Mtre Michèle Moreau

Mtre Michèle Moreau : Following her lucky star
By Mélanie Dugré, lawyer

(Article issued on January 24, 2017)

Becoming a Formula 1 driver was the childhood dream of Michèle Moreau, a committed, uncompromising woman born in Hauterive on Quebec’s North Shore. Until she was eight years old, the young Michèle and her family toted their bags from city to city, according to the needs of Hydro-Québec, her father’s employer. Michèle claims that she owes her great adaptability and resilience in the face of destabilizing situations to this nomadic childhood.

Michèle’s family finally settled down in Longueuil in 1973. Her Formula 1 dream was replaced by her aspirations to become a journalist and Michèle was soon planning the rest of her studies accordingly.  With the idea of acquiring maturity and experience, she first completed a year of political science at Université Laval before continuing in law at Université de Montréal in 1986. At the time, she felt that law was the springboard to journalism, an idea that remained with her in subsequent years.

However, the experience Michèle gained while articling was decisive for her. She spent the first three months with a disorganized lawyer, who was subsequently disbarred. On her first day, she ended up before the Court of Appeal, where she was praised by Mr. Justice Vallerand. Despite the pitfalls encountered and the lack of mentorship, Michèle discovered a real love for litigation and realized the importance of law in the day-to-day lives of individuals. She then saw the power that lawyers could wield and the importance of the helping and support relationships they could build with their fellow citizens. Without any doubts or regrets, Michèle switched her ambitions from journalism to a rewarding career as a lawyer that has already spanned more than 25 years.

Michèle finally finished articling at a small commercial litigation firm before moving from one law firm to another until 1998. She developed an interest and expertise in labour law, which brought her to UQAM, where she held various labour relation positions, including that of Assistant Director as of 2001. This practice required Michèle’s versatility and resourcefulness as she was called upon to plead before various courts and administrative bodies. Given her experience, she did not hesitate to share her know-how and expertise by teaching at the École du Barreau from 2005 to 2009.

In conjunction with her practice, Michèle became intensely involved in the legal community, first with the Young Bar Association of Montreal, where as early as 1995, she served on several committees before acting as the Secretary General between 1998 and 2000. From 2000 to 2009, Michèle distinguished herself at the Bar of Montreal, making her mark on the Council and numerous committes, including the Mentoring Program Committee, the Eco Committee and the Liaison Committee with the Commission of Labour Relations, while acting as a volunteer at the Journée du Barreau and during group swearing-in ceremonies. Among her favourites at the Bar of Montreal, she points out the Debating Competition, which highlights young people’s talent and immense potential, and for which she was the assigned moderator for 10 years. In fact, it is with a heavy heart that she must give up her position this year.

In addition, the Canadian Bar Association (CBA) can count on Mtre Moreau’s faithful services because since 2006, she has been involved in the Quebec Branch, and was even the President in 2013-2014 and 2015-2016. The national platform was waiting for her, but in this case as well, the recent upheavals in her career have forced her to make difficult choices.
Eager for change and turning her back on comfort, Michèle Moreau left UQAM in 2009 to found Pro Bono Québec. Although her duties as Executive Director are now more related to management than to pure law, she is still in familiar territory because she is very much in the know about pro bono assignments! Michèle in fact clarified that since being admitted to the Barreau, she has regularly been involved in pro bono files because for her, they are a natural extension of her practice and an undeniable aspect of the helping relationship between lawyers and their clients.

Born during a meeting of the General Council of the Barreau du Québec in Tadoussac, the idea of Pro Bono Québec quickly became her baby, to which she devoted herself. With only a telephone and computer to start off with, she built up the organization with her own two hands, watching it slowly develop and find its own place within the legal community. In 2011, Michèle Moreau’s managerial talents were sought to oversee the establishment of the Greater Montreal Community Justice Center, an offer that she enthusiastically accepted, without however abandoning her duties at Pro Bono Québec.

Then, with some maternal pangs of separation, Michèle let her two offspring, now strong and independent, fly without her by joining the Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice (CIAJ), where she was given much leeway regarding the new guidelines for the organization’s activities and projects. In 2015, Mtre Moreau oversaw the organization of the CIAJ annual conference, whose theme, doubtlessly a twist of fate, concerned Aboriginals and the law. Here she noted how much Aboriginal laws and customs were rooted in their dances, songs and folklore. She forged many links with members of Aboriginal communities and the decision-makers involved. Instantly, Michèle felt drawn to this delicate and fascinating subject, and expressed her desire to contribute to the cause.

Fully satisfied with her position at the CIAJ, Michèle Moreau was sitting down with her colleagues in Ottawa at the time that the launch of the commission of inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls was announced and they were looking for an executive director. Convinced that the position was custom-made for her and that her experience had groomed her for such a challenge, she quickly offered her services, on a colleague’s recommendation, to Michèle Audette, one of the five commissioners appointed. The rest happened so very quickly, with the Commission’s work being initiated in September 2016 and Michèle’s relocation to Vancouver last December.

Michèle’s task is formidable and her role consists in helping to prepare the broad guidelines of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, to coordinate relations with governments and to ensure the logistical operations of the five regional offices across Canada with regard to human resources, finances, information management and technology. In addition, there is the challenge of making sure that the processes of the Commission will be adjusted and will respect the customs and way of life of all the Aboriginal communities participating in the National Inquiry. Ultimately, Michèle would like the Commission to be able to offer an environment in which they will be able to testify about the horrors and tragedies experienced as calmly as possible, which in and of itself is a huge social responsibility toward the Aboriginals concerned.
Michèle admits that the difficulty of this new mandate, which she humorously rates at 15/10, is daunting, with tight, even unrealistic, deadlines: an interim report scheduled for November 2017 and a final report for the end of 2018. However, she is prepared to fight against all odds to support the Commission in its mission and admits feeling intoxicated by the size of this challenge.

Michèle Moreau summarizes her impressive career by saying that she was born under a lucky star and has always followed her gut feelings. Sometimes she was wrong and disappointed, but each life experience helped make her the lawyer and woman she has become today. This important National Inquiry, whose work will mark the history of Canada, can therefore count on a distinguished, keen and dedicated jurist. For Michèle Moreau, 2017 promises to be a pivotal year during which her humanity, sensitivity and empathy will provide valuable support, while her lucky star will certainly continue to guide her.