Sergeant Craig Smith has a passion for collecting and preserving Black Canadian history.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officer is now part of that history as the first Black Nova Scotian to be honoured with a prestigious national police honour.
The Order of Merit of the Police Forces was created 15 years ago to recognize conspicuous merit and exceptional service by Canadian police members whose contributions extend beyond protecting their communities.
“For me this is a great honour to be recognized in this way,” said Smith, who is the Cole Harbour detachment site supervisor and the officer in charge of Halifax’s community policing and victim services units. “I have had the good fortune of receiving the Harry Jerome and Canadian National Griot Awards which was recognition from the African-Canadian community and they were special because of that fact. To receive something that is connected to my position within law enforcement carries its own unique meaning. I know that my nomination had a lot to do with the work I have done over the past 25 years in the area of community policing and Black community relations and then zeroed in on my efforts within the RCMP. So I feel really blessed to have my contribution to the Canadian policing world recognized in this manner.”
Smith pointed to a cousin – Constable Rick Smith who was a Halifax Regional Police member for three decades – as his earliest inspiration to law enforcement.
“In the 1970s, I can vividly remember him coming to our house while he was out walking the beat,” said Smith. “Just seeing him in that uniform was enough for me to consider policing as a viable career option. In more recent years, two friends encouraged me. Constable Mike Itwaru had been a good friend before becoming an RCMP member and we stayed in touch after he joined the force. The other was Constable Blois Brooks who I talked with while he was going through the application process. At that time I was heavily involved with the Halifax Police Black & Community Liaison Committee and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police multicultural liaison committee, so I was seeing first hand some of the efforts being put forth by various police forces across the country. Joining the RCMP gave me the opportunity to help make change from within.”
Retired RCMP officer, Calvin Lawrence, said Smith deserves the honour that will be bestowed on him later this year at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.
“I have known Craig since childhood,” said Lawrence, who is a police and race relations consultant. “In a time of questionable policing, he’s an example of how police officers should contribute to society.”
Since 1999, Smith 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 and You had Better be White by Six A.M.: The African-Canadian Experience in the RCMP, which he has updated.
Smith, the co-winner of last year’s Nova Scotia Human Rights Award which bears the name of civil rights activist and institution builder, Burnley “Rocky” Jones, who died two years ago, was inspired to write the book after Canada’s second Black male mountie, Hartley Gosline, was racially embarrassed in front of fellow colleagues by a drill instructor more than four decades ago.
As the only Black officer, New Brunswick-born Gosline stood out on the parade square. During an early morning inspection, the drill corporal stopped in front of the new recruit and remarked: “Gosline, you stick out. You make our troop look bad and you better be White by 6 a.m.”
Smith’s desire to write and record African-Canadian history was inspired by 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.
Previous Order of Merit of the Police Forces recipients include retired Ontario Provincial Police and Toronto Police Services (TPS) deputy chiefs Jay Hope and Keith Forde and current TPS deputy chief Peter Sloly. Mark Saunders, who is also a TPS deputy chief, will receive the award later this year.