Let's feel sad that Candace was murdered and that we didn't get to where we wanted to go. We didn't arrive there — the Crown didn't quite make it, but neither did the defence.

"It wasn't proven that the accused is innocent, so there still remains a person of reasonable suspicion. That hasn't changed."

'It's over'

The relief comes in the fact that Derksen can close the courtroom door and never look back.

"We can abandon this process. It was really important and viable and gave us a lot of good stuff, but we don't have to continue this," she said. "It's over."

There's been so much good. In a lot of ways, it's made us stronger. It's created us.- Wilma Derksen

Derksen repeated on Thursday what she told reporters outside the courthouse, that she does not want the Crown to appeal the ruling.

Aside from the cost, the DNA and other evidence is getting older.

"They're not going to find new things, unless there was something really big and new, but, you know, it's deteriorating and it's over. Let's let it go," she said.

"We've said it all and we've arrived at this no man's land now. Let's call it for what it is and let's keep moving on."

After leaving the courthouse on Wednesday, Wilma and her husband, Cliff, gathered a small crowd at their home and lit 33 candles, one for each year since Candace's death.

"When there's no closure promised, I'm going to create my own closure. It was absolutely beautiful and did exactly what I wanted."

Candace's legacy

While the 33-year journey since Candace's death has been fraught with darkness and heartache, there has still been "so much good," Derksen said.

Candace Derksen was found bound and frozen in a shed in Winnipeg in early 1985. (Family photo)
The apparent conclusion to Candace's story in Grant's earlier conviction was short-lived, but her legacy is going strong, through organizations, services, grants — and through the people closest to her. 

Derksen is a longtime victims' rights advocate and her son Syras is a well-known psychologist in the city who now counsels people struggling with their own hardships.

Cliff and the couple's other daughter, Odia Reimer, are artists who use their craft to express grief and healing.

"There's been so much good. In a lot of ways, it's made us stronger. It's created us," Derksen said.

"If we didn't deal with it, it would have destroyed us."

Candace's legacy includes:

  • The Candace Derksen Fund

Created in 2000; helps fund grants to local registered charities. The idea was initiated by prisoners serving life sentences who wanted to show their remorse to society by raising funds to help victims of crime set up healing programs.

  • The Candace Derksen Memorial Pool

Built at Camp Arnes in 1986, a little more than a year after Candace went missing.

  • Canadian Centre for Child Protection

The organization, then known as Child Find Manitoba, was inspired by Candace. "All that we are able to do today for children in Canada, and around the world, is part of her legacy," director Christy Dzikowicz said in April 2015, when a plaque honouring Candace was unveiled to mark the centre's 30th anniversary.

Set to open in the fall, it will be a haven for victims of crime and their families who are navigating the criminal justice system. It will provide a home-like resource centre within walking distance of the law courts buildings.

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