The families of Chelsea Poorman, Noelle O’Soup and Tatyanna Harrison rallied at a Vancouver police station to call for change.
The Tyee: The families of Noelle O’Soup, Tatyanna Harrison and Chelsea Poorman called out the Vancouver Police Department for its handling of the cases at a rally on Monday, saying they no longer trust police after months of frustration and lack of information on the status of the three cases.
“They failed my sister,” said Paige Kiernan, Chelsea Poorman’s younger sister. “They say they continue to investigate, but I don’t see it, so how can I believe it?”
Poorman, 24, went missing from downtown Vancouver on Sept. 6, 2020. O’Soup, 13, went missing from their Port Coquitlam foster care home on May 12, 2021. Harrison, 20, went missing from the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver on April 22, 2022.
The bodies of all three were discovered in a two-week span in 2022. Poorman’s remains were discovered behind a vacant home in Shaughnessy on April 22. O’Soup’s body, and that of a woman, were found in an SRO room in Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood on May 1. And Harrison’s body was found in a yacht in dry dock at Shelter Island Marina in Richmond on May 2.
Police initially determined both Poorman and Harrison’s deaths to be not suspicious, despite the cranium being missing from Poorman’s remains and Harrison being found unclothed from the waist down. They now say that investigations continue into both cases.
In all three cases, police did not issue press releases about the missing persons for at least seven days. O’Soup’s family learned through the media that the man who rented the room when O’Soup was found had been a well-known predator who lured dozens of women and girls to his room to use drugs. Another woman’s body was found in the room.
Media reports, not police, also informed the family that Van Chung Pham had been ordered deported in 2016, and that he was about to be charged with sexual assault and drugging another woman when police found him dead in his room in February 2022.
Josie August, a relative of O’Soup’s, said police need to be more transparent. “I don’t trust the VPD on how they handle these cases. And if this is how they handle these cases, how else are they handling any other ones?” she said.
Natasha Harrison, Tatyanna Harrison’s mother, said she had to push to get her daughter’s body properly tested with a forensic sexual assault kit and she was initially told her daughter had died of an overdose, when in fact she died of a blood infection and had GHB — a substance sometime used as a date rape drug — in her system.
“The VPD failed every single one of these Indigenous women and girls,” she said. “I’m absolutely mortified at how badly these cases have been handled.”
The families of Poorman, Harrison and O’Soup say they’ve lost faith in the criminal justice system. And after years of supporting the families of murdered and missing Indigenous women, advocate Lorelei Williams says police are not doing their jobs properly.
“This is a call to action for police neglect in the cases of Chelsea Portman, Noelle O’Soup and Tatyanna Harrison. I have been supporting these families. These families and other families always come to me when they feel like the police are not doing their jobs. I’m doing their jobs,” Williams told about 30 supporters and news media outside a VPD building at 3585 Gravely St.
“When I’m supporting these families, they [police] break their trust right away right off the bat. This is killing our Indigenous women and girls.”
Williams called for a Red Dress Alert system to be in place to quickly send information out when an Indigenous woman goes missing. Diamond Poorman, Chelsea’s older sister, said the family has heard no recent updates from the VPD regarding her sister’s case.
Chelsea, Noelle and Tatyanna Went Missing. Did Police Do Enough to Find Them?
Cody Munch, O’Soup’s uncle, said the family has been sent around and around in circles when trying to get information about which foster care group home O’Soup had been living in and who operates it. Although an autopsy conference has been scheduled with the family, there have been no other updates on the case, he said.
Munch said the family is also very frustrated with the Ministry of Children and Family Development, which has refused to share any information about O’Soup’s time in foster care. He said he was aware that O’Soup had previously run away from the home, had been bullied at school and was cutting themselves.
Harrison said she’s found out more investigating her daughter’s case herself than from police or the coroner. She refuses to bury her daughter until police can tell her whether Tatyanna was sexually assaulted and whether surveillance cameras captured Tatyanna coming and going freely from the yacht where she was found.
“I can’t go on with my life knowing there’s another mother screaming at the top of her lungs to get you to help her baby,” she said.
Jen St. Denis YesterdayTheTyee.ca
Jen St. Denis is a reporter with The Tyee covering civic issues. Find her on Twitter @JenStDen.