Families of MMIWG+ speak out about VPD failures: ‘They’ve given us nothing’

The families of Chelsea Poorman, Noelle O’Soup and Tatyanna Harrison gathered in ‘Vancouver’ during a rally for justice on Monday
Josie August, left, and Cody Munch, right, stand with a picture of their relative Noelle O’Soup on Monday. Photo by Amei-lee Laboucan

CONTENT WARNING: This story includes content regarding “Canada’s” ongoing genocidal epidemic of MMIWG+. Please look after your spirit and read with care.

The families of Chelsea Poorman, Noelle O’Soup and Tatyanna Harrison are speaking out against the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) — saying officers have repeatedly failed them during investigations into their loved ones’ cases.

Speaking at a rally outside of the VPD building on Graveley Street during a snowy day in “Vancouver” on Monday, each relative took turns speaking to supporters about their experiences with the department while police staff stayed in the building.

The rally was held in partnership with the advocacy group Butterflies in Spirit as a call to justice for the loved ones lost in the ongoing crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG+) in “Canada.”

The families of Chelsea, Noelle and Tatyanna said there has been inaction in each of their relatives’ investigations — saying they haven’t received regular updates and some were not reached out to at all after reporting their loved one missing.

Paige Kiernan, Chelsea Poorman’s younger sister, said even though she was one of the last people who saw Chelsea, she had to call the police herself to provide a statement.

“They failed my sister completely,” she said.

“They haven’t given us any closure, any answers. Anything we ask, it’s just redirected and not answered. They said that they continue to investigate but I don’t see it. So, how can I believe it? They’ve given us nothing.” 

Sheila Poorman, Chelsea’s mother, spoke about how “Vancouver” is an unfamiliar city to her and she didn’t know where to go for help. Holding back tears, Sheila spoke about the search for her missing daughter.

Sheila Poorman, Chelsea Poorman’s mother, speaks at a rally on Monday alongside her daughters Paige Kiernan and Diamond Poorman. Photo by Amei-lee Laboucan

“It’s hard for families to go through something like this, especially in a city that they don’t know. We felt alone, it was frustrating. We didn’t know what to do, where to go, who to turn to,” said Sheila. 

“The first few nights, I was out there by myself with her picture, asking people if they had seen her or if they know her.”

Natasha Harrison, the mother of Tatyanna Harrison, said she also had to take the initiative to investigate her own daughter’s disappearance while the VPD, Surrey RCMP and Richmond police all played jurisdictional hot potato. 

She said despite proof that Tatyanna was living in a shelter in “Vancouver,” the VPD sent the missing person file to Surrey RCMP and the VPD failed to identify her body for three months because she was found in “Richmond”.

Harrison and Noelle O’Soup’s uncle Cody Munch both stated they only received toxicology reports from the VPD after announcing Monday’s rally would take place.

“We got an update of a toxicology report last year, and they just did one not too long ago, within the last week, and it feels like they’re just doing it to save face. To say ‘Oh, we’re doing something,’ when really they’re not doing anything to help,” said Cody.

Josie August, another relative of Noelle, also spoke at the rally about how bureaucratic red tape and jurisdiction contributed to the disappearance and murder of Noelle — saying that Noelle could have been helped if institutions worked together. 

“There should be no jurisdiction, [the police departments] should be working hand in hand. Had they all worked with the Coquitlam RCMP and VPD maybe she would have been found sooner,” said Josie.

“I think it’s time the VPD stop hiding in their offices and be on the streets looking for our women.” 

Cody went on to say how the legacy of child apprehension and the systemic oppression of colonialism has affected his family. Noelle was a youth “in care” when they went missing.

“I remember growing up as a kid, you get told you live in a free country. As a kid, you believe these things, as you get older, you start to realize, this isn’t a free country, it’s stolen,” said Cody. 

“Experiencing everything firsthand — the ripple effect of residential schools, day schools, the 60s Scoop, and now the foster system. It’s still happening today,” he said.

