The Story of Andrea Lawrence, One of Canada's First Black Female RCMP Constables
In honour of Black History Month, we've partnered with Chamber Members as guest contributors to share their stories and articles on the Chamber Blog.
Andrea Lawrence was born in Toronto, Ontario, where she was one of three children born to William James and Zitta May Lawrence. Andrea's father had been a police officer in his homeland of Jamaica, and this may account for her interest in the legal system.
Her mother was trained as a nurse in the Caribbean and ultimately reached the position of nursing supervisor at Toronto's Central Hospital. Zitta May Lawrence was musically inclined and became an accomplished singer.
Cst. Andrea Lawrence's RCMP Portrait.
Lawrence's parents exposed all of their children to music at a very young age. Andrea excelled with her musical talents, playing both piano and saxophone. She also tutored others on the piano after having reached the level of instructor through the Royal Conservatory of Music.
Her brother, Bill, who is currently a Councillor in the City of White Rock, BC, as well as sister Charmaine, who owns and operates her own accounting firm, state that their sister Andrea believed that she was in fact the first Black female to join the force, and that she was very proud of that fact.
Andrea Lawrence and Bill Lawrence at the Sandpiper Pub
Lawrence's first posting was to the Burnaby Detachment in British Columbia, in 1987. Her trainer, Corporal Phil Reid says that she was always bright and bubbly. She had an outgoing personality, and members used to congregate at her place. Lawrence carried out general duties before moving on to traffic enforcement. In 1999 she applied to the RCMP's famed Musical Ride.
To join the Musical Ride, a member must first travel to Ottawa and undergo an intense training regimen, including the Equitation Course (the art and practice of horsemanship and horse riding), designed to assess if they are cut out for the rigors of the ride. It may be that Andrea applied for the ride in an attempt to get closer to her family, who lived in the Toronto area.
Cst. Andrea Lawrence walking the flag gauntlet.
On a rainy damp day, Lawrence was sent out to train on a wet practice field that was unfamiliar to the horse she was riding. She was thrown from the horse and suffered a spine injury that would put an end to her policing career.
Lawrence went back to Burnaby where she assumed desk duties, but the injury made it impossible for her to carry out the regular duties of a member, and she was unable to continue. Finally, Lawrence took legal action against the force and one of the instructors for the Musical Ride. Her brother, Bill, and sister, Charmaine, state that Andrea felt that her gender and the colour of her skin played a part in the way she was treated while trying out for the ride and her subsequent injury.
She settled for a medical discharge from the force and accepted a position with Sprint Canada in Toronto. Sadly, in May 2003, Andrea E. Lawrence, Canada's second Black female RCMP constable died at her home in Burnaby. She was only 39 years old. Her funeral was held in Toronto amongst family, friends and RCMP Honour Guard. To Constable Lawrence's credit, her trail blazing accomplishments saw the number of African Canadian female members in the force increase to over a dozen in 2004, and many more since then.
This post was written in honour of Black History Month by guest contributors Bill Lawrence and Charmaine Lawrence.
Contributions from Sergeant Craig M. Smith, RCMP.
Acknowledgement of first Black female RCMP, Constable Shelley Peters Carey, who graduated from the cadet program in 1983 with her first posting in Goose Bay, NL.
Councillor, City of White Rock
Sandpiper Liquor Store
Business Development, Moskowitz Capital
This article includes personal recounts from guest contributor Bill Lawrence and is not to be reprinted without written permission from Bill Lawrence or the South Surrey & White Rock Chamber of Commerce.