|Her Excellency The Right Honourable
CC, CMM, COM, CD, BA MA Mont, LLD(hc) Alb, LLD(hc) Man, LLD(hc) Osg, DLitt(hc) McGill, DLitt(hc) Monct, DA(hc) Ott, DIR(hc) Perugia, DUniv(hc) Lav, FRCPSC(hon)
27 September 2005
|Prime Minister||Paul Martin
|Preceded by||Adrienne Clarkson|
|Born||6 September 1957
Michaëlle Jean CC CMM COM CD FRCPSC(hon) (French pronunciation: [mika.ɛl ʒɑ̃]; born 6 September 1957) is the current Governor General of Canada, the 27th since that country's Confederation. She was appointed as such by Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, on the recommendation of then Prime Minister of Canada Paul Martin, to replace Adrienne Clarkson as vicereine, with the official announcement of the selection made on 4 August 2005, and Jean's investiture taking place on 27 September of the same year.
Jean is 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 undertaking charity work, mostly in the field of assisting victims of domestic violence. Her participation in some of the film works by her husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, through the 1990s, as well as her holding of French citizenship, later caused controversy when her appointment as Governor General was publicised; recorded comments of hers were construed by some as favouring Quebec sovereignty, and her dual citizenship caused doubt about her loyalties. Jean denied separatist leanings and renounced her citizenship of France.
As Governor General, Jean is entitled to be styled Her Excellency while in office, and The Right Honourable for the duration of her viceregal tenure and life beyond; given current practice, she will be sworn in to the Queen's Privy Council for Canada after her term as the Queen's representative has ended.
Jean's family hails from Haiti; she was born in Port-au-Prince, 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.
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.
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,[n 1] 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.
However, by 11 August 2005, reports emerged of a forthcoming piece by René Boulanger for the Quebec sovereigntist publication Le Québécois that would reveal Jean and her husband's support for Quebec independence, citing Lafond's associations with former members of the terrorist organisation, the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ), specifically Jacques Rose. Though Boulanger admitted that he was motivated to incite a rejection of Jean by Anglophone Canadians, Gilles Rhéaume, former president of the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society, called on the Governor General-Designate to reveal how she voted in Quebec's 1995 referendum on independence, and Members of Parliament, as well as some provincial premiers, demanded that Jean and her husband clarify where their sympathies lay. Then, four days after the Prime Minister publicly explained that Jean and her spouse had both undergone thorough background checks by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, on 17 August, there came to light the existence of a documentary in which Jean had been filmed with several hard-line Quebec separatists, all toasting "to independence" after Jean stated: "Independence can't be given, it must be taken."
It was on that day that Jean responded with a public statement, saying "I wish to tell you unequivocally that both my husband and I are proud to be Canadian and that we have the greatest respect for the institutions of our country. We are fully committed to Canada. I would not have accepted this position otherwise... [We] have never belonged to a political party or the separatist movement," and went on to say that in the documented footage she had been speaking about Haiti, and not Quebec. Martin added on his earlier comments: "There is no doubt in my mind that her devotion to Canada is longstanding and resolute," though some critics continued to argue that Jean's response had been too vague. By late August, polls showed that there had been a 20% drop in support for the recommendation of Jean as the next Governor General, in response to which the Haitian community voiced their support for Jean, even holding special church services in her honour.
The Queen held audience with Jean and her family on 6 September 2005 at Balmoral Castle. Though this type of meeting with a Governor General-Designate was standard, Jean's was unique in that the presence of her young daughter marked the first time in Elizabeth's reign that her designated viceroy-to-be had brought a child to an audience. Though the meeting went well, upon her return to Canada, Jean yet again became a target when the subject of her dual citizenship was raised, in particular the French variety she had obtained through her marriage to the French-born Lafond. A section of the French civil code forbade French citizens from holding government or military positions in other countries, yet Jean, as Governor General, would hold a governmental position as the representative of Canada's head of state, and, as such, would have a military role carrying out the duties of Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Forces, as constitutionally vested in the monarch. The French embassy in Ottawa stated that there was "no question" that the law would not be enforced in Jean's case, but, on 25 September, two days before her swearing-in, Jean made it public that she had renounced her French citizenship "in light of the responsibilities related to the function of Governor General of Canada and Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Forces," thus putting the controversy to rest.
