Nova Scotia

First black female Mountie pushes for more diversity in senior positions

'Any marginalized community needs to feel ... they will be treated based on their merits'

Lt.-Col. (ret) Shelley Peters Carey

Shelley Peters Carey, a retired lieutenant-colonel in the Canadian Forces, was the first black woman to be a member of the RCMP. (Nic Meloney/CBC)


The first black woman to become a Mountie says police and military leaders must ensure there are opportunities for women and people from marginalized communities to lead these organizations.

Shelley Peters Carey enrolled in the RCMP in 1982, but she wasn't the only trailblazer in her family. Her father, Walter Peters, was Canada's first black jet fighter pilot.

"It requires leadership from the organization — and I'm not talking just at the most senior levels, I'm talking at all levels of the organization," said Peters Carey.

"Any marginalized community needs to feel that they have representation, that they have a voice, and that they will be treated based on their merits." 

Slow, steady climb

Peters Carey said even though Canada's military and paramilitary organizations have yet to see female commanders, it's "simply a matter of time" before women are the ranking officials.

"It was only a little over 40 years ago that [the RCMP] first started accepting women," she said. "You have to have a full career, you have to have varied amount of employment and exposure in order to be able to compete for those positions." 

Peters Carey, who's from Saint John, N.B., was one of just 20 Canadian women in her group at basic training.

She began her RCMP career working in Newfoundland and Labrador, where she was the only female Mountie at her detachments.

'Mini Mountie'

"I was a young, single woman in Happy Valley-Goose Bay," she said. "They had never seen a female member before ... so that was quite an interesting experience. They used to call me Mini Mountie."

Peters Carey said that sometimes the community's perception of a female officer kept her from doing her job.

"They tended to talk to my male counterparts instead of talking to me, even though I was asking the questions. They would defer to them," she said.

The integration of female officers was difficult for the whole organization, said Peters Carey. Even though she went through the same training regiment as her male counterparts, they often tried to "protect her" on patrol.

First Black Female RCMP

Shelley Peters Carey began her RCMP career working in Newfoundland and Labrador, where she was the only female Mountie at her detachments. (Sgt. Craig Smith/RCMP)

Furthering her career

"That wasn't what I wanted. What they needed to do was focus on the issue at hand, and not be worried about me," she said.

"I could take care of myself."

Peters Carey stayed with the Mounties until 1986 and then went to work for the Canadian Forces. In 2006, she was named the director of human rights and diversity, which she described as "the pinnacle" of her career.

She held that position and also served as the deputy chair for NATO's committee on women.

When she retired from the Forces as a lieutenant colonel in 2012, she was the highest-ranking black woman. She said her military career was focused on policing and diversifying the ranks.

'An incredible privilege'

When asked about being a role model for other Canadian black females, Peters Carey reflected on her past.

"It's an incredible privilege for me," she said. "I look at the picture of the little girl in her red serge and … it's hard for me to remember who she was.

"She was full of innocence and going to set the world on fire. It really played a part in making me who I am today."

More On This Story

More from CBC News

Tell us what you think