Good morning. Wendy Cox here this morning in Vancouver.
Chelsea Poorman’s remains were found 592 days and a world away from the Granville Strip nightlife area where she was last seen.
The Saskatchewan Indigenous woman had moved to Vancouver in 2020 and had been living in Burnaby with her boyfriend when she texted her sister in the early hours of Sept. 7 that year to say that she had met a “new bae.” Her family reported her missing the next day and spent months canvassing the city and putting up “missing posters.”
Ms. Poorman’s remains were discovered last month under a blanket in the backyard of a decaying mansion in Vancouver’s Shaughnessy neighbourhood, a home neighbours say hasn’t been lived in regularly for five years. They were found because contractors had begun work to have the nine-bedroom house expanded to make it more suitable living quarters for the wealthy, absent off-shore owner.
As Mike Hager writes today, the news that a vacant mansion had become a crime scene in an Indigenous woman’s death, even as its offshore owners pondered making their investment more lavish still, has highlighted the divide between haves and have-nots in a city where many locals can no longer afford to rent homes, let alone buy them.
It has also touched off a torrent of criticism of the police investigation, prompting the force to walk back its assertion that the death was not suspicious.
Ms. Poorman’s relatives, who are members of the Kawacatoose First Nation, have been critical of police. So have Indigenous leaders from British Columbia and Saskatchewan, the Poormans’ home province.
Police investigators met with Sheila Poorman, Chelsea’s mother, and her two other daughters on May 9 to answer questions and apologize for initially telling the public Ms. Poorman’s death was not suspicious. Sheila told Mike the investigators could not explain why part of her daughter’s skull and some fingers are still missing. And police did not tell the family whether a toxicology report had been conducted. Instead, they said the coroner could not determine a cause of death, added Sheila, who works at a Vancouver homeless shelter.
“I want to try and get it reinvestigated, because it seems like there’s something missing,” she said.
Constable Tania Visintin, a spokesperson for the Vancouver Police Department, said the force should have clarified to the family and the public that “not suspicious” meant only that investigators had not found enough evidence of foul play.
“There’s no evidence to believe that her death was the result of a crime,” Constable Visintin said.
Victor Chow, the developer in charge of the property’s renovation, said squatters began living in the home at least two years ago. He had them kicked out when he was hired to gut and rebuild it in 2020. Afterward, the front gates and front door of the home were padlocked, and its large ground-floor windows boarded up from the inside with plywood.
In 2021, a city inspector visited the backyard as part of the process to get a permit for the massive renovation. The owners, a couple who bought the property for $7.3-million in 2014 and now live in China, had proposed adding some 3,000 square feet of new space to the home, and the city needed to verify some aspects of the application. The city inspector noticed nothing amiss.
It wasn’t until a rubbish-removal company went into the backyard last month to clear piles of garbage and overgrown vegetation as the renovation work finally began that the remains of the 24-year-old Cree woman were found.
From the time Ms. Poorman died to the day her body was found there, the home’s assessed value increased by nearly half a million dollars, to $7.1-million.
Mr. Chow said the owner had previously lived in Vancouver, but moved back to China several months before the pandemic.
“They wanted to live in the Shaughnessy area, but then the house was too old, or whatever, and – according to their standard of living – it was substandard,” Mr. Chow told The Globe.
Like everyone else, Mr. Chow said, the owners want to find out how Ms. Poorman died. Mr. Chow, who has been building homes for four decades, said he can’t help but feel sorry that the work didn’t begin sooner so she was found earlier.
“Nobody wants that thing to happen,” he said.
Standing outside the property for the first time earlier this week after flying in from Saskatoon, Ms. Poorman’s stepfather, Mike Kiernan, was as stunned by the public outpouring of grief for his stepdaughter as he was by the wealth the vacant home represents.
“This guy is not even in the country?” said Mr. Kiernan, who had campaigned for months to find Ms. Poorman. “You could put a lot of people in a good shelter here while he’s gone.”
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.