British Columbia

Family searches for clues months after 24-year-old Cree woman vanishes in downtown Vancouver

A Vancouver mother worries police did not act fast enough when her daughter, a 24-year-old Cree woman, vanished from a downtown apartment in September.

Advocate says burden of searching for missing Indigenous women often falls to families

Sheila Poorman puts up posters of her daughter on Vancouver's Granville Street, where she went missing. (CBC/Ken Leedham)

Sheila Poorman has spent six months taping posters up across Vancouver, hoping someone might know why her daughter vanished after leaving a downtown apartment. 

She wonders how no one could have noticed Chelsea Poorman, a 24-year-old Cree woman with round cheeks, friendly brown eyes and a noticeable limp, leave an apartment at Granville and Davie streets around midnight on Sept. 6 when those streets are lined with closed-circuit video cameras.

All she knows is that Chelsea met up with a new man after she spent the evening with her sister.

Beyond that, she says neither her family nor police have any substantial leads as to the identity of that man or what happened next. The unanswered questions have been agonizing. 

"Her sisters, myself, we miss her dearly and we just want her home and we just want her safe," Poorman said.

"She wouldn't just not come home."

The family has hired a private investigator. Poorman continues to search for her daughter herself because she worries police did not act quickly enough at the time of her disappearance.

Chelsea is vulnerable, she said. She has a brain injury and her arm is permanently bent from a car accident. Poorman fears someone may have taken advantage of her kind and trusting personality.

She was reported missing to the Vancouver Police Department days after she disappeared, but Poorman says she was disappointed police did not issue a public missing person's notice until 10 days later.

Police said in December that her case was transferred to the homicide section but is being treated as a missing persons case that requires additional resources.

When asked this week whether the case is considered a homicide, police said they had no updates, but that detectives are still working on it. 

Chelsea Poorman, at left in both photos, was 24 years old when she went missing after leaving an apartment in downtown Vancouver in September. (Submitted by Sheila Poorman)

'It's families … that are always doing the groundwork'

Lorelei Williams, a former women's co-ordinator at the Vancouver Aboriginal Community Policing Centre Society, is working with Poorman to organize a vigil walk on March 19.

VACPC exists to address social justice issues and build a better relationships between the Indigenous community and the police.

Williams says families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) often come to the organization because they don't know where else to turn for help. She feels there is often less investigative effort made when Indigenous women go missing compared to other women.

"They [families of missing women] feel like the police aren't doing enough and they don't know what else to do," Williams said.

"I find that it's families and their supports that are always doing the groundwork. They're always searching because that's their missing loved one."

In June, a CBC News survey found that there is still no uniform or co-ordinated approach among police forces handling cases of missing or murdered Indigenous women in Canada, a year after a national inquiry into the issue was completed. 

COVID-19 has exacerbated violence against women.

Williams says she has noticed an increase in violent incidents in Vancouver.

She feels police forces have been slow to change and address the problem of violence against women effectively across Canada, which has meant communities have had to create their own resources to protect each other.

"MMIWG is our emergency well before the pandemic and it's worse now," Williams said. 

"We live in a racist country and systemic racism is there. It's always there, it's there to this day. Nothing has changed."

Chelsea Poorman was reported missing from downtown Vancouver on Sept. 8, 2020. (Submitted by Sheila Poorman)

Williams says she's frustrated that no video recordings have been released that might help find Chelsea.

Sheila Poorman says her daughter, who would now be 25, loved animals, fashion and music. She was friendly, funny, and caring, and had dreams of attending film school. 

Chelsea was always looking out for others. Now, Poorman hopes someone is looking out for her. 

"If anybody has seen her or if anybody has heard anything about Chelsea or you know, anything, I just ask, to phone the tip line," Poorman said.

"We just want Chelsea home. We want to know that she's OK. We want to know that she's safe."

Anyone with information about her disappearance is asked to contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

Poorman worries someone may have taken advantage of her daughter's kind and trusting personality. (CBC/Ken Leedham)

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