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:
|“||[H]ere 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. Jean also commented in an interview on 18 September 2006, regarding a proposed subsidy for Canadians to travel domestically, that Quebecers "are sometimes very disconnected from the rest of Canada" and that their isolation affected Canada's unity. These words raised the ire of Quebec separatist politicians, after which Jean clarified her opinion by adding that Canadians from all provinces were disconnected from other parts of the country. A 26 September editorial in the Montreal Gazette, however, supported Jean's statements on the divisions between Canada's peoples, and said that supporting national unity was a part of a Governor General's mandate.
Jean also focused strongly on the plight of female victims of violence, meeting with representatives of women's organisations during foreign visits, as well as during her visits to Canada's provinces. In contrast to her low approval ratings prior to her appointment, crowds were large and welcoming where Jean went as vicereine; only as her convoy arrived at the National War Memorial for her first Remembrance Day ceremony, on 11 November 2005, were Jean and Lafond greeted with disapproval from an audience, when veterans turned their backs on the Governor General and her consort to show contempt for two people the veterans felt had worked to break up the country they had fought to defend. This incident occurred just after Jean made satirical remarks at the roast-like annual National Press Gallery dinner about Parti Québécois leadership candidate André Boisclair's admitted cocaine use.
There was some perception that Jean was overstepping the boundaries of an office that was expected to remain non-partisan; journalist Chantal Hébert opined that the Governor General had "been wading uncommonly deep in political territory over the past few months," citing the Jean's criticism of Quebec sovereigntists and her expressed support for the mission of Canadian troops in Afghanistan, and Michael Valpy penned a piece in The Globe and Mail critiquing Jean for inviting who Valpy described as "potentially politically charged individuals" to post on her Citizen Voices website. Further, the content of a speech by Jean to mark the 25th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was regarded as thinly veiled criticism of her Cabinet's decision to end the Court Challenges Program, and, into 2007, it was reported that Jean's staff at Rideau Hall had been systematically removing royal portraits from the walls of the palace. All of this prompted Valpy to reveal that, early in his time as Prime Minister, Stephen Harper was told by Alex Himelfarb, then the Clerk of the Privy Council: "Prime Minister, your biggest problem is in Rideau Hall," meaning Jean and her potential to be a "loose cannon".
Observations were made in 2007 that Jean's schedule was seemingly thinner than that of her predecessors; an initial explanation of fatigue was further detailed by the Secretary to the Governor General as Thyroid problems, and that the vicereine's doctor had advised rest. Jean had previously been engaged in a hectic schedule, attending to various ceremonial duties, such as presenting the Grey Cup at the 93rd Canadian Football League championship game on 27 November 2005, and opening the Toonik Tyme Festival in Iqaluit, Nunavut, where she donated eighty books in Inuktitut, French, and English to the Centennial Library in commemoration of Queen Elizabeth II's 80th birthday. The next month, on 4 May, during her first official visit to the province, Jean became the first Governor General to address the Alberta legislature, which preceded her trip to Saskatchewan, where she participated in an historic private discussion with aboriginal women chiefs and elders at Saskatchewan's Government House. She also travelled to France for the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, and then back to Trenton, Ontario, for the arrival of the bodies of six Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
Her first function once recovered was to welcome László Sólyom, President of Hungary, on his state visit to Canada. Then, following in the footsteps of her predecessor, Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn — the then Governor General who opened the first expansion of the museum in 1914 — Jean dedicated the new Michael Lee-Chin Crystal at the Royal Ontario Museum on 1 June 2007. By late 2008, however, the Governor General had to return to Canada in the midst of a state visit in Europe to contend with a parliamentary dispute that endangered the stability of government, as a coalition of three opposition parties in parliament threatened to rescind their confidence in the Cabinet under the chairmanship of Stephen Harper. Choosing to follow constitutional precedent, Jean accepted, after two hours of deliberation, her Prime Minister's advice to prorogue parliament until late January 2009, thus preventing the possibility of an official vote of non-confidence and a resulting situation wherein Jean would be required to choose between asking the coalition to form a government or dissolving parliament dropping the writs after having allowed an election only four months earlier.
