Michael K. Olotu, Director General, Rights, Redress and Resolution, has worn many hats at the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC). Starting off as a Correctional Officer and then a Parole Officer, Michael has gone on to serve in senior level roles at NHQ including, Senior Director of Operations with CORCAN, Director of Evaluation, Director of Investigations and Director of Strategy and Corporate Services in what is now known as the Indigenous Initiatives Directorate.
Michael’s extensive and diverse career at CSC has allowed him to build strong relationships and understand the inner workings of an organization that he appreciates.
“I enjoy the mandate of the organization,” Michael explains. “It’s a great mandate in terms of really helping people. We work with offenders to help them make changes in their lives, transition them back into the community and provide support for them including looking, finding and keeping jobs. The guidance and support allows them to continue to grow and develop.”
His passion for the job is one of the main reasons that he was asked to become CSC’s Champion of Multiculturalism, a role he has held since July 2020. He explains that his work on this file started early on.
“In 2004, in partnership with a number of NHQ colleagues (Taunya Goguen, Suzanne Leclerc, Helen Friel and Shereen Benzey-Miller) I led the group to formally establish a diversity committee at CSC. I presented my vision to NHQMC, now known as Commissioner’s Management Team (CMT), in terms of having a committee that will be the gatekeeper of all matters related to diversity at CSC. Once we had their approval, it was off to the races.”
Being Champion of Multiculturalism has many components. Firstly, Michael is committed to fostering an environment that reflects Sections 3(1 a-j) and 3(2a-f) of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, which includes supporting CSC’s collective commitment to ensure representation for all people, regardless of race, sexual orientation, physical attributes, religion and linguistics profile. The second component involves a statutory requirement under the Canadian Multiculturalism Act. Under this Act, every federal government organization must report annually to Canadian Heritage on what they are doing to ensure their programs, policies and services are reflective and responsive to Canada’s multicultural reality.
Here at CSC, Michael embodies the spirit of this role by providing support for CSC’s various initiatives involving respectful workplaces, workplace wellness and others that celebrate diversity in the organization. This includes his input on the annual report to Canadian Heritage. He also engages with people outside of the organization, taking the pulse on what other departments are doing to improve representation and assessing if those actions could benefit CSC.
While Michael does not work directly with offenders in his capacity as Champion of Multiculturalism, he does contribute to a number of initiatives that can have a positive impact in terms of diversity. This includes his collaboration with the Programs Branch, Indigenous Initiatives Directorate, and Women Offender Sector in which he contributes his perspective in responding to the unique needs of our diverse offender population.
On a personal level, Michael is committed to the role.
“Being Champion of Multiculturalism is not my day job but I always try to bring the multiculturalism lens into everything I do at CSC.”
For instance, he participates in the Federal Internship Program for Canadians with Disabilities and works closely with academic institutions to hire students. In these roles, Michael states that he works hard to ensure he is creating opportunities for a diverse group of people as one of the many ways to make CSC an employer of choice.
When asked what he thinks CSC is doing well and where improvements are needed with respect to anti-racism efforts, Michael was clear.
“We are having conversations,” said Michael. “We are having conversations about multiculturalism, race relations, diversity and linguistic requirements. We also have a number of resources dedicated to advancing the organization’s agenda in terms of having a respectful workplace, free of discrimination and harassment. This is a good starting place and we need to continue to build on those.”
Michael also stressed that we have more work to do. He emphasized the importance of reconciliation as foundation to healing. “You cannot right the wrong if you do not name the wrong,” Michael explains. “For instance, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Calls to Action continue to guide our country in terms of what actions need to be put in place to address the trauma caused to Indigenous peoples of Canada. This is a good thing.”
Michael is passionate about history and encourages everyone to look to momentous actions of the past, such as the TRC and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to inform and help us shape the future.
“In 1793, through the passing of the Upper Canada Act Against Slavery, which was one of the first anti-slavery legislations in the world, Canada set in motion the elimination of slavery. This was groundbreaking at the time, setting the stage for other countries, including the United States, to follow. It is on the strength of that legislation that several Black peoples, through the underground rail, came to Nova Scotia.”
Michael believes that as individuals and as communities, we need to talk about multiculturalism and address racism. There are many things we can do to empower and support the Black community.
“First, we all have to embrace the principle of self-accountability. What does that mean? It means being part of the conversation, which is one of the most fundamental contributions anyone can bring to this issue,” said Michael. “And don’t be afraid to challenge someone when you see something is wrong or you witness a discriminatory practice. Challenge it. Name it. Push back on it. Because you can never underestimate the seed you can plant when you challenge a person or their action. It could appeal to their sense of consciousness.”
Michael also emphasizes that we must work on recruiting staff from Black and Indigenous communities, as well as other visible minority communities.
“We need to do more and hire more. We need to go to these unique communities to discuss with them the value of working at CSC.”
At CSC, racism and discrimination are key areas of focus. The Service is committed to addressing systemic barriers for offenders once they are in our custody and improving correctional outcomes for Black, Indigenous, and other ethnocultural offenders. For staff, CSC is working hard to foster a work environment that is safe, respectful and inclusive for everyone.
With less than a year as Champion of Multiculturalism, Michael is serving as a driving force for these efforts. Through it all, he remains an optimist.
“I always see the best in everything. It’s not that I think everything is great, but I like to see what is great in everything. In doing so, we can build on what is great to make corrections in areas that need improvement.”