“How are race relations in Nova Scotia,” Craig Smith is asked.
“You tell me,” he responds.
Sergeant Smith of the RCMP Cole Harbour Detachment, Cole Harbour, N.S., was the guest speaker for 14 Wing Greenwood Commander’s Diversity Day event April 12, invited by Colonel Jim Irvine to meet with wing personnel to talk about what diversity can mean.
“My parents wanted to buy a house in Halifax in 1968 and there was a petition on the street to not let a black family move in. That’s not that long ago for some of us here.
“Two years ago, we had a cross-burning. When it comes to diversity,” Mr. Smith says “you can’t stop.”
“As soon as you pat yourself on the back, change stops.”
Sgt Smith has done much in his life and career to see change happen, from his community volunteer work and writings to his recent work as the provincial RCMP’s diversity policing analyst.
“I was lucky,” he told Greenwood members gathered at the Annapolis Mess. “My brothers and sisters, we played ground hockey on the Halifax Commons. Everyone played Little League and basketball. Mom stayed at home and Dad was a postal carrier. Economically we were different growing up and we knew that, but it was a 50/ 50 split between white and black kids in our classrooms. It wasn’t until high school I realized I had been segregated in my learning – no one in our books looked like me.”
When his first daughter was born in 1986, he searched Halifax high and low for a black doll for her to play with. When he joined the RCMP in 1996, at the age of 35, he felt “pretty confident with who I was” – but realized pretty quickly at training school the RCMP itself was not “walking the talk.” Even today, of 18,000 RCMP officers, just 600 are black.
"So, how do you make things better?" he asked.
“If someone’s going to make a difference, you’ve got to own it and put it out there – and that’s all I wanted to do,” he says of his books about African Canadian challenges and historical achievements. “Each one of us has the opportunity to be the change in our organization, and you make a big change when a large group of people work together.”
Mr. Smith talked about biases and stereotypes, pre-conceived notions that affect things not even related to some people’s ideas about sexual orientation, religious background, culture, physical and mental disabilities.
“In 2012, from any organization’s standpoint and need to be accountable, ignorance is no longer an excuse,” Mr. Smith said. “I can’t change what people really think or believe about people who are different from them, but we need to filter how those influences affect what we do, how we interact with other people and govern our behaviour.”
Sexist jokes, racist words, homophobic comments – “We need to lay the groundwork in our environment, our work, and set the stage for what’s acceptable and what’s not.”
Understanding differences is especially important for Canadian Forces’ members, many of whom in the room raised their hand when Mr. Smith asked if they’d been in different countries, unfamiliar situations and in the minority themselves through the past year.
Lieutenant-Colonel Jason Major offered an example that drew quiet breaths from those seated around him.
“In 2009, I went to staff college inToronto and took my family. I walked the kids to school their first day – and they were the only white kids in their classes,” he said. “That was a year of learning and new experiences we look on as a positive for our family.”
He credits diversity training he’s had in the military, but urged peers to share that knowledge and experiences with their families and the community whenever possible.
Irvine thanked Sgt Smith for his presentation, and reminded the crowd it’s “important to remember where we were – and where we’re going.
“Open our eyes, and look at other people for who they are, not what we think they are.”