The family of Const. Nicole Chan has filed a lawsuit claiming a combination of sexual assault, power imbalances and negligence by senior officers and the Vancouver Police Department led the junior officer to take her own life.
Chan worked with VPD, first as a jail guard and then as an officer, from about 2009 until she died by suicide in January 2019. Throughout that time, she suffered from depression and endured mental health episodes that resulted in her being put on paid leave multiple times.
Mental illness exacerbated by secret work affairs
The lawsuit claims Chan’s severe mental distress was directly connected to intimate relationships she had with four higher-ranking VPD officers.
The first sexual relationship began when Chan was just 17 years old around 2006. It was then that she met Sgt. Cory Bech, a constable and recruiter with the Vancouver Police Board. He convinced Chan to join the force around in 2009 as a jail guard. They continued to have intermittent sexual encounters through the rest of Chan’s career and into both of their marriages.
“Const. Bech was aware of Nicole’s mental disabilities, in particular as they pertained to intimate relationships, but maintained their relationship for his personal benefit,” the lawsuit says.
VPD and the Vancouver Police Board also became aware of Chan’s struggles around 2012, one year after she became a full-time officer. The lawsuit says Chan was involved in a single-vehicle crash, triggered by an intimate relationship. The Vancouver Police Board interpreted it as a suicide attempt and issued her a psychological assessment. They also gave her a week off and took away her firearms.
The lawsuit says Chan didn’t suffer any further mental health episodes until about 2016, when she entered into intimate relationships with two superior officers. All three were married at the time.
The former, Const. Derrick Kaine, was helping Chan to try and get into the Emergency Response Team. The latter, Sgt. David Van Patten, was the human resources officer in charge of Chan’s employee file. Both insisted that Chan keep their relationships secret.
Around the same time, Chan expressed to colleagues that she was struggling with her marriage. One of her superior officers reported concerns that Chan was depressed, and she was given some time off work.
The lawsuit claims ineffective or non-existent policies at VPD and the Vancouver Police Board around internal relationships and power imbalances at the time “effectively caused, or significantly contributed to, the death of Nicole.”
Soon after returning from her leave, Chan and Van Patten’s relationship grew rocky. Chan experienced another mental health episode and was diagnosed with depression. The lawsuit says the Vancouver Police Board advised Chan to take a few sick days.
Sometime after May 2016, Chan called a senior constable and told them she was in the United States and planning to commit suicide. A team of VPD officers were sent out to retrieve her, and Chan was transferred to the human resources department. No one ever informed her family of what had happened, according to the lawsuit.
It was widely discussed and ridiculed within the department, though, the lawsuit says.
Chan began seeing a psychologist and was driven to and from appointments by an unnamed fellow officer. The lawsuit claims the two engaged in an intermittent sexual relationship for months.
Around that time, Van Patten got ahold of Kaine’s phone and found evidence of his relationship with Chan. The lawsuit says Van Patten then used it to blackmail the two into ending their affair and to force Chan into having sex with him. The suit further claims Van Patten told Chan not to speak with VPD’s psychologist, as it would reveal their relationship.
Chan tried to take action before her death
In 2017, Chan filed a complaint with the Vancouver Police Board and WorkSafeBC against Van Patten.
The latter was concluded in November 2018 and Chan was provided compensation for a mental disorder resulting from her employment and, specifically, “multiple sexual assaults.”
The former resulted in two investigations. First, the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner ordered the New Westminster Police Department to look into things. They recommended numerous criminal charges against Van Patten, but Crown Counsel refused to approve them.
Second, the OPCC investigated Van Patten’s actions as discreditable conduct. As part of the process, in early 2019 Chan provided an impact statement, describing her feelings of exploitation and coercion. Three weeks later, on January 26, 2019, VPD officers responded to a mental distress call at Chan’s home and took her to hospital.
She was released and officers returned Chan to her home, where they left her alone. The next day, she hung herself.
It wasn’t until after that Van Patten was suspended and ultimately fired.
“Van Patten did not show remorse for his actions, nor insight…,” reads the notice of civil claim.
Bech and Kaine were never investigated for their alleged role in Chan’s death.
Blame extends beyond two officers
The lawsuit is suing the involved officers, VPD, the Vancouver Police Board, VPD’s chief constable, the Vancouver Police Union, the City of Vancouver, B.C. Attorney General David Eby and B.C. Solicitor General Mike Farnworth.
It claims they all failed to keep Chan safe, by neglecting to implement or enforce any policies around intimate relationships between senior and subordinate officers and the abuse that is known to occur there. The lawsuit says the various bodies and attorney general and solicitor general also failed to recognize the increased rates of violence and discrimination women face, particularly in a male-dominated field like policing.
“The workplace culture was such that Nicole was more afraid of the negative consequences on her career from reporting the inappropriate relationships, than she was afraid of the consequences those relationships were having on her,” the claim states.
Beyond Chan’s death, the lawsuit also argues the actions of the defendants caused Chan’s mother Lai Ching Ho significant pain and suffering, as well as the loss of her daughter as a future caregiver.
None of the allegations have been proven in court, and none of the defendants have filed responses to the lawsuit as of publication.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on Dec. 28, 2022 to reflect changes made to the civil lawsuit, including the fact that Sgt. Greg McCullough is no longer named as a defendant.