WARNING: This story discusses suicide and may be triggering to some readers.
More questions into why Vancouver Const. Nicole Chan was released from hospital and left alone on the night before she died by suicide in 2019 were raised Wednesday (Jan. 25), as a coroner’s inquest heard from her former boyfriend and other mental health experts.
Jamie Gifford testified that he and Chan had been dating for about a year and a half, and living together for a year of that, in January 2019. He told the jury he was aware Chan struggled with depression and that she experienced her worst days when she was reminded of an ongoing investigation into a senior Vancouver Police Department officer, who she said had blackmailed her into having sex with him.
“That really set her off. It just really put her in a negative, helpless state of mind,” Gifford said.
On good days, Chan was “more full of life,” “playful” and had “a great sense of humour,” according to Gifford, but those days had become less frequent leading up to January 2019.
“She was very upset there was nothing getting solved over her [sexual assault] case and she felt very hopeless that she’d lost her career.”
At the time, Chan was on leave from the VPD and awaiting the outcome of the internal disciplinary investigation into Sgt. David Van Patten – the human resources sergeant she accused of sexual assault and extortion.
The night before her death, Gifford said he told Chan he was planning to stay at a friend’s house, following a bit of a rocky week between the two. The next thing he knew, Gifford said Chan had grabbed him by his arms and was screaming that she wanted him to stay. He told the inquiry that he had never seen her act that way before.
“She was very negative and frantic at that time. She was just saying, ‘I’m not going to start over. It’s not fair,’ going on about the cases she was dealing with at work.”
Gifford said he did his best to calm Chan down, but that he found her in possession of at least three weapons as the night went on, each of which he was able to take from her.
Gifford testified he was concerned about getting the VPD involved because of Chan’s ongoing complaint with them, but he didn’t know what else to do. He contacted a friend for support and they called 911.
About five or six officers showed up and interviewed him and Chan separately, Gifford recalled. During his talk, Gifford said he showed the officers the weapons Chan had been handling – none of which they seized – and gave them his contact information.
Chan was then taken to hospital under the Mental Health Act, where Gifford said he understood she would be staying the night.
Once she left, Gifford gathered his own things, as well as anything in the house he thought could be used as a weapon, and got ready to stay at his friend’s house. He was just about to leave around 11 p.m. or midnight when, to his shock, Chan returned home.
He said Chan told him she was fine, but he still battled with whether he should leave her alone or not that night. He said his friends were waiting for him outside and had expressed concern that Chan may attempt to hurt him if he stayed.
Gifford said he decided to go, but not before he and his friends called the police to tell them that Chan would be alone in the apartment that night.
“The police told me they were going to check up on her.”
It was Gifford who found Chan the next day.
The inquest, which is not intended to place blame but instead have a jury create recommendations to prevent similar deaths from happening again, is anticipated to continue into next week.
If you feel like you are in crisis or are considering suicide, please call the Crisis Centre BC suicide hotline at 1-800-784-2433.
Other resources include: Canada Suicide Prevention Service at Toll free: 1-833-456-4566. You can also text 45645 or visit the online chat service at crisisservicescanada.ca.
Some warning signs include suicidal thoughts, anger, recklessness, mood changes, anxiety, lack of purpose, helplessness and substance use.