Jean then travelled to Nunavut in early 2009, and there participated in a traditional Inuit seal feast at a community festival, gutting a seal that had been recently killed by hunters and consuming a piece of the raw heart. While both her immediate predecessor and Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, had previously partaken in raw seal meat in the Canadian Arctic, Jean's simple act drew attention, both positive and negative, because of its coincidence with the European Parliament's recent ban on the import of Canadian seal products. When asked by reporters what her motivations were, Jean replied: "Take from that what you will." She also continued, per tradition, to attend Remembrance Day ceremonies, as representative of the Commander-in-Chief; at that event in 2009, Jean, along with Prince Charles, wore army dress uniform. This followed her wearing navy uniform at the Navy's consecration and presentation of the Queen's Colour ceremony in Halifax on 27 June of the same year, marking the revival of a practice that had ceased following the tenure of Ray Hnatyshyn.
The viceregal family undertook their first international trip in February 2006, journeying to Italy to attend the closing ceremonies of the 2006 Winter Olympics, meet Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi in Torino, and Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican. Three months later, Jean attended the investiture of René Préval as President of Haiti, Jean's first visit to her homeland in her capacity as the Queen's representative, and where she was greeted with enthusiasm in Jacmel.
At the end of the year, between 18 November and 11 December 2006, Jean embarked on a trip consisting of state visits to five African countries — Algeria, Mali, Ghana, South Africa, and Morocco — wherein the Governor General encouraged women's rights. She also, in a precedent-breaking move, personally explained on her Citizen Voices website the role of the Governor General in undertaking such trips and the reason behind these particular tours throughout Africa, then continuing to post her observations and feelings on her experiences on the continent. In Mali, where she arrived on 23 November 2006, Jean was greeted by tens of thousands of people lining the highway as her motorcade passed, and in the town of Benieli, was presented with a goat, replete with a Canadian flag on its collar. Male vendors also gave Canadian journalists gifts to be passed on to Jean, provided that she also be given their telephone numbers. Further, during the South African leg of the tour, then President Thabo Mbeki praised the Queen-in-Council's decision to appoint Jean as Governor General, citing it as an example to European countries of how African immigrants could be treated.
In her capacity as acting Commander-in-Chief, Jean made on 8 March 2007 her first visit to Canadian troops taking part in the offensive in Afghanistan; she had earlier expressed her desire to go, but Harper advised against such a trip on the grounds of security concerns. Jean landed in Kabul on the same day two attacks were made against Canadian soldiers. The Governor General 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. Of course, we, the rest of the women around the world, took too long to hear the cries of our Afghan sisters, but I am here to tell them that they are no longer alone. And neither are the people of Afghanistan." Part of the Governor General's itinery included meeting with Afghan women, Canadian soldiers, Royal Canadian Mounted Police teams, humanitarian workers, and diplomats. Other state visits included ones to Norway, Brazil, Croatia, Greece, and Mexico.
The vicereine again won plaudits, though not universal, from the media and public for her actions following the earthquake that devastated her native Haiti on 12 January 2010, in which she lost her friend Magalie Marcelin, godmother to Jean's daughter. The Governor General, with her Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, attended an emergency meeting at the Department of Foreign Affairs and then made a tearful speech, with parts in Haitian Creole, thanking the Cabinet for its swift action and the Canadian media for its coverage, as well as urging strength and courage to Haitians. She later attended a vigil in Montreal, on 25 January 2010 met at Rideau Hall with Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive. Between 8 and 10 March 2010 the Governor General made a visit to Haiti to observe the devastation and Canadian assistance being meted out there and meet with President Préval.
|Viceregal styles of
|Reference style||Her Excellency The Right Honourable
Son Excellence la très honorable
|Spoken style||Your Excellency
The Governor General's style and title in full is, in English: 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, and in French: Son Excellence la très honorable Michaëlle Jean, chancelière et compagnon principale de l'ordre du Canada, chancelière et commandante de l'ordre du mérite militaire, chancelière et commandante de l'ordre du mérite des forces de police, gouverneure générale et commandante en chef du Canada. It should be noted that, for Jean, Commander-in-Chief is strictly a title, and not a position that she holds; the actual Commander-in-Chief (who can also be, and is, called such) is perpetually the monarch of Canada.
|Ribbon bars of Michaëlle Jean|
|Order of precedence|
|Canadian order of precedence||Succeeded by
Members of the Royal Family
other than the Queen