PROFILE : Michaëlle Jean: The Governor General of Canada

MICHAËLLE Jean, the Governor General of Canada is on a 3 day visit in Rwanda that ends tomorrow April 23rd, 2010. Jean is a Canadian journalist and stateswoman who is serving as the current Governor General of Canada, the 27th since Canada’s confederation.
Michaëlle Jean, The Governor General of Canada (Photo: J. Mbanda)
Michaëlle Jean, The Governor General of Canada (Photo: J. Mbanda)

MICHAËLLE Jean, the Governor General of Canada is on a 3 day visit in Rwanda that ends tomorrow April 23rd, 2010. Jean is a Canadian journalist and stateswoman who is serving as the current Governor General of Canada, the 27th since Canada’s confederation.


The Governor General’s style and title in full is: Her Excellency­ The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Chancellor and Principal Companion of the Order of Canada, Chancellor and Commander of the Order of Military Merit, Chancellor and Commander of the Order of Merit of the Police Forces, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief in and over Canada.

Early life and youth

Jean’s family hails from Haiti; she was born in Port-au-Prince on 6 September 1957, baptised at the Holy Trinity Cathedral and spent winters in that city and summers and weekends in Jacmel, her mother’s hometown. With her family, Jean fled Haiti in 1968 to escape the regime of dictator François Duvalier — who had tortured Jean’s philosopher father and separated him from his family for more than 30 years — and, upon arrival in Canada, the family settled first in a basement apartment in Montreal and then at Thetford Mines, Quebec.

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 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 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 organisations dedicated to assisting immigrants to Canada obtain the entry they desired, and later worked for Employment and Immigration Canada and at the Conseil des Communautés culturelles du Québec, 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-Éden, an orphaned child from Jacmel.


Jean became a reporter, filmmaker, and broadcaster for Radio-Canada in 1988, hosting news and affairs programmes such as Actuel, Montréal ce soir, Virages, and Le Point.

She then moved in 1995 to Réseau de l’information (RDI), Radio-Canada’s all-news channel, in order to anchor a number of programmes, Le Monde ce soir, l’Édition québécoise, Horizons francophones, Les Grands reportages, Le Journal RDI, and RDI à l’écoute, for example. Only four years later, however, 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, Michaëlle, while continuing to anchor RDI’s Grands reportages, as well as acting occasionally as anchor of Le Téléjournal.

Over the same period, Jean made several films with her husband, including the award winning Haïti dans tous nos rêves (“Haiti in All Our Dreams”), in which she meets her uncle, the poet and essayist René 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.

She similarly produced and hosted news and documentary programming for television on both the English and French services of the CBC.

Governor generalship

Jean is Canada’s first governor general of Caribbean origin; the third woman (after Jeanne Sauvé and Adrienne Clarkson); the fourth youngest (after the Marquess of Lorne, who was 33 years old in 1878; the Marquess of Lansdowne, who was 38 years old in 1883; and Edward Schreyer, who was 43 years old in 1979); the fourth former journalist (after Sauvé, Roméo LeBlanc and Clarkson); and the second after Clarkson to not only have neither a political nor military background, but also to be a visible minority, to break the tradition of Canadian-born governors general, and to be in an interracial marriage.

Jean is 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 since Schreyer and his young family lived there in the early 1980s. Jean confirmed in April 2010 that her term would not be extended, and that she anticipates serving until September.

As governor general-designate

In announcing, on 4 August 2005, Queen Elizabeth II’s approval, by commission under the royal sign-manual and signet, of Jean as his choice to succeed Adrienne Clarkson as governor general, then Canadian 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.”

Almost immediately, there was speculation that Martin had been influenced by the political climate in Ottawa at the time, leading the Prime Minister to deny that rejuvenated popularity for his party in Quebec was a motivating factor in his decision.

From Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, the upcoming appointment was met with mostly favourable comments, and Jean’s predecessor applauded the choice, saying that Jean was, “an exciting and imaginative choice for Governor General.”

In her first remarks after this announcement, Jean herself encouraged Canadians to involve themselves in their communities, and stated that she wished to reach out to all Canadians, regardless of their background, and made it a goal to focus especially on Canadian youth and the disadvantaged.

As governor general

At her investiture ceremony in the Senate chamber on 27 September 2005, Jean declared in a speech described as “moving” that “the time of the Two Solitudes that for too long described the character of this country is past,” and called for the protection of the environment, the shielding of culture against globalization, and an end to the marginalisation of young people.

According to one media account, “the pomp and circumstance of Canada’s most significant state function were blended with humour, passion and even tears.” while The Globe 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.”

Echoing her inaugural speech, Jean made it her focus during her time as the Queen’s representative to break the Two Solitudes, as reflected in the motto on her personal coat of arms: BRISER LES SOLITUDES, which translates into “breaking down solitudes”; this mandate extended beyond simply the relationship between the traditional Two Solitudes of Francophones and Anglophones in Canada to include relations between peoples of all racial, linguistic, cultural, and gender groups.

In that vein, the Governor General made an effort to foster national dialogue by launching an online chat with Canadians, as part of the larger project of creating within the Governor General’s domain name a website dubbed “Citizen Voices: Breaking Down Solitudes”, where users could engage each other in discussion forums and prominent individuals could post blog entries.


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