Lorimer Shenher was the first detective assigned to Vancouver’s Missing and Murdered Women Investigation and worked as a City of Vancouver police officer for over 24 years. That Lonely Section of Hell is Lorimer’s first book, published in 2015 by Greystone Books. It was named a 2015 Globe & Mail Top 100 Book, as well as a 2016 nominee for the Ontario Library Association Evergreen Award and has been short listed for the 2016 BC Book Prizes Hubert Evans Award for non-fiction, the KOBO 2016 Emerging Writer Prize, the 2016 Edna Staebler Award for creative non-fiction, and the 2016 City of Vancouver Book Award.
That Lonely Section of Hell
Lorimer Shenher, Greystone Books
Q. What do you hope Vancouver readers will come away with after reading That Lonely Section of Hell?
A. My hope is that people will understand the pressing need to question their faith and belief in the institution of policing in Canada at large. I’m not talking about bashing the police or the individual efforts of some very well-meaning people in that profession, but about examining the system and the toxic culture inside of policing that allows for the oppression of vulnerable people to manifest itself in incompetence and negligence in these very important investigations. Canadians often think the United States are in far worse shape in terms of police violence and their history with slavery and black oppression, but there is much need for reform here in Canada with respect to Indigenous peoples and persons of colour.
Q. Your book details the institutional issues of racism, sexism and classism that shrouded this historical case. It points to some systemic issues in our society that still ring true today. Where do you see Vancouver now in relation to these issues and do you think that there is potential for change?
A. I’m an optimist and there is always potential for change! Unfortunately, I still see pervasive attitudes that the mishandling of this particular case, the Missing and Murdered Women Investigation, was merely a one-off, a historic screw up. Many people believe it occurred in another era and such a failure could never be repeated. These attitudes need to shift in order for change to occur. I see this as an issue of national importance for Canadians, and as such, Vancouver will be pulled along by any improvement in conditions across the country that lessen racism, sexism, and classism. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) is a model for identifying systemic damage and implementing education as a means to begin to change attitudes. I hope that some of the initiatives from the TRC will help with the racism and classism piece affecting Indigenous women.
I see much being done across Canada to come to terms with rape culture, which I believe allows all women —and especially those marginalized like the women in my book— to be treated with less respect and value than cisgender white men. There are conversations occurring as the result of the Jian Ghomeshi and Brock Turner verdicts that we were not having two or three years ago. There are judges being called to task for comments made to sexual assault survivors in their courts. Police departments are being called to task for the exploitive behaviours toward marginalized women of officers in their organizations. This is progress and while it is slow, it is monumental.
Q. This is a very personal account of your role, and the repercussions of being involved in Vancouver’s Missing and Murdered Women’s Investigation. How did writing this book affect you? Moreover, what did you think when you learned that the Government of Canada had launched an independent national inquiring into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls this year?
A. Writing the book was actually very cathartic and healing once I had been able to work through some of the trauma around the events of the case, the BC inquiry, and the aftermath. Not writing it had never felt like an option but I was stuck for many years; I knew I could never move forward with my own life until I told this awful story. I felt a duty to the public and to these women to tell how we had failed them.
I wasn’t surprised when the Canadian government announced the national inquiry, but I knew that would not have happened under the Harper government, so it was more the election that gave me hope. The factors and change discussed in question 2 will all help to create a climate in Canada that stops this violence against women and girls.
I’ve been very fortunate to have met with federal Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett twice this past year and we have had very good discussions on the inquiry, policing, and how to manage all of the expectations and pain of the people most affected. I trust that this issue is in good hands with her and if the inquiry does fail, it won’t be for lack of effort, thoughtful commitment, or compassion on her part. I look forward to seeing the results of these efforts to stop Indigenous women from being victimized by violence and racism. I’m also hopeful there will be a strong commitment to changing police culture that perpetuates racism and old colonial attitudes.
Q. Can you tell us more about where you are at now, and where your career has led you?
A. Wow. I’m in such a much better place than I was during those events and long years the book chronicles. It’s actually odd to go out and talk to groups of people about the dark days because my default position is that I’m really a pretty happy person under it all and now I laugh easily again and really enjoy meeting people, which wasn’t the case for many years. I have tough days still, when I see things that remind me of specifics of my experience on this file or I fall back into thinking about the career that I lost because of all this. I’m on medical leave from the VPD and I’m unable to return to policing because of my PTSD. I actually haven’t been emotionally able to enter VPD facilities if I wanted to, which is a very strange feeling given not much else scares me these days.
I’m at Royal Roads University completing an MA in professional communications, which I’m enjoying greatly. I’m doing so many cool things, speaking to people about PTSD, police culture, women’s issues, racism, and the intersectionality of all of these things and more. I began medically transitioning to male last year the same week the book was published — because I apparently only do things in a big way —and that has been the correction of a lifelong disconnect and the end of a very tough struggle for me. I’ve met many amazing people this year and my world has opened up in ways I couldn’t imagine it would when I was struggling.
Q. Do you have any public events (festivals, readings, podcasts, etc.) taking place in 2016 that we can help to promote? Where and when are they?
A. Thank you so much. I have several things in the works for this fall/winter that haven’t been finalized, but my Twitter feed (@ShenherLorimer) is active and I let people know about events there and on my website www.lorimershenher.com when I find time to update it. One of them is a reading in Vancouver late October/early November called Read Local BC, so keep an eye out for that when the dates are finalized as it looks like a great event.
I’m so honoured to have the book shortlisted for the City of Vancouver Book Award and I’d like to thank everyone associated for reading the book and I wish my fellow writers on the shortlist the best of luck.
The City of Vancouver Book Award features an eclectic shortlist in 2016 that includes a non-fiction memoir, a poetry anthology and an art exhibition catalogue. This remarkably diverse set of books explores complicated visions of a city grappling with its past and striving for a better future. View the 2016 finalists. The winner of the 2016 Vancouver Book Award will be announced at the awards ceremony on October 3, 2016.