Chelsea Poorman’s father says police lied to him and mishandled his daughter’s case from the time she was reported missing 20 months ago until the announced completion of their investigation in late April, when they classified his 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 faster if she wasn’t Indigenous.
“I believe they have a problem with aboriginal women, 100%,” Kiernan said, speaking on the phone from Saskatoon. “I believe that because she was aboriginal, she did not receive the appropriate service that she deserved.”
The skeletal remains of the 24-year-old Cree woman were found outside a vacant mansion in Vancouver’s wealthy Shaughnessy neighborhood on April 22. Poorman was last seen on September 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 Shaughnessy’s home on May 11 and 12, after police investigators left, and was shocked to find a number of Chelsea’s personal items still there, including part of his cell phone case, socks, a bus pass, hair ties and what he called a “disgusting” number of police gloves strewn about.
“There are just a ton of articles,” he said. “Lots of identifying items she had in her purse which in my opinion should have at least been collected for the investigation. Nothing was collected.”
A coroner’s inquest determined that Poorman likely died at the property on or shortly after the night of her disappearance. Sheila Poorman, Chelsea’s mother, said her daughter was missing several fingers and part of her skull, details which have not been released by police.
Police initially told reporters the case was closed, but an email to CBC Tuesday said otherwise.
“The Vancouver Police Department’s investigation into the disappearance and death of Chelsea remains open,” said VPD spokesman Sgt. Steve Addison.
Addison reiterated that police had “insufficient evidence to suggest that his death was the result of a crime”.
Kiernan moved to Vancouver and lived in his van for 17 months searching for his daughter. He said while she was still missing, he had refrained from publicly criticizing Vancouver police because he didn’t want to “piss off” the investigators working on Chelsea’s case.
But, he says, there are still too many unanswered questions, starting with how his physically handicapped daughter got from 1278 Granville Street, where she was last seen, to the Shaughnessy house.
“It’s 5.8 kilometers and she would have a hard time walking the 0.8 kilometres, let alone getting there and going through those massive gates,” he said. “It’s basically impossible for her to do that.”
Kiernan believes a lack of urgency on VPD’s part resulted in the loss of valuable information. He said not only was there a 10-day delay in issuing a missing person notice, he said police lied about their efforts to collect videos from the night of his disappearance from stores from Granville Street.
“I spoke to all the business owners…and they were never approached, never asked,” he said. “[Police] did not check the cameras. They claim to have done extensive video research – nothing but lies. Nothing but lies and I can verify that.”
Worse still, Kiernan said, was learning that police didn’t even have video from their own surveillance camera at the VPD Granville Community Police Center that points to the building where Chelsea was last seen alive.
“That’s the part that breaks my heart… When I asked them about the camera facing 1278 Granville Street, they told me it wasn’t working,” he said.
The broken camera isn’t his only criticism of the operations of the Granville Community Police Center. Kiernan has repeatedly said he was appalled to find Chelsea’s ‘missing person’ poster removed and replaced with a $20 VPD sunglasses advertisement. A worker told him that it was done on the orders of “superiors”.
“I said, ‘Where the hell is the Chelsea poster?’ They said, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry Mike, we’ll get one for you.
Kiernan said there were a lot of confusing communications from investigators following the discovery of Chelsea’s remains. The police first told her that she had been discovered in a pile of garbage. Then she 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 her email, Addison said the VPD conducted a “detailed and complex” investigation into Chelsea’s disappearance which began the day she was reported missing.
“His disappearance was investigated by the VPD’s Missing Persons Unit and our Major Crimes Section, where it was led by a team of senior homicide investigators,” Addison said.
Provincial policing standardsunder which the VPD operates, state that when it comes to missing persons, “Indigenous women and girls are at heightened risk of harm” and “disproportionately represented among missing and murdered women in Canada”.
“This should be taken into account when determining the appropriate response and resources,” say the guidelines, which were developed from the Commission of Inquiry into Missing Women which exposed “gross failures” by police in the investigation of the serial murder of women, many of whom were Indigenous, by Robert Pickton.
Former VPD Const. Dave Dickson, who was instrumental in connecting Pickton with missing Vancouver women in the 1990s, believes there is still a police bias when it comes to investigating missing aboriginal women.
“I’m sorry to say, here we are 20 or more years later and nothing is better,” said Dickson, who now works as an outreach worker for the Lookout Emergency Aid Society. “It’s as bad for women as it was back then.”
Kiernan said her daughter was rejected by the VPD.
“My message to the police is to do your job,” he said.