WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
The Vancouver Police Department’s director of labour and employee relations testified Tuesday at the B.C. Coroner’s Inquest into the death of Const. Nicole Chan about VPD policy on personal relationships in the workplace.
Speaking on the seventh and final day of the inquest, Christine McLean said the policy, updated in 2021, calls for both parties involved in a workplace relationship that represent a conflict to declare it. She said the policy also calls for other members who know about the relationship to report it.
“It’s not distinct to supervisors and subordinates, it does actually touch on all employees. But then also, if somebody is in a position where there might be a power imbalance — whether that be a direct reporting relationship with the employee, or also a position where they have influence over that employee’s career … that’s included in the policy,” said McLean.
“Generally speaking, if there is a relationship in the organization that could be a perceived or actual conflict of interest if reported, the VPD would look into that … on a case-by-case scenario to determine whether or not that conflict of interest could potentially be reduced or anything, in terms of [what] the VPD would considered appropriate or not,” she said.
Chan died on Jan. 27, 2019, hours after being released from the Vancouver General Hospital access and assessment centre, where she was brought after being apprehended by VPD officers under the Mental Health Act as a suicide risk.
The inquest has heard about Chan’s history of mental health struggles and that she had been intimately involved with two supervising VPD officers.
She accused Sgt. David Van Patten of sexual assault and extortion in a complaint that the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner (OPCC) initially deferred to the New Westminster Police to investigate for potential criminality. The New Westminster Police recommended Van Patten be charged, but the Crown declined.
The OPCC subsequently found that three claims against Van Patten were substantiated. He was dismissed from the VPD in January of 2020 “for discreditable conduct related to misconduct occurring during an inappropriate relationship with a junior Vancouver Police Officer.”
The inquest heard that in the weeks before she died, Chan became increasingly depressed and angry over her situation with the VPD, and was worried her policing career was over.
Chan’s family has filed a civil suit naming the VPD, the Vancouver Police Union, the Vancouver Police Board, Van Patten and others as defendants. One of the claims is that Van Patten, who worked in the department’s human resources section, made Chan agree to not disclose their relationship to anyone, including mental health professionals.
A coroner’s inquest does not find blame or criminality but is meant to serve the public interest in revealing the facts and circumstances of a death. A coroner’s inquest jury can make recommendations that are intended to address improvements to policy and procedures.
If you or someone you know is struggling, here’s where to get help:
This guide from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health outlines how to talk about suicide with someone you’re worried about.