“She didn’t drink and she never swore.”
“But she still knew how to have fun and make everyone laugh.”
“She said her greatest achievement was raising all of us.”
On Thursday, five siblings gather at a small-town restaurant south of Calgary, excitedly exchanging stories about their mother Maureen, who died of cancer 10 years ago. Through tears and laughter, they honour her at a belated Mother’s Day brunch.
“We couldn’t even think about Mother’s Day last week,” says daughter Florence. “But today we all woke up feeling 100 pounds lighter.” Her sister Susan, the youngest of the brood, agrees. “I went out and saw the beautiful blue sky and started to cry.”
Their delay in marking the annual holiday was for a very good reason, having spent the last week at the sexual assault trial for Wayne Howard Bernard. Late Wednesday evening, the jury in the cold case revolving around a violent 1995 attack on their mother came back with a verdict: guilty on all counts for sexual assault with a weapon, kidnapping and robbery. Bernard was arrested in 2015 after a DNA match was discovered at a national data bank.
Maureen is not their mom’s real name, as it is protected by a publication ban. In order to further protect her identity, the daughters’ names have also been changed.
As they decompress after the arduous court proceedings, all five express satisfaction with the verdict that saw Bernard, a man with a history of violence towards women, be convicted in the violent attack that turned their strong and independent mother into someone constantly afraid and burdened with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Before March 28, 1995, our mom believed in living life to the fullest,” says Florence. That night, as she worked the night shift preparing sandwiches at one of her two food industry jobs, Bernard banged on her door saying he was the police. After she opened the door, the 51-year-old mother and grandmother was blindfolded, pushed into her own van and driven to a remote location on the city’s outskirts. After he brutally assaulted her, Bernard drove away, leaving her on the side of the road, freezing and terrified.
Testifying in his own defence, Bernard explained that his semen was found in Maureen’s body because the two, who worked in nearby establishments, had struck up a “smoking buddies” friendship over a period of several weeks and had engaged in consensual sex earlier that evening.
For her daughters, hearing his testimony made them feel Maureen was being victimized all over again. “If she had met someone, we’d be the first to know,” says Susan of her mom, an aboriginal Cree.
They also knew their mother wouldn’t have, in the days before cellphones were in wide circulation, stepped away for any reason on that particular night. “She was waiting on the news of another grandchild,” says daughter Cathy. “That was all she could think about.”
After her first marriage to the girls’ father ended, Maureen spent the next few years raising her young brood on her own before meeting her second husband. “She made us go square dancing at Rope Square,” says Jane with a laugh of her loving mom. “She knew where the free Stampede breakfasts were and took us to them all.”
The strong bond between mother and daughters is still alive, as all came from various cities and towns to attend the trial. “We were told it was rare to have a trial for a crime that happened so long ago,” says Andrea. “It has been upsetting, but we had to do this for her.”
Besides, all five agree that it was a blessing that the DNA match wasn’t discovered until after their mother’s death. “She couldn’t have re-lived the trauma in court,” says Susan, who adds: “We were her voice and now we can finally, properly grieve.”