Slightly Insane

“How was the talk?”

“Slightly insane,” I said.

It was ostensibly a book signing with discussion but turned quickly into a moderatorless, conspiracy fuelled AA meeting. The book was about how the national media portrayed the “Pickton Murders” trial. Robert Pickton was a local farmer who killed anywhere from 6 to 49 women, most of them prostitutes from the Downtown Eastside. I was in Britain during the trial and thought I would learn a little about these disturbing events by sitting in on the discussion at our neighbourhood leftist bookstore.

The first 25 minutes included some background on why the author wrote the book and he promised to hand the discussion over to the group since he was actually from Toronto and wrote the book from an outsider’s perspective. It was a small group so I thought it might be an intimate discussion on the role of the media and also I might learn a little more about some events in my neighbourhood. Just as the author opened discussion a group of women came in and doubled the audience.

Discussion turned to soliloquy as each woman seemed to take turns telling their own stories, some more relevant to the discussion than others but all interesting in their own way. I don’t feel comfortable retelling these women’s stories but I will say that the ones that spoke the most passionately were native. There was pride and anger in most of their voices.

It was at times frustrating as some seemed to think this book signing was a chance for them to recount all the pain and triumph over adversity they had in their life. During some talks I started wondering about the time since I needed to get home to help put the kids to bed but I was sitting on the wrong side of the store and had my watch in my pocket. It would have been quite rude to look at the time while these women were pouring their hearts out.

If there was one thing I learned at the discussion it was the deep-seated mistrust the native community has of the police department. The comments most relevant to the book’s topic were those that revealed beliefs that the cops were somehow involved in the murders and that Pickton was not a lone actor. Women had disappeared before he was active and they have disappeared since he was arrested and they felt that kidnappings such as these could not happen without inside knowledge of the neighbourhood; the police station is situated right in the middle of it.

“Does anyone have any hard evidence that the cops were complicit in these crimes?” someone asked, almost sure someone would present something. No one did have any evidence, but suspicions still remained, and one woman’s niece (who died under suspicious circumstances) had written in her journal that some policemen had sexually assaulted her and dropped her off on the south end of town.

I left not knowing exactly what to believe. One woman there, a prostitute herself, seemed dismayed that the cops once pulled her over after a trick at a man’s home, told her that her date was under investigation, and let her go. She couldn’t understand why the cops treated her like that, but it sounded to my middle class ears that they weren’t concerned about her profession as much as they were about the potential danger her client put her in. Nevertheless, other stories abounded that certainly made me wonder what was going on.

Once the discussion had ended, I went home (with a book that the store let me pay for half of and didn’t seem to care if I came back with the rest of the cash or not (I returned today with the rest of the money after a trip to the bank)) and found out that there was a shooting in front of the Anglican Church on Sunday morning just before services were to start.

I thought about how I walk across that intersection two times a day and wondered if I was right to be so sanguine about raising young kids in this neighbourhood. Somehow, I was able to forget about the shooting before I went to bed, but I thought about it off and on the next day until the afternoon when my friend J. came to the door.

“About the shooting,” she said. “It was a cop who shot a guy on a bike.”


“A rookie and a veteran. They claim to have seen a weapon. The victim’s in critical condition.”

I said the first thing that came into my head: “I bet he was native.”

It turns out the weapon was a knife, but I can’t figure out how this situation could have transpired. I also don’t know yet what the victim’s race or ethnicity is. Later, I was discussing the details of the shooting with my wife. She asked me whether I felt better or worse that the cops were involved. We were both a little embarrassed to be relieved.


About azlewis

I'm an academic living in the poorest neighbourhood in Canada. I also teach at a local seminary.
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