Former cop says more than apology to black community needed from police

OTTAWA — A veteran black police officer — who has written about racism within policing in Canada — says it will take more than an apology from Halifax's police chief to improve relations with Nova Scotia's black community.

Calvin Lawrence says the apology is a good start, but it will take a change in attitude by individual police officers on the street, and the advancement of more black officers in the ranks before there's real change.

"When the chief apologizes, it's a good start, but an apology without change is just manipulation," Lawrence said Saturday from his home in Ottawa. 

"He can apologize, but that does not transfer automatically to the rank and file police officer on the street. That's where the proof of any change is going to come — that individual interaction by the police officer with somebody of the community, then you're going to see if there's going to be change," he said.

Lawrence, a former police officer in Halifax and later the RCMP, has written the book "Black Cop" about his 36-year career in policing and racism he experienced.

On Friday, Halifax Police Chief Daniel Kinsella issued a formal apology to Nova Scotia's black community over the practice of street checks, describing it as a first step to counter a series of historic wrongs.

"On behalf of the Halifax Regional Police, I am sorry. I am sorry for our actions that caused you pain," he told an audience of several hundred gathered at an auditorium at the downtown public library.

Kinsella said while injustices can't be undone, police are committed to doing better in the future.

The apology comes in the wake of findings earlier this year that the police practice of randomly stopping people, collecting personal information and storing it was disproportionately targeting the black community — particularly young black men.

Lawrence said he wants to know why it took so long for the force to acknowledge the problem.

"If they are saying this is wrong, they could have been saying it the day after it started. Why now? Why is it now being accepted as being wrong when you have white people who come in with degrees saying it is wrong? If the black people were saying it was wrong, why weren't they listened to?," Lawrence said.

He left the Halifax force in 1978 to join the RCMP.

In his book, Lawrence said he was subjected to racist behaviour in Halifax and within the RCMP, where he claims efforts were made to block his promotions.

Kinsella said the Halifax force will focus on recruiting more black police officers and civilian staff and will set up programs to engage existing officers with black youth.

The chief said if there are cases of racial bias in policing, he will handle them personally.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 2019.

By Kevin Bissett in Fredericton.

The Canadian Press