PC CC CMM COM CD FRCPSC (hon)
Michaelle Jean is a Canadian stateswoman and former journalist who is the third and current Secretary-General of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie...she is the first woman to hold this position. From September 27, 2005 to October 1, 2010, Jean was Governor General of Canada, the 27th since Canadian Confederation.
Jean was a refugee from Haiti ~ coming to Canada in 1968...and was raised in the town of Thetford Mines, Quebec. After receiving a number of university degrees, Jean worked as a journalist and broadcaster for Radio-Canada and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), as well as charity work, mostly in the field of assisting victims of domestic violence. In 2005, she was appointed governor general by Queen Elizabeth II, on the recommendation of Prime Minister Paul Martin. She was noted for her attention to the Canadian Forces, Aboriginal Canadians and the arts, especially youth involvement in them. She is also currently the Special Envoy for Haiti for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and Chancellor of the University of Ottawa.
Michaelle Jean was sworn in as a member of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada
on September 26, 2012, giving her the accordant style of
The Right Honourable.
Early Life and Education: Jean's family hails from Haiti; she was born in Port-au-Prince, baptised at the Holy Trinity Cathedral. Though her father worked as principal and teacher for an elite Protestant private school in Port-au-Prince, Jean was educated at home...as her parents did not want her swearing allegiance to the then Haitian President, Francois Duvalier, as all Haitian schoolchildren were required to do. With her family, Jean fled Haiti to escape Duvalier's regime ~ her father left for Canada in 1967 and the following year the rest of the family.
Jean received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Italian and Hispanic languages and literature from the University of Montreal...and from 1984 to 1986, taught Italian Studies there, while completing her Master of Arts degree in comparative literature. She then went on with language and literature studies at the University of Florence, the University of Perugia and the Catholic University of Milan. Besides French and English, Jean is fluent in Spanish, Italian and Haitian Creole...and can read Portuguese.
Concurrent with her studies between 1979 and 1987, Jean coordinated a study on spousal abuse and worked at a women's shelter, which paved the way for her establishment of a network of shelters for women and children across Canada. She also involved herself in organizations dedicated to assisting immigrants to Canada and at the Conseil des Communautes culturelles du Quebec where Jean began writing about the experiences of immigrant women. She married French-born Canadian filmmaker Jean-Daniel Lafond...and the couple adopted as their daughter, Marie-Eden, an orphaned child from Jacmel, her mother's hometown in Haiti.
Journalism, Broadcasting and Film Careers: Jean became a reporter, filmmaker and broadcaster for Radio-Canada in 1988, hosting news and affairs programs. She was the first person of Caribbean descent to be seen on French television news in Canada. She then moved in 1995 to Radio-Canada's all-news channel to anchor a number of its French programs. Four years later, she was asked by CBC's English language all-news channel, CBC Newsworld, to host The Passionate Eye and Rough Cuts which both broadcast the best in Canadian and foreign documentary films. By 2004, Jean was hosting her own show...while continuing to anchor a couple French news programs. ,
Over the same period, Jean made several films with her husband, including the award-winning Haiti dans tous nos reves (“Haiti in All Our Dreams”)...in which she meets her uncle, the poet and essayist Rene Depestre, who fled from the Duvalier dictatorship into exile in France and wrote about his dreams for Haiti...and tells him Haiti awaits his return.
Governor General of Canada: Jean was Canada's first governor general of Caribbean origin. Jean was also the first representative of Queen Elizabeth II to have been born during the latter's reign…and her appointment saw the first child living in Rideau Hall, the official residence since Schreyer and his young family lived there in the early 1980's.
Prime Minister, Paul Martin said of Jean that, “She is a woman of talent and achievement. Her personal story is nothing short of extraordinary. And extraordinary is precisely what we seek in a governor generalship ~ who after all must represent all of Canada to all Canadians and to the rest of the world as well.”
The Glove and Mail columnist, John Ibbitson reflected the general captivation with the new governor general in the following way: Here is this beautiful young Canadian of Haitian birth, with a smile that makes you catch your breath, with a bemused older husband by her side, and a daughter who literally personifies our future...and you look at them and you think...'Yes, this is our great achievement, this is the Canada that Canada wants to be, this is the Canada that will ultimately make way for different cultural identities.'
Over the first 2 years of her mandate, Jean embarked on the traditional vice-regal tours of Canada’s provinces and territories. In British Columbia, Jean presented the Grey Cup at the 93rd Canadian Football League championship game. In Iqaluit, Nunavut she opened the Toonik Tyme Festival where she donated 80 books in Inuktitut, French and English to the Centennial Library in commemoration of Queen Elizabeth II’s 80th birthday. On May 4, 2006 she became the first governor general to address the Alberta Legislature. During these tours, Jean also focused strongly on the plight of female victims of violence…meeting with representatives of women’s organizations…in 2007, she participated in a historic discussion with aboriginal women chiefs and elders at Saskatchewan’s Government House.
Military Duties and Welcomes Overseas: The vice-regal family undertook their first international trip in February 2006, journeying to Italy to attend the 2006 Winter Olympics closing ceremonies, meeting the Italian President in Torino and Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican. Three months later, Jean attended the investiture of Rene Preval as President of Haiti (her first visit to her homeland in her capacity at the Queen’s representative)…and where she was greeted with enthusiasm in Jacmel.
At the end of the year, Jean embarked on a trip consisting of state visits to 5 African countries ~ wherein the Governor General encouraged women’s rights.
Jean made on March 8, 2007, her first visit to Canadian troops taking part in the Afghanistan offensive. Prime Minister Stephen Harper advised against this endeavour due to security concerns. Two attacks were made against Canadian soldiers on the same day the Governor General landed in Kabul. Jean had the arrival, timed specifically for International Women’s Day, stating, “The women of Afghanistan may face the most unbearable conditions, but they never stop fighting for survival…but I am here to tell them they are no longer alone.” She met with Afghan women, Canadian soldiers, Royal Canadian Mounted Police teams, humanitarian workers and diplomats.
A series of state visits followed in 2009 to Norway, Croatia, Greece and Mexico as well as another visit to the Canadian troops in Afghanistan. She presided over the ceremonies in Halifax, Nova Scotia for the consecration and presentation of the new Queen’s Colour to the Canadian navy; she wore at that time, the Commander-in-Chief’s naval uniform. She and Prince Charles did the same thing at the 2009 Remembrance day events in Ottawa…both at that time sporting Canadian army dress uniform. Then in June 2010, Jean conducted a fleet review in Esquimalt Harbour to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Canadian Navy.
After officially opening the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver on February 12 and the Winter Paralympics a month later, the Governor General made a visit to Haiti to observe the earthquake devastation and Canadian assistance being meted out there and to meet President Preval.
End of Tenure: Jean announced to the press in 2010 that she would step out of the vice-regal role near the end of the traditional, but not official, five-year period.
On May 10, 2010, Princess Margriet of the Netherlands presented Jean with a new tulip cultivar named the Michaelle Jean tulip…with maroon petals, designed to reflect the Governor General’s personal tastes. This carried on the tradition of Dutch royals gifting tulips to Canada.
Information compiled by Merle Baird-Kerr…February 26, 2015
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