VIRK, Manjit

Author Tags: Law

It is often said that the worst thing in life is to lose a child. Manjit Virk, author of Reena: A Father's Story (Heritage $29.95), has been through the worst. Now the soft-spoken immigrant from the Punjab has told the inside story of his family before and after his 14-year-old daughter Reena was swarmed and beaten by a group of teenagers on the night of November 14, 1997, in Victoria, resulting in her well-publicized death. His wife Suman mostly spoke to the media in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy; now Majit Virk reflects on the social support and legal systems in British Columbia, as well as the bullying and death of his daughter.

"More than a decade has passed since Reena’s murder," writes her father, "but a lingering sadness has become a part of my life, not only because of losing my daughter, but also because I see that There has been no learning from that tragic experience: young lives are still being lost due to ongoing bullying, aggression and violence.

"I sympathize with today’s parents for the many challenges they face raising their children. I truly believe that if you as a parent are doing your part, you are not to blame for the actions and choices of your children. I consciously remind myself that children have free will just like all of us, and they choose their own course in life."


[BCBW 2008] "Law"

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Reena: A Father's Story

Fourth trial for accused murderer of Virk
News item

The 2008 book by Reena Virk's father was published coincidentally with the announcement of a record fourth trial in B.C. for one of her alleged murderers, Kelly Ellard, as reported by Canadian Press in early September of 2008:

VANCOUVER - More than a decade after the beating death of 14-year-old Reena Virk in suburban Victoria shocked the nation, the legal odyssey of one of her accused killers drags on.

On Friday, the B.C. Appeal Court overturned the conviction of Kelly Ellard and ordered a fourth murder trial.

Ellard has been convicted twice and sentenced to life in prison for taking part in killing Virk in November 1997; another trial ended in a hung jury.

Now the appeal court says Ellard, who was 15 at the time of the murder and is now at least 25, will face yet another trial after the judge at her third trial made mistakes.

The appeal hinged on evidence of a witness at her third trial in 2005 who told the jury she watched Ellard follow Virk after she fled an earlier beating and walked over the Craigflower bridge that night near Victoria.

"I have concluded that the trial judge erred in permitting the Crown to elicit evidence of prior consistent statements and in failing to instruct the jury as to their limited use," wrote Justice S. David Frankel in the 60-page ruling.

The witness, who was convicted in taking part in the beating and can't be named, was re-examined by the Crown at the last trial after defence lawyers attacked her testimony as "recent fabrication."

Justice Edward Chiasson concurred with the decision to allow the appeal, saying that instructions to the jury over one witness's testimony were in error.

"In addition, the history of this case suggests in light of the error, the verdict cannot stand safely," Chiasson wrote.

One of the three judges on the panel dissented.

Virk was swarmed on Nov. 14, 1997 and beaten by eight teenagers between the ages of 13 and 15 - most of them girls.

A fight started when one of the teens, who can't be named, stubbed out a lit cigarette on Virk's forehead. Virk was then swarmed and repeatedly punched and kicked by the group.

The Crown alleges Ellard and her co-accused, Warren Glowatski, followed the teen after she staggered away, bloodied and alone.

Virk was last seen alive walking over the bridge. Despite rumours circulating throughout the high school crowd, Virk's body wasn't found by police until Nov. 22, 1997, floating in the Gorge waterway.

Warren Glowatski, who was also a teenager at the time of the killing, was convicted as an adult of second-degree murder. Glowatski served most of his sentence and was granted day parole last year.

Stan Lowe, spokesman for the provincial Crown prosecutor's office, said the Crown had only received the judgement on Friday.

"Over the next few weeks we will conduct a comprehensive assessment of the decision and determine what the most appropriate course of action will be."

Lowe said he couldn't recall any other case in B.C. that had gone through four trials, and he wouldn't speculate on whether the Crown would appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Ellard's lawyer, Peter Wilson, declined comment.

