Const. Nicole Chan inquest jury recommends better communication between doctors, changes to VPD policy

Const. Nicole Chan died by suicide in 2019 following allegations that her superior, Sgt. David Van Patten, was engaging in an inappropriate relationship with her. (Submitted by the Chan family - image credit)
Const. Nicole Chan died by suicide in 2019 following allegations that her superior, Sgt. David Van Patten, was engaging in an inappropriate relationship with her. (Submitted by the Chan family - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

The jury in the B.C. Coroner's Inquest into the suicide of Vancouver Police Const. Nicole Chan has made a dozen recommendations, including better communication between community health care providers, police and paramedics and the hospital physician treating a patient with a mental health emergency.

Other recommendations include improved respect in the workplace training within the Vancouver Police Department and that officers in the VPD human resources section receive training specific to human resources duties.

Sister Jenn Chan said Nicole would have been pleased with the recommendations.

"She would be very happy that she was finally listened to and that everyone has listened and also feel the same way in respect to the fact that things need to change," she said. "Hopefully, it will be put into action."

The jury's verdict confirmed the official cause of death to be suicide by ligature strangulation in the early morning hours of Jan. 27, 2019.

Chan, 30, took her life 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 heard about Chan's history of mental health struggles and that she had been intimately involved with two superior VPD officers.

Submitted by Jenn Chan
Submitted by Jenn Chan

Chan filed a complaint against one of those officers, Sgt. David Van Patten, alleging he had sexually assaulted and extorted her. Van Patten was Chan's supervisor in the VPD human resources section.

Chan alleged in a WorkSafeBC claim that Van Patten told her not to report their relationship or that she was feeling poorly to the VPD psychologist. She alleged Van Patten warned her he had access to her human resources file, including reports from the psychologist.

"The whole point of the inquest was to show that Nicole never wanted to be a victim," said Chan family lawyer Gloria Ng. "So what we're hoping comes out of this today is that these recommendations will truly be listened to and that action will actually flow from it."

Other recommendations made by the jury include:

  • Direct communication between police, paramedics bringing in a person apprehended under the Mental Health Act and the hospital doctors receiving the patient.

  • A mandatory psychological clinical interview be a part of every potential VPD officer's recruitment process, and that the results be considered.

  • VPD provides a human resources or peer support case representative to employees with mental health issues.

  • Mandatory annual psychological check-ins with a psychologist for officers of all ranks in all sections, not just those working in high-risk units.

  • Rumours and gossip be recognized in policy as examples of unprofessional behaviour.

  • The VPD ensures each of its sections works interdependently versus independently of each other.

  • The Ministry of Health consider creating a database accessible by all health authorities containing the medical records of patients with suicidal ideation.

The inquest heard evidence for seven days from over 30 witnesses. A full list of its recommendations can be found here.

In a statement, Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer said Chan's inquest has had an impact.

"Though we will take time to review the jury's recommendations, we remain committed to ensuring Nicole's death continues to lead to positive change within policing and for anyone struggling with their mental health," he said.

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.