Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present by Robyn Maynard

Policing Black Lives is the work of Montreal-based Black feminist activist and educator, Robyn Maynard. Maynard brings her considerable expertise to this book, which is packed with information about the history and continued oppression of Black people in Canada. Policing Black Lives offers a frank and exceptionally well-researched perspective on the true nature of Canada’s relationship with its Black citizens which began with the forced migration and enslavement of Black people, and continues to this day with systemic oppression in many Canadian institutions.

The first chapters of the book take readers through the history of state violence enacted against Black folks in Canada, beginning with Canada’s history of slavery, and moving through segregation in Canada’s Jim Crow era. Maynard highlights anti-Black government policies, but also the ways in which the state remained complicit or turned a blind eye to racist behaviour throughout the country.

The subsequent chapters cover topics like the persistent disproportionate surveillance, arrests, and incarceration of Black people in Canada. Maynard highlights the stories of several Black women who endured state violence, reminding us of an intersection between misogyny and anti-Black racism. She also points to racial issues in the child welfare system, the education system, and within the immigration system. Maynard notes the intersections between anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism at many points in the book, which may help readers draw connections between what they know about Indigenous issues and Black issues in Canada. However, Maynard reminds us that these two racial groups have specific histories and struggles.

“I found Policing Black Lives a challenging read, not because I was shocked by the historical (and ongoing) mistreatment of Black people in Canada, but because I found myself frequently disgusted by all that we, as a country, deny about the Black experience here at home.”

Rachel Fernandes

I found Policing Black Lives a challenging read, not because I was shocked by the historical (and ongoing) mistreatment of Black people in Canada, but because I found myself frequently disgusted by all that we, as a country, deny about the Black experience here at home. We are proud of our multicultural nation and our politicians often boast about diversity as a Canadian strength. We may see ourselves as morally superior to the United States, believing that we don’t have problems with racism or white supremacy. However, Maynard reminds us: “Both white supremacy and the outer appearance of racial tolerance were integral to the nation-building process and the creation of Canadian national identity” (32-33). She writes about Canada’s racial segregation for many years post-slavery: “Segregation in the post-abolition period cut across all aspects of society. Public education, immigration, employment and housing were all subject to a veiled Jim Crow-style segregation that either formally or informally kept Black persons in social, economic and political subjugation” (33). I was surprised to learn that the last segregated school in Canada closed in 1983, but perhaps I should have known better, having learned about the persistence of residential schools in Canada, the last of which closed in 1996. This is only one example of the history of white supremacy in Canada, and Maynard details many more throughout the book.

Policing Black Lives is an excellent primer on the history of Black oppression in Canada, and would be a fantastic resource for students of Critical Race Theory, but the writing is accessible and compelling enough to be a great read for anyone interested in history and social justice.


About the author: Robyn Maynard is a Black feminist writer, grassroots community organizer and intellectual based in Montreal. Her work has appeared in the Toronto Star, the Montreal Gazette, World Policy Journal and Canadian Women Studies Journal.

  • Paperback : 244 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1552669793
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1552669792
  • Publisher: Fernwood Publishing; 1st edition (Sept. 16, 2017)

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Rachel Fernandes was raised in Ottawa, where she completed her Honours BA and MA in English at the University of Ottawa. She is now based in Kingston, where she is a PhD Candidate studying contemporary North American literature. Her research focuses on mixed race identity in various genres, including memoir, poetry, and the novel.
Over the last decade, she has published a smattering of poems through small presses such as In/Words, Joypuke, Coven, and Feathertale, and served on the editorial boards of The Ottawa Arts Review and The Lamp Literary Journal. She loves reading even more than she loves writing, and is excited to share and discuss new Canadian work through The Miramichi Reader.

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