He argued at the Appeal Court hearing in May that the jury based its second-degree murder conviction on lies, rumours and inconsistent evidence.

But Crown lawyer John Gordon told the court the jury was aware of the poor credibility of witnesses, rampant teenage gossip and rumours - and convicted anyway.

Gordon conceded in appeal that the re-examination of the witness was "poorly done," but that in had no effect on the trial because the witnesses evidence wasn't centre to the Crown's case.

But the appeal court disagreed with the Crown about the importance of the evidence.

"At the trial there was no issue that Ms. Virk, followed by Mr. Glowatski, crossed over the north end of the bridge," Frankel wrote in the decision. "However, what was very much in issue was whether Ms. Ellard accompanied Mr. Glowatski."

The jury asked to hear the witness's testimony again as they deliberated at the third trial, and Frankel noted that is a clear indication the jury viewed the evidence as significant.

"The jury should have been told specifically that (the witnesses) prior consistent statements did not enhance the reliability of her testimony," Frankel wrote.

In his dissenting reasons, Justice Richard Low said it was "inconceivable" that jurors didn't fully understand that their job was to assess the reliability of the witness and her evidence that she saw Ellard crossing the bridge after Virk.

He also questioned why Ellard's experienced defence counsel didn't object at trial to the judge's failure to instruction the jury on that witness's testimony.

By Terri Theodore, The Canadian Press

Books about Reena Virk

Soraya Peerbaye of Toronto has written a suite of poems, Tell: poems for a girlhood (Coach House 2015) that evoke the tragedy of the death of Victoria teenager Reena Virk, a girl of South Asian descent who was attacked by a gang of teens on November 14th, 1997 in Saanich.

Seven of the attackers were girls; five were white. Virk tried to walk home after the beating but after crossing a bridge, she was attacked again. Her body was found in the waterway a day later.

Curiously in Peerbaye's acknowledgement of other books on the same subject, she makes no mention of one of the first to tackle the story, Rebecca Godfrey's award-winning account of the horrific incident, Under the Bridge: The True Story of the Murder of Reena Virk (HarperCollins 2005). Godfrey's non-fiction investigation of the various characters involved in the story recieved the second annual $25,000 British Columbia Award for Canadian Non-Fiction in 2006, among the largest non-fiction prizes in Canada, and the only national prize to originate in British Columbia.

Other books that are pertinent to discussions about the killing of Reena Virk include:

1. Sex, Power and The Violent School Girl (Trifolium Books, 1998) by Sibylle Artz, a Director and Associate Professor for the School of Child and Youth Care at the University of Victoria.

Artz' work about violence and teenage girls became especially pertinent following the killing of Victoria teenager Reena Virk by her peers.

2. Required Reading: A witness in words and drawings to the Reena Virk Trials, 1998-2000 (Wolsak and Wynn 2000) by Heather Spears.

3. Girl Trouble: Female Delinquency in English Canada (Between the Lines, $24.95, 2002), by Joan Sangster, a study of girls' conflicts with the law that begins with the 1908 passage of the Juvenile Delinquency Act.

Sangster explores how class, gender and racial biases are relevent to the application of juvenile justice. "After the murder by schoolmates of fourteen-year-old Reena Virk in Victoria, B.C.," she writes, "in November 1997, the media coverage of the case was obsessed with the issue of 'girl on girl' violence but ignored that racism played an important part in the killing."

4. The Shape of a Girl (Talonbooks 2002) by Joan MacLeod, a prominent Victoria-based playwright.

5. Reena: A Father's Story (Heritage 2008) by Manjit Virk.

Reena Virk's soft-spoken father is an immigrant from the Punjab who relates the inside story of his family before and after his 14-year-old daughter was swarmed and beaten, resulting in her well-publicized death.

6. Reena Virk: Critical Perspectives on a Canadian Murder (Canadian Scholars' Press 2010), edited by Mythili Rajiva and Sheila Batacharya.