The father of Chelsea Poorman says police lied to him and mishandled his daughter’s case from the moment she was reported missing 20 months ago to the announced completion of their investigation in late April, when they categorized her death as not suspicious.
Mike Kiernan says he can’t help but wonder if the Vancouver Police Department would have taken Chelsea’s disappearance more seriously, and acted more quickly, if she wasn’t Indigenous.
“I believe they have an issue with Indigenous women, 100 per cent,” said Kiernan, speaking on the phone from Saskatoon. “I believe because she was Indigenous she didn’t get the proper service that she deserved.”
Skeletal remains of the 24-year-old Cree woman were found outside a vacant mansion in Vancouver’s wealthy Shaughnessy neighbourhood on April 22. Poorman was last seen Sept. 6, 2020 when she met her sister for dinner and drinks on Granville Street in downtown Vancouver. She was reported missing two days later.
Kiernan told CBC he broke into the Shaughnessy home on May 11 and 12, after police investigators had left, and was shocked to find a number of Chelsea’s personal items still there, including part of her cellphone case, socks, a bus pass, hair elastics and what he called a “disgusting” number of police gloves strewn about.
“There’s just a ton of items,” he said. “A lot of identifying things that she had in her purse that should have been, in my opinion, at the very least been collected for the investigation. Nothing was collected.”
A coroner’s investigation determined Poorman likely died at the property on the night she disappeared or shortly after. Sheila Poorman, Chelsea’s mother, said her daughter was missing several fingers and part of her skull, details that have not been released by police.
Police initially told reporters the case was closed but an email to CBC Tuesday stated the opposite.
“The Vancouver Police Department’s investigation into Chelsea’s disappearance and death remains open,” said VPD spokesman Sgt. Steve Addison.
Addison reiterated that police have “insufficient evidence to suggest her death was the result of a crime.”
Kiernan moved to Vancouver and lived in his van for 17 months to search for his daughter. He said while she remained missing he refrained from criticizing Vancouver police publicly because he didn’t want to “piss off” investigators working Chelsea’s case.
But, he says, there are still too many unanswered questions, starting with how his physically disabled daughter got from 1278 Granville Street, where she was last seen, to the Shaughnessy house.
“It’s 5.8 kilometres and she would have a hard time doing the 0.8 kilometres, let alone getting there and getting over these massive gates,” he said. “It’s basically impossible for her to do that.”
Kiernan believes a lack of urgency by VPD meant valuable information was lost. He said not only was there a 10-day delay in issuing a missing persons notice, he said police were untruthful about their efforts to collect video from the night of her disappearance from stores along Granville Street.
“I talked to every business owner … and they were never approached, they were never asked,” he said. “[Police] didn’t check the cameras. They claim they did an extensive video search — nothing but lies. Nothing but lies and I can verify that.”
Making matters worse, said Kiernan, was learning that police didn’t even have video from their own surveillance camera at the VPD Granville Community Policing Centre that points at the building where Chelsea was last seen alive.
“This is the part that breaks my heart … When I asked them about the camera that faces 1278 Granville Street they told me it’s not working,” he said.
The broken camera isn’t his only criticism of Granville Community Police Centre operations. Kiernan said on multiple occasions he was dismayed to find Chelsea’s “missing person” poster taken down and replaced with one advertising $20 VPD sunglasses. A worker told him it was done on the order of “higher ups.”
“I said, ‘Where the hell is Chelsea’s poster?’ They said, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry Mike, we’ll get one back up there for you.”
Kiernan said there was a lot of confusing communication from investigators after Chelsea’s remains were found. He was first told by police she was discovered in a rubbish pile. Then he was told she was found lying on a cushion with a blanket over her. He said it was only after speaking directly with the contractor who discovered her body that he learned neither was true, that she was found lying on the back patio of the house.
CBC asked the VPD to respond to Kiernan’s claims. In his email, Addison stated the VPD carried out a “detailed and complex” investigation into Chelsea’s disappearance that started the day she was reported missing.
“Her disappearance was investigated by VPD’s Missing Persons Unit and our Major Crime Section, where it was led by a team of senior homicide investigators,” said Addison.
Provincial policing standards, under which the VPD operates, state that when it comes to missing persons, “Aboriginal women and girls are at an increased risk of harm” and “disproportionately represented among missing and murdered women throughout Canada.”
“This must be considered when determining the appropriate response and resources,” say the guidelines, which were developed out of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry that found “blatant failures” of police in investigating the serial murder of women, many of them Indigenous, by Robert Pickton.
Former VPD Const. Dave Dickson, who was instrumental in connecting Pickton to the Vancouver women who went missing in the 1990s, believes there’s still police bias when it comes to investigating missing Indigenous women.
“I’m sorry to say, here we are 20 years later or more and nothing’s better,” said Dickson, who now works as an outreach worker for the Lookout Emergency Aid Society. “It’s just as bad for the women as it was back then.”
Kiernan said his daughter was failed by the VPD.
“My message to police is do your job,” he said.
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