Women in Defence and Security Panel



Photo of panelists with the text “Our Panelists”.

Ana Maria Coutu, International Network Manager: Hi from China. My name is Ana Maria Coutu. And I'm the International Network Manager for the Canada Border Services Agency in Beijing.

Julie Thibodeau, International Network Manager: Greetings from Amman on this International Women's Day. My name is Julie Thibodeau, I am currently on assignment in Amman, Jordan, as International Network Manager for the Agency. I am in charge of the region that includes Africa and the Middle East.

Farah Merali, Liaison Officer: Hi everyone, happy to be a part of this forum. My name is Farah Merali and I am currently based in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Pascale Trachy, Liaison Officer: Hello, my name is Pascale Trachy, I am a Liaison Officer for the Canada Border Services Agency. I am based in Pretoria, South Africa.

Text on-screen, “What is your role?”

Ana Maria: In this position, I oversee a team of liaison officers across Asia Pacific.

Farah: I'm responsible for several Caribbean countries where the focus is to intercept high-risk goods and high-risk persons before they arrive to Canada.

Pascale: Another important task that I have is to assist in removals. People being removed from Canada just to liaise with the local partners.

Ana Maria: Because our mandate is so diverse. This position can be very dynamic.

Julie: There has been an exponential increase in calls from airlines related to travel restrictions. In the evenings, on weekends, at night, during the day, at any given time, we received a lot of calls.

Ana Maria: Another aspect of our job is to assist with large evacuations of Canadians from our respective areas in times, of emergencies. For example, last year, I was part of an eight-person delegation sent to Wuhan, China to assist with the repatriation of Canadians at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. That experience really tested my resilience as a person, as well as the skills I have acquired through my 18 years of experience with the CBSA.

It reminded me that, as an officer, I also need to use my soft skills too. While it is our job, we're there to provide our service to people who are afraid, tired, and looking for someone to just get them home safe.

Text on-screen, “Challenges as a woman?”

When meeting with our law enforcement partners overseas, it is apparent that women are still underrepresented and there are times that I'm the only female in the room. I have found that the best way to deal with this is just to be myself. Try not to be one of the boys, but be a strong female voice.

Farah: Being a woman working in a law enforcement field, and particularly a woman of colour, has its own unique challenges. The countries I work with are very much patriarchal societies. So traditionally, and historically, law enforcement has, and continues to be a male-dominated field. If there are women working in the field, they tend to be few in number and, for the most part of it, occupy low level positions.

It is difficult to break through this type of barrier that has literally been constructed by decades of tradition and history, and has unfortunately resulted in a power structure that is very one-sided.

Pascale: Accepting a posting in South Africa, which is a high-crime, country was particularly challenging for my parents. I'm not here by myself. I'm here with my partner. It's a decision that has to be made within the family if anybody's not - is really not - on board that will be very difficult.

The difficulty came in with the time difference, with the perception of family that you're two women in Africa. How will that work?

Farah: I do recall one interesting instance. It was my first area trip to a certain Caribbean country where I was to deliver a training session to law enforcement officers and meet with the senior level officials for that agency.

So the day of the session, I get to the venue - start setting everything up, making sure everything is ready to go. The officers are trickling in and about 10 minutes later a gentleman enters the room. He goes straight to the front, tells everyone to take their seat and that he, as the Director General of the agency, he will introduce the group and say a few words when the Canadian official arrives. To which I said, the Canadian official is already here and, you know, that would be me.

Of course, the look of surprise was evident on his face. He immediately apologized and said, sorry I thought you were the assistant, I wasn't expecting you.

Farah: Some would say that his reaction was offensive. I would say that you really do need to have a proper understanding of the culture, of the societal norms, before drawing that conclusion. The fact is that in the society of this country, activities such as conducting expert-level specialized training, engaging with officials at the highest levels, collaborating on investigations are activities that are typically done by male officials. And that was just what it was.

So while it is a challenge, it is important to recognize that we as women have a unique opportunity to promote ourselves in law enforcement, and bring awareness to the topic to those who have the power to start or continue that dialogue within their own organizations. With hopefully a goal of making a change at that level.

Julie: A deployment like this meant a big upheaval in my personal life, but I also wondered about my skills. Did I have what it took to meet this challenge? And I wasn't convinced either that sending a woman was the right thing to do.

Reason and courage prevailed over doubt.

I said to myself, Julie, you have an interest in international activities, these activities match your values. You have always enjoyed all the management mandates that the Agency has entrusted to you, and yes, you have the skills. So here I am in Jordan for a year and a half now.

Text on-screen, “Coping mechanisms?”

Ana Maria: As an officer, I have mentors who provide advice and guidance when times are tough. I also draw from my experience as a sister, a wife, a daughter, a friend, and a leader to help me overcome some challenges.

Farah: I do believe that it is a skill to be able to effectively navigate the cultural and societal norms in such a way that you break through the barriers and do what you need to do to get those results.

I have managed to do that with my partners through exposure, consistent, continuous, engagement, and at the beginning, what almost felt like continuously proving myself until a sense of trust was established. Reaching that level of collaboration with your partners is really what has made this job one of the most interesting and rewarding experience that I've had with CBSA, thus far. It really does make me look forward to finding the opportunity in the challenge.

Pascale: Sometimes I encounter walls, but I do what I can and I'm very proud of every little success that I have, whether it's one class that I've provided and these people are thanking me for the information they never knew before and now go off to be immigration officers that know how to look for documentary security features, for example. Very, very happy about that.

And I'm hoping that, that type of information will create ripples that will infect other people within their organization and they can pass that knowledge on.

Julie: I cannot speak for the women who come from the region and work in non-traditional settings, because I have not had the opportunity to meet many of them.

For my part, I quickly understood that the partners here, in the region I serve, as everywhere else, what is important for them is to interact with colleagues, partners who are efficient, who know their business and who keep their word.

Here, people have a lot of respect for hierarchy, but people also value experience and knowledge and I think that helped me a lot to find my place when I arrived.

I believe that cultural gestures should not be taken personally, within the limits of what is acceptable, of course. The people we work with, if they really appreciate us, they find the way, the right gesture that does not contravene their culture or their values to let us know, to make us feel it. And it's these little gestures that are really important.

Pascale: The cultures are very different. I remember certain meetings where we talked about nothing related to work for the first half hour, that is just the way that things are done. And then we get to the business at hand. So the meetings are a little bit longer, but it's a good way to get to know the person in front of you.

Text on-screen, “Closing remarks”.

Julie: Take the time to be inspired by those who led the way, but also by those you are currently working with, or have had the pleasure of working with, in order to become the best person you can be, and not copy and paste it from someone else.

Ana Maria: Working abroad, I'm reminded that not all women around the world get the opportunity to reach their full potential, be who they want to be, or express their opinions. I feel very grateful to be posted abroad as a female in law enforcement. It has given me a chance to show what women can do.

Julie: Trust yourself. If you do this kind of work, it's one, because you have an interest in this type of activity. That these activities are in line with your values. That you enjoy managing or applying these programs, but also because you have the skills to do so.

Text on-screen, “Thank you to our panelists”.

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© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada.
represented by the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, 2021

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