This profile was part of the Faculty of Public Affairs’ 75 for the 75th series, which highlighted 75 notable alumni in FPA in honour of Carleton University’s 75th anniversary. These stories were published in 2016 and 2017.
Activist and Advocate
Bachelor of Arts, Law (’85)
Throughout her life, Michelle Douglas has been motivated by a sense of service to her community and her country—whether in the military, the public service or as a dedicated volunteer.
But in 1989, her commitment was challenged by discrimination, when Ms. Douglas was honourably dismissed by the Canadian military for being a lesbian.
“They said I was ‘not advantageously employable due to homosexuality,’” she recalls. “I was giving them my absolute best, but there was nothing I could have done to overcome the discrimination.”
She challenged the decision in court and, on the eve of the trial, the military settled the case, ending its discriminatory policies towards gays and lesbians.
“It was kind of amazing really. It made me an activist and it led me to care a lot more about what I was seeing around me,” says Ms. Douglas, who works for the Department of Justice in Ottawa.
In the 25 years since the decision, she has dedicated much of her life to volunteer organizations. She works with LBGTQ refugees and also serves as the chair of the Board of Directors for Free the Children. Its mission is to “empower young people to remove barriers that prevent them from being active local and global citizens.”
“I’m inspired daily by the incredible hard work, creativity, ingenuity and commitment of young people who are giving their best to change the world in positive ways,” says Ms. Douglas, who has overseen the organization’s development projects in several countries. “I choose to be very focused on people committed to positive change. I see it as an antidote to many of the world’s challenges.”
Ms. Douglas is also a director of international relations for Canada’s Department of Justice, where she supports the international activities of the Minister of Justice and the department.
“I look at my public service career as being part of a grand team effort and not really about the accomplishments of one person,” she says. “I feel lucky to serve the public.”
Ms. Douglas credits her experience at Carleton for helping instill those values.
“At Carleton, I gained an understanding of how important community involvement is, along with academics,” she recalls. “I was inspired by CUSA (Carleton University Student Association) and the Rideau River Residence Association. That was when I saw first-hand the impact these contributions can make. It really starts with you.”
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