As the only Black Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officer, new recruit Hartley Gosline stood out on parade square. During an early morning inspection, the drill corporal stopped in front of the law enforcement neophyte and remarked: “Gosline, you stick out. You make our troop look bad and you better be White by 6 a.m. ….”
That was just over four decades ago when Gosline – who was born in St. John’s, New Brunswick – became one of the first Black RCMP officers.
That story inspired Sgt. Craig Smith to self-publish, You Had Better Be White by Six A.M.”: The African-Canadian Experience in the RCMP.
Smith, an active honorary aide-de-camp to Nova Scotia’s Lieutenant Governor, Mayann Francis, is the second Black national police agency member to take aim at his employers.
Association of Black Law Enforcers founding member Lynell Nolan authored Being Black in Scarlet that provides an inside look at the inner workings of the RCMP and the struggles by visible minorities who challenge perceived racial practices and policies. He took early retirement in January 1998 and returned to his native St. Kitts & Nevis where he’s the Director of Safety & Security at the Ross University School of Veterinary Science.
Tired of the harassment and discrimination they have been subjected to, several visible minority officers have filed human rights complaints against their employer over the years.
Calvin Lawrence filed six years ago, claiming he faced systemic and institutional racism on the job. His submission included examples of racist posters from message boards at detachments and around RCMP buildings. Having served as an instructor at the RCMP academy in Regina and a bodyguard to two prime ministers and a Governor-General, he retired after a 36-year policing career with two long-service good-conduct medals.
In 2003, Const. Paul Carty filed a $3.5 million lawsuit, claiming he was the victim of constant discrimination from members of the service while two years later and 12 months into his training, Jean Luc-Morin claimed his superiors told him to quit or he would be fired. His human rights complaint was deemed unreasonable by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
In order to make the federal police service more accommodating and reflective of the diverse communities it serves, the RCMP set out new hiring benchmarks 18 months ago to increase visible minority representation. Of the 19,000 employees, less than 600 are Black and there are just a handful of senior Black officers.
“It’s a work in progress,” said Smith. “In realistic terms, my hope is in the next two years to do a second edition of You Had Better Be White by Six A.M. to look at how far we have come since the first book was published in 2006. “I will look at things that were supposed to happen, like affirmative action and employment equity, and see if those things have happened or if it has just been smoke and mirrors.”
Supt. Craig Gibson, who is in charge of the Southwest Nova District, is the highest ranking Black RCMP officer.
Lori Seale-Irving made history in 2007 when she became the organization’s first Black female commissioned officer; Martin Marin, Learie Gairey and Richard Haye hold the rank of inspector.
The organization lost two senior African-Canadian members in the last three years.
Supt. Ted Upshaw left in the summer of 2009 after 28 years to become general manager of corporate security for Canada Post and Tom Jones – who retired in 2010 as a Superintendent after 33 years during which time he developed the first ever Canadian operational centre and managed the border service integrity program – is field inspection manager for the British Columbia Hydro Revenue Assurance program.
Smith has been honoured with a Harry Jerome Award for his contributions to recording African-Canadian history. Since 1999, he has published four books, including The Journey Continues: An Atlantic Canadian Black Experience which the Nova Scotia Department of Education approved as a resource tool for Grade Eight Social Studies and Grade 11 African-Canadian studies classes.
Smith said his passion for writing and recording African-Canadian history comes from the paucity of historical material and the 12 years he spent working in the Halifax City Regional Library system. He was also instrumental in the development of a cutting edge action-filled 3D video game based on the life of Richard Preston, a freed slave who travelled to Nova Scotia in search of his mother and ended up laying lasting spiritual and community roots.
Five years ago, Smith and broadcaster George Jordan approached Dawn Harwood-Jones of Pink Dog Productions to consider producing historical videos.
“As a youth worker before joining the RCMP, I went to schools to talk about education and the joys of reading, but for me that meant putting a Black face on it so that the kids in schools, particularly in the inner city, saw role models and people that looked like them,” said Smith who is in charge of the RCMP’s Crime Prevention & Victim Services for Halifax and is the site supervisor for the Cole Harbour office. “If we look at youths today, they are usually in front of a computer surfing or playing video games, so it becomes one of the mechanisms you want to try and use to get out there and reach them.
“Two years ago, we started a video project in the community where we brought together community youths and elders to look at who their heroes are and then do vignettes on them. The manifestation of that is the Richard Preston video game which is just another way to reach out and expand the knowledge base hopefully to the general community on Black history and the Black experience in Nova Scotia and Canada.”
A former YMCA director and Black Hockey & Sports Hall of Fame president, Smith – as the RCMP diversity policing analyst for Nova Scotia – developed and delivers the African Nova Scotian cultural competency workshops for RCMP members and employees serving in the province.
By RON FANFAIR