A coroner’s inquest into the suicide of a Vancouver police officer who had made complaints about intimate relationships with two senior officers heard on Monday from her sister and one of the last VPD officers to see her alive .
Const. Nicole Chan took her own life in 2019, two years after filing complaints against Sgt. David Van Patten and Sgt. Greg McCullough.
Testifying at a coroner’s court in Burnaby on Jan. 23, sister Jennifer Chan said Nicole loved being a police officer and was pleading for someone to fight for her.
Nicole appeared increasingly unhappy and aimless about her future and felt blackmailed into having sex with an officer in the department’s human resources department, Jennifer told the court.
“I might be paraphrasing but in my mind I thought an officer was blackmailing her to have sex with her basically, and I knew that the officer was in HR,” she said.
Jennifer testified that her sister was living with depression and anxiety after lodging her complaint with the department, but yearned to get healthy enough to go back to work.
Growing questions ahead of public inquest
Outside the hearing, she told reporters she hoped the inquest would allow her sister’s voice to be heard and her story to be remembered.
“I am cautious but hopeful about this inquest, and I hope the jury comes back with some recommendations for change in the department,” she said.
“I believe there is a systemic issue within the VPD that needs to be changed, because I don’t want this to happen to another family.”
The inquest also heard from VPD Supt. Shelly Horne, who met Nicole in October 2017, while working in the sex crimes unit. Horne interviewed Chan about the complaints she had lodged against Van Patten.
Horne said Nicole was concerned about being coerced into having sex with Van Patten after he made a recording of content on another member’s phone, then threatened to send it to her husband and the other officer’s spouse.
Horne did not describe the content of the recording, but in a civil suit, Nicole’s family has alleged it was evidence of a relationship she was having with another officer who was a friend of Van Patten’s.
Chan was distressed about the recording and went to Van Patten’s apartment in New Westminster to talk to him about it, Horne testified.
“When she got there, she said Dave told her that he needed to feel close to her and that they needed to have sex,” Horne told the inquest. “So, Nicole told me that she had sex with him, but that she really felt disgusted by it, but felt that she had no real option but to do that.”
Nicole said she continued the relationship out of fear Van Patten could damage her career, she added.
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Van Patten is currently not on the witness list, neither is former VPD Sgt. Greg McCullough.
The BC Coroners Service would not comment on why the two superior officers who allegedly had inappropriate relationships with Nicole have not been called to give evidence.
Van Patten was ultimately dismissed. McCullough was suspended and later resigned. An Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner-ordered investigation recommended criminal charges, but Crown prosecutors declined to pursue them.
“Not having two of the individuals who were at the heart of the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner’s investigation, it was surprising and I can only imagine disappointing for the family,” said Gloria Ng, counsel for the Chan family.
“I do think that unfortunately, the format of the inquest will leave the Chan family with more questions at the end of it.”
Horne told the inquest she spoke with Nicole at Vancouver General Hospital — where she had been taken under the Mental Health Act — the day before she died.
Nicole was frustrated that she was not able to work, while Van Patten was able to keep his job, she testified. Nicole was on stress leave at the time.
Despite a previous suicide attempt, she was released from the hospital and took her own life in the early hours of the following morning.
The inquest is scheduled to run to Feb. 2, and hear testimony from numerous Vancouver police officers as well as mental health professionals.
An inquest jury is tasked with determining the facts around the death and making recommendations to prevent a similar tragedy, but can not assign fault or blame.
– with files from Global News’ Rumina Daya and The Canadian Press
If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault or is involved in an abusive situation, please visit the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime for help. They are also reachable toll-free at 1-877-232-2610.
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