In conversation with Calvin Lawrence, retired RCMP Officer

Calvin Lawrence

Calvin Lawrence

Could you tell me about your childhood? Where were you born? Is there anything about your childhood that stands out for you?

I was born in Yarmouth Nova Scotia in1949. However, I was raised in Halifax.  My childhood was much like most. We moved a couple of times in the same neighbourhood.  There was not the drugs of today other than alcohol. There we male role models and my father worked on the railroad. To this day riding the train brings me great joy. During my teen years I learned boxing. There is a great deal of black history in Nova Scotia. Along with the history was the conflict that takes place to this day.

Was there any person or persons that influenced your childhood the most? 

Other than family and community, black males such as Rock Jones, my high school teacher Gus Wedderburn, Basketball coach, Jess Dillard, and assorted boxing coaches no others stands out.  I became a Halifax City police officer in 1969 and an inspector had an influence on my life. His name was Leo Storm.  In 1973 Taylor Gordon came to Nova Scotia and organized amateur boxing. He was instrumental in me winning the Canadian amateur Boxing Championship, heavy weight division, 1975.

You served as a police officer for several years. What made you choose policing as a career?

In 1973 the American Black Panther Party came to Nova Scotia to support and enlist the help of the black community. This was an extension of turbulent sixties. I was just finishing high school and was hired as summer student with the Halifax Police department in 1968 and hired as a police officer in 1969. Policing had a degree of prestige, no lay-offs or strikes, and I viewed it as a helping profession. The job was for me.

You started your career with the provincial police in Nova Scotia before moving to the RCMP. Did you notice any similarities and differences in the culture and work environment in both organizations?

It was not provincial but city policing. In city policing there is no transfer around the country. The advantage is that you get to know the community and the community knows you. There are a number of fields that can be applied for. In the RCMP there a lot more fields of work, more opportunities for transfers, and working I rural areas are possible.

Racial profiling within the police is a topic that frequently comes up, especially in regard to Canadians of African descent. What is your take on this sensitive issue?

I developed a course/presentation on anti racial profiling.  It gathers dust. Here is the reason why: Is racial profiling an act or a title?  It is both. People notice what race we are on an everyday basis. Some individual Police Officer act on their personal biases. That has always been the case. What some white people have done is taken an old racial process and gave it a name.  Now they are called experts and make money teaching and talking on racial profiling.  When do you see the media, politicians, and police brass, seek the assistance from black police officers on racial conflict?   Everyone has a right to their personal bias.  But people don’t have right to act on them. The police don’t in particular because they took an oath.
Looking back on your lengthy policing career, what were your high points and challenges? Any regrets? Is there anything you would have done differently?
The high points of my career in general is that I had the opportunity to work in rural, city, and, federal environments. Specifically a high point is that I became one of the foremost authorities on protective policing in Canada. The lowest point was my struggles in seeking racial justice regarding my career. I am proud to say that in my 36 years of policing, I did not compromise any of my major principles. There is very little that I would have done differently.  I stayed in some areas of work too long and others not long enough.  I would have probably saved more money.
What would you say to a young black boy or girl who expresses an interest in policing as a career? Any words of advice from a veteran police officer?
A career for a black people is great if they know the racial game going in; in other word “racial politics”.  When myself and others became police officers we had no one to get advice from. Today black youth should be setting up workshops and presentations from black police officers current and retired. The messages will be varied. But, potential black recruits will not be going in blind.
Recent statistics show that Blacks are over represented in the prison population, in comparison to our actual numbers in the general population.  In terms of prison inmates, we are only second to the aboriginal community. Can you suggest why this is so? Is there anything the government and the Black community can do to address this problem? Any words of advice to parents to stop their children becoming another addition to the prison statistics?
I want you to understand that I am now addressing you as a Black man, not a policeman. If I were to ask you where would you go to find black men showing leadership and authority on mass, feeding black men on mass; nurturing black men, on mass; and protecting black men on mass, where would you go? Prison!
In our great quest for integration we ended up with  the illusion of inclusion. We have to set up our communities to be more self sufficient. Black youth have to have a two system approach to education.  One is dealing with racist behaviour. The other is formal education. We now have to educate our youth to create a job; not get a job. Black people are in danger of becoming a permanent under class if we do not act.

Looking at Canada’s black population, there seems to be a divide between African and Caribbean communities on the one hand, and Anglophone and francophone communities on the other. Do you agree with this perspective and if so what can be done to remedy this divide?

There are nine major areas of people activity that we work through on a daily basis. They are economics, education, entertainment, labor, law, politics, religion, sex, and war. Racial conflict takes place in all those areas of people activity. For example; eleven o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated time in North America. Hispanics, black, and white people for the most part are in separate places of worship. In my opinion racial conflict will always raise its ugly head. Canada is no exception in the past or future.

Over the years, have you seen any change in the status of the black population in Canada? Are we any better off now than say, ten or fifteen years ago?

I am 7th generation black Canadian from Nova Scotia. Therefore me and others like Canadian are a product of and influenced by American culture. I would say things are worse for the black masses.  Other black Canadian cultures may have a different opinion.

Looking at the Black population in Canada, what do you see as our greatest challenges and how do we resolve them? What are our strengths?

I would say that our greatest accomplishment is surviving and in some cases thriving in the face of racist behaviour. Racist behaviour is established, maintained, advanced, and refined. Once the action is taken we end up playing defence/offence.  We as black people have put ourselves in a position where we are in a offence/defence situation in the nine major areas of people activity.

Finally, do you have a message for readers of Black Ottawa Scene?

I would like to say thank you for the opportunity to express my views.  My advice to your readers is to put up a sign or wear a cap saying ” Minimize the Conflict”.  We fight over differences in religion, gender, culture, and so on. Also challenge what others say and print. That includes me. Hold discussion sessions regarding racial conflict in the nine major areas of people activity. Lastly, never let anyone’s negative opinion of you become your reality.  And no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Copyright Black Ottawa Scene

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2 comments

  1. Dear Mr. Lawrence,

    Very interesting interview and enlightening. Thank you.

    Regards,

    Gregory Shields
    (Ottawa)

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