Families of deceased Indigenous women and teen girl call for systemic change in policing
The families of two women and a teenage girl, all Indigenous, who went missing and then died in the Lower Mainland have come together in an effort to raise awareness about their loved ones and push for systemic change in B.C. policing.
The families of two women and a teenage girl, all Indigenous, who went missing and then died in the Lower Mainland recently have come together in an effort to raise awareness about their loved ones and push for systemic change within policing in British Columbia.
All three families specifically called out the Vancouver Police Department for its handling of their loved ones' cases.
"We need to end the careless disregard on human life based on race, stigma and class,” said Natasha Harrison at a Monday news conference.
Harrison reported her 20-year-old daughter Tatyanna missing on May 3, 2022.
Unbeknownst to her, RCMP had found Tatyanna’s remains on a boat at a Richmond marina the day before but did not positively identify her until the first week of August.
In mid-July, 73 days after Tatyanna's body was discovered, Mounties put out a sketch asking for the public’s help in identifying the body.
The accompanying description inaccurately said the woman was Caucasian, 30 to 40 years old, standing 5’5” tall and weighing 90 lbs.
Tatyanna, was 20 at the time of her death, Indigenous and only 5’1” tall.
Natasha says her daughter was last known to be alive at a Hastings Street SRO on April 22.
Before police informed her that the body discovered at the marina was that of her daughter, Natasha took it upon herself to try to find Tatyanna.
“I spent every single day endlessly searching for my daughter on the downtown eastside in the most dangerous of circumstances,” she said.
Natasha said Richmond RCMP have told her they deemed her daughter’s death non-suspicious which doesn’t sit well with her because of the condition she was discovered in.
“This has brought more questions than police have answers," she said. "An autopsy was performed but not the appropriate assault kits based on how she was found -- unclothed, no shoes, no phone."
Natasha said throughout the time Tatyanna was missing, she attempted to engage with Vancouver police numerous times. Although her daughter lived in Surrey -- she believed she’d been in the Downtown Eastside before going missing.
She said VPD was initially dismissive and has since become unresponsive.
“The list of neglect continues, the communication from law enforcement to the family and the community has come to a halt,” she said. “Which leads me to believe no effort or resources are being put into her case.”
VPD says it has worked “closely and collaboratively” with Harrison’s family and its Major Crime Section has “conducted exhaustive investigations to gather evidence about (her) last movements in Vancouver.”
Sheila Poorman’s daughter was also missing for many months before being found deceased.
Twenty-four-year-old Chelsea was last seen in the Granville Entertainment District in September 2020.
Her mother says after she filed a missing person’s report it took Vancouver police 10 days to publicly announce that Chelsea was missing.
"I myself went on Hastings Street, by myself, for the first week looking for her. Showing her picture to whoever would listen,” Poorman said. “I made posters to put up on social media. I did what I could but felt defeated and alone in looking for her."
Chelsea would be found dead on the grounds of an abandoned Shaugnessy mansion 20 months after she disappeared.
Vancouver police say the department follows provincial policing standards for handling missing persons cases.
“There are several factors that must be considered before making a public appeal for information about a missing person, including their state of mind,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
“For example, if we believe a person is potentially suicidal or likely to self-harm, making a public appeal could put them in danger because it could cause them to follow through with their suicidal ideations, or it could be a barrier to them coming home or seeking help.”
Although Chelsea’s remains were found missing pieces of her cranium and some fingers, the VPD says there is nothing to indicate her death is suspicious.
Noelle O’Soup went missing when she was 13-years-old in May 2021.
A cleaning crew would eventually find her body in a rooming house at Hastings Street and Heatley Avenue in May of this year.
On Feb. 24, 2022 police located a man in his 40s named Van Chung Pham deceased in the same room in that SRO.
“At the time of his death, I can confirm that he was wanted Canada-wide for a number of offences related to sex offences that had occurred in that suite,” Const. Steve Addison, A VPD media relations officer said. “We’d done our job to gather evidence, to lay criminal charges…and our work to hold him accountable for his actions continued right up to the time of his death.”
O’Soup’s body, and that of a deceased woman VPD have not publicly identified, remained in the small single-room residence for more than two months after Pham’s body was discovered and removed.
The circumstances around the discoveries have resulted in an Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner investigation into the actions of a Vancouver police officer for allegations of neglect of duty.
“Police do not have authority to search the homes of people who have died suddenly from natural causes, drug overdoses, or by other non-criminal means,” the VPD said in a statement. "The apartment where Noelle was found was a single-room occupancy suite, and the tenant was an extreme hoarder. In the absence of a detailed search of the suite, which was not authorized by law at the time of Pham’s death, there is no likelihood that anyone could have discovered Noelle’s remains.”
SYSTEMIC RACISM, UNCONSCIOUS BIASES
Vancouver police say they consistently solve more than 99 percent of missing persons cases.
“Over the past 10 years, we have just one unsolved case involving a missing Indigenous woman,” VPD said in its statement to CTV News.
Kash Heed, a retired West Vancouver police chief and the former solicitor general of BC, doesn’t believe it’s a coincidence all three cases involve Indigenous people -- and says systemic issues within policing can contribute to the disproportionate risks faced by Indigenous women and girls.
“I’ve got my doubts regarding the leadership within the Vancouver Police Department, whether they have for decades taken the problems we have with dealing with specific communities seriously,” Heed said. “We have some denial by police leaders of any systemic racism or unconscious biases in their policies or procedures or within the ranks within their department.”
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