A baby was found dead inside a portable toilet outside the Carnegie Centre on Hastings Street near Main Street on Wednesday night, Vancouver police confirmed.
Officers were called to the area just before 6 p.m. for reports of a newborn inside a portable restroom. They arrived to find the baby was deceased.
One witness told Global News a woman entered the portable washroom in the morning and spent the whole day inside.
People reportedly asked if she needed help, but the woman didn’t want assistance.
“This is, without a doubt, an extremely tragic incident,” Const. Tania Visintin said in a statement.
“We need to speak with any witnesses and the mother of this baby as we are deeply concerned for her mental and physical well-being. It has been a tough evening for the community and the department.”
Concern is now growing for the baby’s mother, whose condition remains unknown.
“We are very concerned for her physical well-being and her mental well-beingy, we want to get her to the hospital to get checked out,” said Visintin.
Janice Abbott, CEO of Atira Women’s Resource Society, urged people not to rush to judgment in the case.
“She may be someone who has lost children to the system before, had her children taken from her, and was fearful of getting support,” she said.
“Women that we work with are often fearful of going to the hospital because they’ve often had really bad experiences at hospital … COVID adds another layer of sort of fear,” she added.
Downtown Eastside activists argued Thursday that measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the child’s death.
Carnegie Community Action Project spokesperson Fiona York said public washrooms in the area have been closed because of the virus, leaving only portable toilets available.
If washrooms had been open, someone may have found the mother and gone for help, she said.
“Friends and others are checking and would notice someone in a washroom for a long time,” said York.
“I understand she was in the washroom all day and that wasn’t noticed and that’s because people weren’t around and she was left to be isolated.”
York said she found a man who died of an overdose in a port-a-potty last week.
In the wake of the tragedy, the City of Vancouver said it speeding up an assessment of portable toilets that was already underway.
“The safety and well-being of residents is our priority and we are evaluating temporary washroom options,” said a city spokesperson in a statement.
“The city is extremely saddened by the tragic death of the infant. We will support VPD and other authorities with their investigation.”
-With files from Janet Brown and Nadia Stewart