A Vancouver Police officer who accompanied Const. Nicole Chan to Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) four years ago was surprised she was not admitted to the mental health unit.
Const. Warren Head testified Thursday at the BC Coroners Service inquest into Chan’s Jan. 27, 2019 suicide that he responded with partner Const. Bentley Williams to a call for a suicidal woman in an Olympic Village apartment on Jan. 26, 2019.
Williams interviewed Chan’s boyfriend, Jamie Gifford, who had seized a knife and scissors from Chan. The 30-year-old, who was suffering from depression and anxiety, was on leave from the force after complaining to Chief Adam Palmer that two senior officers had coerced her into sexual relationships.
Head said Chan was agitated, but that he managed to calm her and convince her that going to the hospital was best for her. Head recalled how, when he was a rookie, Chan and her partner on duty were at the same sudden-death call where he saw a dead body for the first time.
“[During the Jan. 26 call] she made a comment at one point, something to the effect of, ‘You don't know anything about me, you don't care,’” Head told presiding coroner Susan Barth and a five-person jury in Burnaby Coroners’ Court. “Guess what, [I said], I do know who you are, and I do care about you, because you helped me through my first-ever call, which was going to be a difficult call for me to have to go through. When that conversation happened, her demeanour changed quite a bit.”
Chan eventually went willingly, without handcuffs, to a waiting ambulance. Williams travelled with her to VGH. Head followed in their squad car.
At the hospital’s access and assessment centre, Head briefed a doctor about the knife and scissors her boyfriend had taken away. He emphasized that she was a danger to herself and recommended she be admitted because it would be inappropriate to release her to go home alone where she could follow through on threats to harm herself. Then Chan went in.
“They had a conversation, and Nicole came back out, and then I went back in with the doctor,” Head said. “They informed me at that point in time that they would not be admitting her to the hospital under the section 28 [of the Mental Health Act] and then that's when I came back out again.”
Two human resources officers had arrived. Head briefed them that the doctor was satisfied with her treatment plan.
“I just, I remember advocating, saying that I believe that this was a mistake and these are the reasons why,” he said.
He testified that when he spoke with Chan earlier at the apartment, she denied thoughts of suicide. When he got to hospital, Williams mentioned to him that she admitted in the ambulance that she had taken a dog leash into the bathroom and had a pair of scissors underneath the sheets in her bed for such a purpose.
“Regardless of my efforts, they still were steadfast on the fact that they were not going to admit her.”
The HR officers took Chan back home. Gifford testified Wednesday that he decided to stay with a friend, because police were concerned that if she came back, that she might harm them both. To his surprise, she returned as he was preparing to leave.
“We called the police again and reported to them that I was leaving and that she was going to be alone,” Gifford testified. “The police told me that they were going to check up on her. They said it was fine.”
The next morning, he returned with a friend.
“When I entered the apartment, it was very quiet. I called for Nicole, there was no answer,” Gifford said.
He opened the bedroom door and found her body. There was a note left on the kitchen counter.
“Please give Ollie [Chan’s dog] to my sister Jen, please take care of him. I love him, I love you, Jen. I'm so sorry. There's nothing anyone could have done.”
The hearing continues Friday and is scheduled to conclude Monday.
A coroner’s inquest is not a fault-finding exercise, but a fact-finding exercise aimed at generating recommendations to prevent a similar tragedy.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, call 1-800-784-2433 (1-800-SUICIDE), or call your local crisis centre.