It’s been 883 days since the Van de Vorst family lost four members of their family and 677 days since the woman responsible for the deaths was sentenced for the crimes.

On Friday, their late son and brother’s birthday, Linda and Lou Van de Vorst along with their daughters, traveled to a hotel in Maple Creek. The next day they drove further, to Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge to read victim impact statements at Catherine McKay’s parole board hearing.

She was denied unescorted temporary absences to see her family by the parole board Friday.

“As hard as it is to do it, we need to do it,” Linda said of attending the hearing. “We need to understand. We need to (have) a voice and standup.”

On Jan. 3, 2016, McKay’s blood-alcohol level was three times the legal limit when she ran a stop sign and crashed into a car carrying Jordan and Chanda Van de Vorst and their two children, five-year-old Kamryn and two-year-old Miguire. The family of four died in the crash. She was handed one of Saskatchewan’s stiffest sentences for impaired driving causing death. McKay was transferred to the lodge about one month into her ten-year sentence.

Linda and Lou visited a healing lodge to learn more about the institutions after the transfer. They say it’s important to be informed about how the system works in order to make sound judgement and comments.

“We’re not only trying to learn ourselves but we’re trying to help the public understand some of the things that we’re journeying through,” Linda said. “But it is a tough journey.”

Victim rights and support

Linda and Lou signed up through Correctional Service of Canada to be kept informed throughout McKay’s sentence and notified of certain changes. The information they can receive includes institution transfers, parole hearing dates, and McKay’s programming and rehabilitation progress, among other things.

“It’s hard because you get these letters and right away it just brings it all back up to you again,” Lou told CTV News. “And you get a twist in your soul. And it hurts. It really does.”

Families can present victim impact statements at parole board hearings through letters, recorded statements or in person.

CSC said it commits to ensure victims have a voice within the federal correctional and justice system and are treated with compassion, fairness and respect.

“The services that CSC provides to victims focus primarily on their right to information about the criminal justice system and their role within it. We also uphold their right to protection and participation by considering the views and statements of victims in its decisions related to the management of offenders' sentence,” the CSC said in an email.

Saskatoon police’s victim services program provides victims with guidance, information and referrals when a crime is committed and throughout a potential court process. There are five staff members and 38 volunteers who support hundreds of victims each month.

Victim services supervisor Sheri Watkins said support can range from one phone call or letter to years of guidance and help.

“The things that you experience in your body and in your mind are hard to process,” Watkins said. “We come in and were able to help guide somebody down a road of healing.”

She said the program ensures victims are referred to appropriate counselling or support groups. They also guide people through the province’s victim compensation program.

The Van de Vorsts say they received substantial victim support, especially from Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Victim impact statements

Sundays used to be reserved for family dinners, but instead Linda and Lou now go to the cemetery Sunday evenings to tell Jordan, Chanda, Kamryn and Miguire about their week, Linda said in her victim impact statement at the hearing.

“Every day there is something that I see or do that reminds me of them,” she said.

Jordan’s sister Angie White explained in her statement the impact the crash has had on her young children. She said her eldest daughter has detailed dreams of being in the accident even though she wasn’t there, and her youngest daughter attributes things like the wind blowing or snow falling to her cousins.

“Kamryn is in everything,” she said.

White said her youngest child has experienced separation anxiety and articulated how difficult it’s been to explain death to her children and teach them to be forgiving.

“They all died together,” is a sad statement White said she often tells her children when trying to console them.

She said she remembers being a happy, optimistic and passionate person but that’s changed since the crash.

“I cannot express how deeply I hate what this has done to me,” she said.

Linda and Lou have dedicated much of their time to working to end impaired driving in Saskatchewan since the crash. Linda said she urges the public to be proactive in pushing for a zero-tolerance approach when it comes to impaired driving laws in the province.