A Prince Rupert woman has accused a city councillor of domestic violence over the course of their five-year relationship.
Vanessa Engel first came out with her accusations against Coun. Reid Skelton-Morven on Oct. 30, when she posted a video on social media detailing Skelton-Morven had choked her and locked her inside of a room on Oct. 30, 2015.
Black Press Media reached out to Skelton-Morven to comment or respond to the allegations over the course of 10 days. He did not respond to multiple calls and emails by deadline on Thursday, Nov. 23. A Northern View reporter also visited city hall, but Skelton-Morven was not there.
Physical documents from the Ministry of Children and Family Development, obtained by Black Press Media, include reports from social workers who explicitly detailed that Engel was strangled by Skelton-Morven on Oct. 30, 2015. Engel also claimed Skelton-Morven locked her in a room and RCMP were only called after a neighbour heard the confrontation.
“Reid choked Vanessa,” an MCFD social worker wrote in a report dated Nov. 13, 2015.
At the time of the alleged abuse, Engel had two two-year-old children from a previous relationship, which she and Skelton-Morven took care of together. Engel is currently an education assistant in Prince Rupert and has since become married.
Skelton-Morven is a well-known entrepreneur on the North Coast and has been heavily involved in reconciliation events in the region, as well as city and First Nations politics.
While her relationship with Skelton-Morven ended years ago, Engel said she is still recovering from the alleged abuse. According to Engel, she sees a psychiatrist and is on medication for the anxiety – which she says has increased because of coming out with her allegations and has had negative repercussions on her mental health.
The alleged October 2015 event was not the only time Engel alleges that Skelton-Morven physically hurt her during their nearly five-year relationship.
Engel told The Northern View she is speaking out so others in the region can feel more comfortable coming forward with their abuse experiences.
“I’m sharing my story for everyone, but especially the women that he has abused that can’t speak out because they’re afraid for their safety, which is in itself really sad that they’re no longer with him, but they still feel worried and scared.”
On the public response from the community, Engel said it has been primarily positive, though she has received some negative feedback, primarily from members of Skelton-Morven’s family.
“It’s been really great. It’s been mainly supportive,” she said. “He had me fooled for a long time that because of his position in town, nobody would believe me.”
Almost a month after she first came out with her allegations, Engel said she has no regrets.
Engel has repeatedly called for Skelton-Morven to step down from his role as a Prince Rupert city councillor, which he has held since being elected on Oct. 19, 2022.
Along with a small group of family and friends, Engel attended the Nov. 6 special council meeting, though did not speak to council and left soon after the meeting started.
Skelton-Morven has not attended the past two Prince Rupert city council meetings either in person or via Zoom. Mayor Herb Pond cited a family member’s severe health issues as the reason for Skelton-Morven’s absence from the Nov. 6 meeting.
“Councillors are seen as a person you can go to with your problems,” Engel said. “They’re kind of seen as a safe person, which he isn’t. I don’t know if he will step down as councillor, but as long as it gets out there, that’s really the end game.”
In an interview, Pond said he has no ability to remove Skelton-Morven from his position as councillor. However, Pond said if charges were to be laid, it would be a different situation.
“Obviously these are serious allegations. They need to be treated seriously, and in order to be treated seriously, they have to go to places where they can truly be investigated. One of those places, obviously, is the RCMP,” he said.
“As far as Reid and his interaction as an elected official goes, the principles behind the law are pretty clear in that it was the people of Prince Rupert that elected Reid. He doesn’t report to any other member of council or to the mayor.”
The Prince Rupert RCMP declined to comment on the situation.
Engel also said she is also hoping to change the culture around taboo subjects such as domestic abuse in the small city of Prince Rupert.
According to Statistics Canada, police-reported intimate partner violence has been increasing year-on-year. However, a 2019 General Social Survey on Canadians’ Safety found one-in-five survivors of self-reported spousal violence reported the incident or incidents to police.
“It’s obviously everywhere, but it seems to be happening a lot in Prince Rupert and nobody really talks about it, or if they do, it’s only with their small group of friends,” she said.
“I’ve already spoken to quite a few women that hadn’t shared their story, and have only spoken about it because I had shared mine.”
Editor’s Note: Reid Skelton-Morven is a former employee of Black Press Media.