Jean, Michaelle

Jean, Michaelle
▪ 2006

      Former journalist and television broadcaster Michaëlle Jean was officially installed as Canada's 27th governor-general on Sept. 27, 2005. She was the first black and the first Haitian immigrant ever to hold the prestigious post, in which she would serve as Queen Elizabeth II's viceregal representative in Canada. The appointment of the 48-year-old Jean reflected Canada's emergence as a multicultural society in which the highest positions were open to individuals of talent. Although her political role as governor-general was mainly ceremonial, she would be expected to travel extensively across the country, bringing the message of a united inclusive Canada to all its scattered communities. In Quebec her appointment might well dispel the tendency of the province's ethnic minorities to look favourably on the cause of a sovereign Quebec. Her task was a formidable one, but one made easier by her demonstrated skills as a communicator.

      Jean was born on Sept. 6, 1957, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Her family was descended from slaves. Jean's father suffered imprisonment and torture under the regime of François Duvalier, a circumstance that led to the family's flight to Canada when Jean was 11 years old. The family settled in Montreal. Jean proved to be a brilliant student, studying languages and literature at the University of Montreal. From 1984 to 1986, while completing her master's degree in comparative literature, she served on the university's faculty of Italian studies. She also attended universities in Italy and France.

      A social activist, Jean mixed freely in the diverse world of Montreal's ethnic communities, honing a perfect command of French and English in the process. Embarking on a career in broadcast journalism, she became a popular commentator on the French-language network of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and also worked frequently on the English network. From 2001 Jean worked as an anchor for Radio-Canada's Le Téléjournal, and in 2004 she began to host her own television interview show, Michaëlle. She won numerous awards for her journalism work, including the Amnesty International Journalism Award. With her husband, French-born Canadian filmmaker Jean-Daniel Lafond, she also made several acclaimed documentary films, most notably the 1995 Haïti dans tous nos rêve.

      Jean's appointment brought out, in a striking fashion, the changing nature of modern Canada. Since World War II, Canada had become a genuinely multicultural society, with attitudes influenced by the heavy flow of immigrants. The country's Charter of Rights and Freedoms guaranteed equality and opportunity for all citizens, and Jean's life story illustrated this promise. Her primary task would be to express the values and aspirations of the new multiracial Canada.

David M.L. Farr

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Universalium. 2010.

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