WARNING: This story discusses suicide and may be triggering to some readers.
In the years leading up to her death by suicide, Vancouver Const. Nicole Chan tried to take action against a fellow officer who she said was blackmailing her into having sex, the jury of a coroners’ inquest heard Monday (Jan. 23).
Supt. Shelley Horne recalled to the jury that she conducted a three-hour interview with Chan in October 2017, after the young constable approached the Vancouver Police Department’s chief with allegations of sexual assault.
Horne, who was working in VPD’s sex crimes unit at the time, said Chan told her about an intimate relationship she had with a senior officer in human resources, Sgt. David Van Patten.
Horne said she understood the relationship had been consensual when it began in 2016, but that it had turned turbulent. She said Chan told her Van Patten had started coercing Chan into having sex, over the threat of sending sensitive images and text messages between her and another officer to their respective spouses.
Horne said Chan also expressed concern that Van Patten may be in charge of her employee file and that cutting off their sexual relationship could impact her career.
The interview resulted in both a criminal investigation into Van Patten, as well as an internal disciplinary one.
New Westminster Police Department recommended charges against the accused sergeant, but Crown Council didn’t approve them. An internal investigation into Van Patten was still underway when Chan died by suicide on Jan. 27, 2019.
Her older sister, Jennifer Chan, told the jury Monday she remembered Chan had lost a lot of hope in the weeks leading up to her death – both that Van Patten would be brought to justice for his alleged actions and that she would ever be able to progress with a career she had once loved.
“She just seemed a lot more unhappy and aimless in where her life was headed,” Jennifer testified.
Growing up, Chan had always wanted to become a Vancouver police officer.
“She wanted to be able to do right in the world and find justice.”
Chan was passionate, loving and ambitious, Jennifer said. The two spent a lot of time going for long walks along the Vancouver seawall, getting coffee and taking bike rides.
On the last night of Chan’s life, Jennifer said she and her boyfriend were out for dinner when her sister’s partner called them concerned. He said that Chan was upset and had locked herself in their bathroom with the means to hurt herself.
Jennifer said it took her numerous tries to get ahold of her sister, and when Chan finally picked up the phone she brushed things off and said she was just having a fight with her partner. That was the last time the two ever spoke.
That night, Chan was apprehended under the Mental Health Act and taken to the Vancouver General Hospital.
Horne testified that she was called in to meet Chan there and provide support. She said Chan seemed calm but angry that night.
“She was frustrated because she felt it was unfair that she wasn’t able to work and Dave Van Patten was able to keep his job.”
Hospital staff assessed Chan and released her to go home. Horne said a fellow officer tried to check in with Chan’s primary psychologist on what to do next. When the officer couldn’t reach them, they then tried VPD’s psychologist.
Horne said he advised them to make sure the hospital knew Chan had previously attempted to end her life, to get a promise from Chan that she wouldn’t hurt herself and to find someone who Chan could talk to.
Horne said they did each of these things and Chan promised them she wouldn’t hurt herself.
“She said she just wanted to get home, she just wanted to get some sleep,” Horne recalled.
So her and the other officer drove Chan back to her apartment. Horne said she offered to walk Chan to her unit, but she turned Horne down. Horne then asked Chan to send her a text when she was inside and told her she would check in with her the next morning.
Chan texted Horne just before midnight saying “Safe and sound,” Horne told the inquest – the last time she’d hear from the constable.
The next day, Chan was found dead. Van Patten was later suspended and ultimately fired.
The coroners’ inquest, which is scheduled to run from Jan. 23 to 30, doesn’t seek to lay blame. The process rather asks the jury to determine the facts of Chan’s death and, if they choose, offer recommendations on how to prevent future similar ones from occurring.
A civil lawsuit filed by Jennifer on her sister’s behalf is ongoing. It claims Nicole Chan died during a severe mental health crisis after being “extorted” by an officer to continue a sexual relationship. It also lays blame against numerous other officers, the Vancouver Police Department, the Vancouver Police Union, the City of Vancouver, and multiple government figures.
None of the allegations presented in the inquest or detailed in the civil suit have been proven in court. A WorkSafeBC investigation concluded in 2018 did provide Chan compensation for a mental disorder resulting from her employment and, specifically, “multiple sexual assaults.”
If you feel like you are in crisis or are considering suicide, please call the Crisis Centre BC suicide hotline at 1-800-784-2433.
Other resources include: Canada Suicide Prevention Service at Toll free: 1-833-456-4566. You can also text 45645 or visit the online chat service at crisisservicescanada.ca.
Some warning signs include suicidal thoughts, anger, recklessness, mood changes, anxiety, lack of purpose, helplessness and substance use.