Shalene Curtis-Micallef Photo credit: Justice Canada

Shalene Curtis-Micallef, Deputy Minister and Deputy Attorney General of Canada

In January 2021, the Head of the Public Service, the Clerk of the Privy Council, issued a call to action to the federal public service: “Our leadership across the Public Service must be more diverse. Unless swift action is taken, we will fall short of effectively supporting the Government and serving Canadians.”

Statements of this nature sound compelling but need follow-up action to prove true.

The Canadian Black community is now seeing steps signaling change is underway.  The Clerk’s call prompted a series of measures across the Government. And a clear sign of this transformation was on February 13, 2023, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed Shalene Curtis-Micallef as Deputy Minister of Justice and Deputy Attorney General of Canada.

“The Department of Justice has the mandate to support the dual roles of the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada. The Department also works to ensure the federal government is supported by high-quality legal services, and the justice system is fair, relevant, accessible, and reflective of Canadian values.” Some 5000 people in the Department of Justice report to Deputy Minister Curtis-Micallef, half of whom are lawyers. “The other half is made up of a broad range of professionals, including paralegals, social scientists, program managers, communications specialists, administrative services personnel, computer service professionals, and financial officers.”

Shalene was born in Ottawa and raised by her mother, who immigrated to Canada from Jamaica in the late 1960s. Shalene is the second black person to be appointed as Deputy Minister in the federal public service. She credits her mother and aunt who instilled in her the foundational values of hard work, serving others and fairness. She excelled at Hillcrest High School and went on to graduate from the University of Ottawa with a Bachelor of Business Administration and was honoured with an award for academic excellence from the Ottawa Chapter of the Black Business and Professional Association. Shalene enrolled at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, and after graduating in 1995, she immediately took an articling position with the federal government to begin a career. It was those early choices that helped set the course for her appointment to the most senior public service role in the Department of Justice and the Attorney General’s office in Canada.

Employees usually chart their career path by working toward the next promotion in progressing up the ranks. Shalene explained that this was never her approach. Her career objective was to gain as broad a scope of knowledge and experience as possible by seeking out challenging roles and that allowed for collaboration with excellent colleagues. She worked hard and she employed the core values that were inherent in the way that she was raised.

She started her career with Justice in the Tax Law Services Portfolio as tax litigation counsel. Her accomplishments now include both domestic and international legal activities with particular expertise in regulatory law.  The Department of Justice provides legal advice to all federal government departments; therefore, Shalene has provided legal services to a host of government departments across the board.

Shalene describes Justice Canada as “a unique and special place to work. What we do, day in, and day out, has a real and tangible impact on the lives of Canadians. Our work is critical to fostering confidence in both our institutions and our justice system. We play a part in ensuring these democratic principles are strong and it is imperative that our department welcomes diverse experiences and viewpoints in how we carry out our mandate.”

Beyond Shalene’s appointment, there are other signs of change. In launching the next phase of Canada’s Black Justice Strategy, the federal Department of Justice recognized that “Black communities in Canada continue to live with the effects of prejudice, discrimination, and hatred—from unconscious bias to anti-Black hate crimes and violence. These systemic inequalities have resulted in the overrepresentation of Black people in Canada’s criminal justice system, including as victims of crime.” Readers are encouraged to visit this (add link) for information on the development of Canada’s Black Justice Strategy and the members of the Steering Group that will lead the next phase of its development.

It is with this sense of the direction within Canada’s justice system from which Canada’s Black community can take heart that finally, there is a glimmer of light for a brighter future regarding the way Blacks are treated by the Justice system. 

Dave Tulloch

Dave Tulloch was born in Jamaica. He immigrated to Canada in 1970 to pursue post-secondary education. He earned a diploma in electronics engineering technology from Algonquin College, Bachelor of Admin and Bachelor of Commerce (Hon) from the University of Ottawa, and a Master of Business Administration from Concordia University.  He has an extensive career in information technology and in IT consulting with Systemhouse, KPMG, and Oracle Corporation where he retired as a director. Dave taught IT and business courses at CEGEP (Hull) and tutored at the Wake Tech College in North Carolina.  He wrote articles for the Ottawa Spectrum publication that focused on Ottawa’s Visible Minorities community and has written a book documenting the life stories of early Caribbean Immigrants to Ottawa, scheduled for publication later this year. He can be contacted via email: [email protected]