A continuing crisis 

There has been a national inquiry and provincial inquiry into the crisis of MMIWG+, however, families say there has been little accountability from the VPD. The family of Kwemcxenalqs Manuel-Gottfriedson has also spoken out about their negative experiences with the VPD after their loved one went missing — saying there is a lack of cultural safety, among other critiques, that led them to release a list of their own recommendations for the department.

In 2012, Forsaken: The Report of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry was released to the public which contextualized the crisis of missing women from the Downtown Eastside (DTES) of “Vancouver.” The report was ordered by the “B.C.” government in response to the institutional mishandling of the Robert Pickton case.

In 2019, the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was released.

Both reports acknowledge that Indigenous women are more likely to be murdered than non-Indigenous women and that they are hypersexualized and failed by “Canada’s” criminal justice system. Both reports also recognize the specific vulnerability of Indigenous women and girls because of systemic oppression and ongoing colonialism.

“The over-representation of Aboriginal women … who disappeared from the DTES must be understood within the larger context of the legacy of colonialism in Canada,” wrote commissioner Wally Oppal in the “Forsaken” report. 

“I use the term colonialism as a global descriptor for the historically unjust relationship between Aboriginal peoples and successive governments in Canada. Under the policy of assimilation, government policies purposely targeted Aboriginal women.”

The National Inquiry’s report goes further, saying: “Colonial violence, as well as racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people, has become embedded in everyday life.”

“The result has been that many Indigenous people have grown up normalized to violence, while Canadian society shows an appalling apathy to addressing the issues. The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls finds that this amounts to genocide.”

Both reports give recommendations on police accountability including around training, meaningful consultation and effective ways of communicating when someone goes missing. Among the host of recommendations the National Inquiry released towards police, it specifically recommended improving communication between officers and families of MMIWG+ and for police to build better relationships with Indigenous people in general.

The “Forsaken” report made recommendations around privacy and jurisdiction regarding a missing person’s case so it doesn’t get caught up in bureaucratic red tape.

Similarly, the National Inquiry recommended  “improv[ing] coordination across government departments and between jurisdictions and Indigenous communities and police services” as well as standardizing response times with regular audits. 

Natasha Harrison, mother of Tatyanna Harrison, held back tears at the rally while speaking about her only child. Natasha shared that she was a young mother and her and Tatyanna grew up together, failed together, and matured together. Photo by Amei-lee Laboucan

‘I will stand here until my last breath’

Noelle O’Soup went missing in May 2021, according to a press release from the Coquitlam RCMP, and was found dead May 2022 in an apartment in “Vancouver.”

Chelsea Poorman was reported missing by her mother Sheila on September 8, 2020, and was last seen by her younger sister Paige the day before. A missing persons notice went out on September 18, 2020. Chelsea’s body was found in April 2022 by a construction worker outside a vacant house in Shaughnessy, an affluent neighbourhood in “Vancouver,” according to a VPD press release. The police said Chelsea Poorman’s death is not considered suspicious, which her family disputes.

Meanwhile, Tatyanna Harrison was reported missing by her mother Natasha on May 3, 2022. On May 2, Tatyanna’s body was found on a “Richmond” yacht, said her mother at the rally, but the body wasn’t confirmed to be hers until August 5.

At the rally on Monday, all of the relatives spoke about the systemic crisis of MMIWG+ who have gone missing and later found to be dead in “Canada” and notoriously on the DTES. 

In an emotional plea to the VPD, while holding back tears, Natasha Harrison said she can’t carry on knowing that other families of MMIWG+ might not get the help they need.

“None of us want to be here, but we have to be here because I can’t carry on my life knowing how you [the VPD] treat people. 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.

“I will stand here until my last breath because I know another mother who’s going to need my voice to be heard.” 


Will you support our award-winning, Indigenous-led journalism?

We do journalism differently. Our strength-based approach to storytelling has already made huge impacts on our readers and community members.


Will you help us raise $20,000 in our reciprocal fundraising campaign?

Help us raise $20,000 for our reciprocal fundraising campaign

This site uses cookies to provide you with a great user experience. By continuing to use this website, you consent to the use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy.

Scroll to Top