British Columbia·Video

'Why wasn't he in jail?': Family says authorities failed to protect Noelle O'Soup from man wanted Canada-wide

The family of Noelle O'Soup says they believe multiple levels of government and the judicial system failed to protect their 14-year-old niece from a man who was known to be a danger to vulnerable women in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Van Chung Pham was released from immigration custody with no supervision in October 2020

A poster with the words 'noelle O'Soup' and some flowers and cloths in memorial are stuck to a tree.
Noelle O'Soup's family is questioning how officials failed to protect a vulnerable Indigenous girl from a man like Van Chung Pham, whose criminal record spans nearly three decades. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

WARNING: This story discusses violence against Indigenous women and girls and may affect those who have experienced it or know someone who has.

The family of Noelle O'Soup says they believe multiple levels of government and the judicial system failed to protect their 14-year-old niece from a man who was known to be a danger to vulnerable women in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, and questions why the public wasn't warned of his release from custody.

The body of O'Soup and another woman who has not been publicly identified were found in an apartment at 405 Heatley Ave. in May, months after the body of the apartment's tenant was discovered by police. The tenant has since been identified by CBC News and other news outlets as 46-year-old Van Chung Pham.

This week, transcripts and audio recordings of both court and immigration hearings obtained by CBC News revealed Pham had a long history of using and selling drugs to vulnerable people in the Downtown Eastside, and had been ordered deported from Canada to Vietnam as early as 2016.

Vancouver Police confirmed Pham was wanted on a Canada-wide warrant at the time of his death in February.

CBC News also learned Noelle and the other woman were not the first women to die in Pham's presence — a third woman died of an overdose in a room he rented at Canada Hotel. 

Despite this history, Pham was released from immigration custody with virtually no supervision in October 2020, as there appeared to be no hope of removing him from Canada after Vietnamese officials failed to procure the travel documents required.

A month after his release, he allegedly assaulted and drugged another woman.

0'Soup's uncle talks about the system's failure to protect his niece:

Uncle of Noelle O'Soup reacts to new details about man linked to niece's death

2 months ago
Duration 0:26
Cody Munch says it makes him "sick to his stomach" to hear the details uncovered by CBC News about Van Chung Pham, the man linked to Noelle O'Soup's death. Munch says lives might have been saved if Pham was caught earlier.

'Unbelievable, horrible'

Cody Munch, O'Soup's uncle — who had been applying for custody of his niece when she fled a group home in Port Coquitlam, about 30 kilometres east of Vancouver, in May 2021 — said learning of Pham's criminal history, and repeated warnings that he was a danger to the public, was the latest dark turn in a case that has left his family devastated.

"It was unbelievable, horrible [...] knowing what he did to other women," said Munch, speaking from his home in Fort St. John in northeastern B.C., about 414 kilometres north of Prince George. 

"I'm not going to lie. I had tears that were running down my eyes."

A group picture featuring four people. The boy on the left is wearing an Adidas windjacket. The boy second from the left is wearing a black jacket. The person second from the right, Cody Munch, is wearing a blue long-sleeved shirt. Lastly, Noelle on the far right is wearing a pink hoodie.
Cody Munch, left, had been applying for custody of Noelle O'Soup when she fled her Port Coquitlam group home. (Submitted by Cody Munch)

Both sides of the O'Soup family have been critical of police and the Ministry of Children and Family Development's response to their niece's case, questioning why an amber alert was not issued when she disappeared from her group home and why it took so long for her body to be found.

While Pham's body was found in the apartment at the Heatley Block on Feb. 23, police did not find the other two bodies in the small apartment until May, after neighbours complained of a foul smell.

In a written statement to CBC, Sgt. Steve Addison with the Vancouver Police Department said police do not have authority to search the homes of people who die suddenly from natural causes, drug overdoses or other non-criminal means. Because Pham's death is considered not suspicious, and because of his long history of drug use, it is widely assumed he died of an overdose.

"The apartment where Noelle was found was a single-room occupancy suite, and the tenant was an extreme hoarder," read the statement from Addison.

A dark corridor in an apartment building.
Van Chung Pham was released from immigration custody in October 2020 with virtually no supervision. His last known address was 405 Heatley Ave. in Vancouver. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"In the absence of a detailed search of the suite, which was not authorized by law at the time of Pham's death, there is no likelihood that anyone could have discovered Noelle's remains."

A Vancouver police officer linked to the case is currently under investigation for alleged neglect of duty under the Police Act. The Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner (OPCC) has said the accusation is in connection to the officer's conduct when it came to attending the apartment on the Heatley Block where the three bodies were ultimately found.

'Why wasn't he in jail?'

Addison confirmed Pham was well-known to VPD, and had been charged 13 times between 1994 and 2007 as a result of their investigations.

He said if a violent offender obtains statutory release or has completed their sentence and still poses a risk to the public, police sometimes issue a public notification at the recommendation of Correctional Service Canada, but that Pham's police history included mostly non-violent offences such as mischief, property crimes and drug offences.

Because O'Soup disappeared from a group home in Port Coquitlam, Vancouver Police only took over the investigation after her death.

A squat building at East Hastings Street in Vancouver.
The body of Van Chung Pham was found in February inside Apartment 16 of the Heatley Block in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Two months later, police returned after complaints from neighbours and found the bodies of Noelle O'Soup and another woman who has not been publicly identified. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

But Munch said he's unsatisfied that Pham was released without conditions, on account of what amounted to missing paperwork.

He said his family is "disgusted" that within 16 months of Pham's release, his niece and another woman were dead, with yet another woman alleging she'd been drugged and sexually assaulted.

"It makes me sick to my stomach ... because this could have happened to many other women. If he hadn't died and overdosed in his apartment, this could have happened to so many other women," he said, adding police should make a public appeal for information about Pham, who he believes may have other victims.

"I definitely think that this guy should be investigated as a serial killer."

Josie August, Noelle O'Soup's aunt, said in a Monday press conference with families of other missing and murdered Indigenous women that the revelations about Pham raise questions about why police weren't communicating the risk he posed to the public.

"Why wasn't he in jail? Why wasn't there posters about keeping safe from him?" she said.

"I find it very disheartening that we find more through the media than we do through the Vancouver Police Department."

Criminal investigation ongoing

Police said they have not released Pham's name and photo because the investigation is in the hands of the B.C. Coroners Service.

While police sometimes release photos of suspects and ask for potential victims to come forward, that is not currently planned in Pham's case.

"We may consider doing that at some point in this investigation," said the statement from Addison.

"However, this remains an ongoing criminal investigation and we must maintain the integrity of that investigation by not disclosing information that could taint statements of other potential victims or witnesses."

An image macro reading 'Send us your tips. If you or someone you know encountered Van Chung Pham or Noelle O'Soup please contact our newsroom. Email: cbcnewsvancouver@cbc.ca'
(CBC)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michelle Ghoussoub

Reporter, CBC News

Michelle Ghoussoub is a television, radio and digital reporter with CBC News in Vancouver. She can be reached at michelle.ghoussoub@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @MichelleGhsoub.

With files from Jason Proctor and Ethan Sawyer

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