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The VPD Won’t Release a Review of Its Chelsea Poorman Investigation

Police say it could affect their ongoing file on the Cree woman's disappearance. But her family wants answers.

Jen St. Denis 15 Aug 2023The Tyee

Jen St. Denis is a reporter with The Tyee covering civic issues. Find her on Twitter @JenStDen.

Vancouver police are refusing to release an external RCMP review that examined how the force investigated the disappearance and death of Chelsea Poorman, saying that making the report public could compromise their ongoing investigation.

Police gave the same answer in response to separate freedom of information requests made by The Tyee and by Poorman’s mother, Sheila.

But Poorman’s family members say it appears police have made little headway in finding out what happened to the 24-year-old Cree woman since the discovery of her remains behind a vacant mansion in Vancouver on April 22, 2022.

Poorman’s family was shocked when police said her death was not considered suspicious — despite the cranium and finger bones being missing from the skeletal remains.

Since then, the family has had to contact police to get any updates on the investigation and haven’t heard about any new information being pursued by police.

“They’re not doing their job like they should be,” said Sheila Poorman. “It just seems like they’re not doing anything — maybe they gave up.”

Sheila and her daughter, Diamond Poorman, say they’d like to see the RCMP report to get a more complete picture of how VPD investigated Chelsea’s disappearance.

VPD asked the RCMP to conduct the review a year ago, in hopes that it could highlight aspects of the case investigators may have overlooked.

According to Staff Sgt. Kris Clark, a media relations officer for the RCMP in B.C., officers spent five months doing an independent review of the VPD’s missing person investigation “to provide recommendations for any further investigational steps that can be taken to uncover the full circumstances of Ms. Poorman’s death.”

The RCMP delivered the completed report to the VPD last November.

Poorman was last seen by her sister, Paige Kiernan, on the evening of Sept. 6, 2020, and Sheila Poorman reported her daughter missing to police on Sept. 8.

Eighteen months later, Poorman’s remains were discovered behind 1536 W. 36th Ave., an empty home in Vancouver’s Shaughnessy neighbourhood. Police said they believed Poorman had died close to the date she disappeared, and her remains had gone undiscovered for 18 months.

How Poorman got to the house in an unfamiliar neighhourhood and who was with her the night she died are questions that have never been answered. Because the remains were skeletal, police said, it would likely not be possible to determine a cause of death.

Police said their investigation into Poorman’s disappearance included “interviewing several people associated with Ms. Poorman, reviewing relevant banking and cellphone records, conducting an extensive video canvas and collaborating with Saskatoon police,” where Poorman had lived before moving to Vancouver in the summer of 2020.

Diamond Poorman said she has difficulty trusting police and would like to see the RCMP’s external review.

“I’d like to see a complete overview of everything they did, from start to finish,” she told The Tyee. “I’d like to see something to back up their word on everything they said throughout the investigation.”

Indigenous women in Canada are murdered or go missing at a much higher rate than non-Indigenous women, and family members of missing Indigenous women often complain that missing persons investigations done by police are delayed or incomplete. It’s common for relatives to mount their own searches.

Lorimer Shenher, a retired VPD detective, said he was skeptical that police were continuing to actively investigate the circumstances around Poorman’s disappearance.

Citing an ongoing investigation is “a convenient catch-all tool they use to hide lack of action on a file,” Shenher said, “citing either investigative necessity or the potential of jeopardizing something they have going on.”

Shenher said if the Poorman family has not heard any updates from VPD recently, “you’re safe to assume this is a tactic to avoid scrutiny of the file and their failings.”   [Tyee]

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