Families call out Vancouver police over investigations into three Indigenous deaths

Click to play video: '‘I don’t think we can wait any longer’: Women’s Memorial March organizer calls for politicians to get involved'
‘I don’t think we can wait any longer’: Women’s Memorial March organizer calls for politicians to get involved
Grace Howse, a committee member from the Women's Memorial March in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, says it's time for politicians and change makers to be involved and create change to help Canada's Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The annual march is in its 32nd year and is a demonstration to shed light on what's happening in the community. – Feb 14, 2023

Warning: This story contains details that may upset and trigger some readers. Any one affected by the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQI+ people needing support can call a national toll free crisis line at 1-844-413-6649.

Families of missing and murdered Indigenous people rallied outside the Vancouver police station on Gravely Street Monday afternoon, demanding action in three high profile cases.

The families of Tatyanna Harrison, Chelsea Poorman, and Noelle ‘Elli’ O’Soup say they were let down at every turn by police.

They argue there were incomplete investigations and poor follow-up on missing persons reports, and are continuing to raise questions about transparency and data sharing between police jurisdictions.

Click to play video: 'Vigil held for Tatyanna Harrison, Chelsea Poorman and Noelle O’Soup'
Vigil held for Tatyanna Harrison, Chelsea Poorman and Noelle O’Soup

“I stand here today with two other families who were failed in a similar way and more,” said Natasha Harrison, mother of Tatyanna Harrison.

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“From jurisdiction, lack of camera footage, lack of investigation, remaining unidentified, delays in awareness, lack of appropriate testing to determine what happened before they passed, a lack of answers due to a lack of investigation, and a lack of medical knowledge.”

Tatyanna Harrison was 20 years old at the time of her death in 2022. Police released a missing persons report May 3, 2022 after her disappearance was reported by her mother.

The body of an unidentified woman had been found in Richmond one day prior. Those remains were publicly identified as Harrison’s three months later on Aug. 6, despite the missing persons report and recovery of her body.

Police initially ruled her death as an overdose from fentanyl. However, Natasha said she was notified in October that her daughter died from sepsis and that a drug she says is commonly associated with sexual assaults was found in her toxicology report.

Click to play video: 'Memorial for Noelle O’Soup destroyed by fire early Wednesday morning'
Memorial for Noelle O’Soup destroyed by fire early Wednesday morning

“I can talk all day about how her case was mishandled, the failures I found throughout,” said Natasha.

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“Tat would be here if the roles were reversed, screaming at the top of her lungs for justice,” she added.

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“Everything was just me and her. And they mishandled my only child’s case with such disregard.”

Harrison, O’Soup and Poorman were all found in the Lower Mainland within a ten day span last spring after initially being reported missing.

Josie August, a relative of Elli O’Soup, says she and her family had a similar experience to Harrison’s in terms of information sharing across jurisdictions.

The Office of the Representative for Children and Youth in B.C. told Global News Noelle went by “Elli” and used they/them pronouns. Global News has chosen to follow this except for in direct quotes from family.

“We want the VPD to be held accountable for how you handled these three cases,” August said.

“This is something not easy to go through. All of these women were failed, Noelle was failed. The way they handled their case, when she was discovered the coroner wasn’t even there.”

O’Soup died at the age of 13 last year after their body and the body of a woman in her 30’s were found inside a unit of the privately-owned rooming house in Vancouver, over two months after the unit’s tenant died suddenly. O’Soup was initially labelled a “runaway” by police at the time of their disappearance in May 2021.

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Sources with knowledge of the investigation told Global News their remains were discovered by building staff, not investigating officers.

The man whose unit they were found in has been identified Van Chung Pham, a man wanted on a Canada-wide warrant for drugging and sexually assaulting a third woman at the time of his death.

Pham was also facing several charges including sexual assault, drug trafficking and overcoming resistance in relation to an incident that allegedly happened Nov. 19, 2020 and convicted 13 times as a result of Vancouver police investigations.

Click to play video: 'Missing Indigenous woman’s mother speaks at press conference in Vancouver'
Missing Indigenous woman’s mother speaks at press conference in Vancouver

“Had they all worked with Coquitlam RCMP, the VPD, maybe she would have been found sooner,” August said. “She was a 13 year old girl.”

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“As soon as we phone and say our people are missing, they should be on the ground. I think it’s such a shame we found out more from media than we ever will from the Vancouver Police Department.”

Last week, Winnipeg Centre MP Leah Gazan penned a letter to federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino urging the government to fund what she and other advocates call a “Red Dress Alert” program. She said it would ideally function similarly to an Amber Alert.

MMIWG advocate Lorelei Williams, who is also a part of the Butterflies in Spirit dance group, agreed that an alert would be beneficial, but that it doesn’t go far enough.

“There needs to be more than just the alert. We just need anything, because we are being targeted, we are being killed,” she said.

“It’s just one of many things that could save our lives.”

Click to play video: 'Public help sought in locating missing Vancouver person'
Public help sought in locating missing Vancouver person

She believes the alert would help get the word out about missing loved ones to the wider public, and help garner support for families who would otherwise be searching alone.

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“When the families feel like they are not being supported by the police, it’s the community that helps out. It’s the people that help out,” explained Williams.

“Being a family member myself, with my missing aunt and my murdered cousin, it’s important to get as much support as possible.”

– With files from the Global’s Elizabeth McSheffrey and the Canadian Press

Click to play video: 'Vigil held for Tatyanna Harrison, Chelsea Poorman and Noelle O’Soup'
Vigil held for Tatyanna Harrison, Chelsea Poorman and Noelle O’Soup

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