B.C. Indigenous leaders are calling on the Vancouver Police Department to dig deeper into the circumstances surrounding the death of Chelsea Poorman, who was missing for a year and a half before her remains were found last month on the grounds of a long-vacant home in the upscale Shaughnessy neighbourhood.
The 24-year-old, a member of the Kawacatoose First Nation, was reported missing on Sept. 8, 2020. The case remained open until a contractor working at the property found her body on April 22.
Vancouver police announced the discovery last week and said it appeared Poorman died around the time she disappeared, deeming her death not suspicious.
The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) and B.C. First Nations Justice Council both cried foul, demanding a full investigation into Poorman’s disappearance and how she died.
Poorman “had been with her sister two days earlier in downtown Vancouver,” said the UBCIC in a statement. “Her family has spent the past year and a half relentlessly bringing attention to Chelsea’s disappearance and searching for answers.”
The statement noted Poorman’s body was found missing her cranium and some fingers, details that were shared with the UBCIC by her family.
“Chelsea suffered from a brain injury and also had some physical mobility issues. It is unknown why she would have been at the heavily secured house where she was later found deceased.”
UBCIC secretary-treasurer Judy Wilson (also known as Kukpi7), asked how it could be considered “not suspicious,” since police don’t know why or how Poorman wound up at a “locked-up and vacant home in Vancouver’s most expensive neighbourhood.”
Wilson said the UBCIC “stand with Chelsea’s family and friends and the broader Indigenous community in demanding that the VPD publicly apologize for their slow response to Chelsea’s missing persons report, the trauma they’ve inflicted on the family and community by their official statements about the case, and for informing the public at a press conference last week that the case is now closed.”
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, the UBCIC president, said the “glacial pace of the investigation” into Poorman’s sudden disappearance “is emblematic of the absolute crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.”
The B.C. First Nations Justice Council said there “are more unanswered than answered questions” in the case. It also condemned the speedy closure of the police file, citing the new details about the found remains.
“If it weren’t for investigative journalists, these women’s stories would not be brought to light,” said Annita McPhee, a member of the justice council. “If the coroner expresses to the family that the body is not intact and there is no explanation why, then an investigation should be conducted.”
“This is a tragic story,” said lawyer and council chair Doug White. “It seems to us that the Vancouver Police Department has made a hasty judgment that there was no foul play involved.
“This gives me a sick feeling in my stomach because it is that kind of dismissive policing approach when it comes to Indigenous women that resulted in the Pickton inquiry,” he said, referring to the serial killer who evaded capture for two decades while preying on primarily First Nations victims in the Downtown Eastside.
“This was a decade ago and there was acknowledgment by the police that they should not have been so dismissive of the most vulnerable members of our society. We were supposed to grow as a society, as institutions and learn how to behave differently from that experience.”