Michaëlle Jean PC CC CMM COM CD FRCPSC(hon) (born September 6, 1957) is a Canadian journalist and stateswoman who served as Governor General of Canada, the 27th since Canadian Confederation, from 2005 to 2010.
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 undertaking charity work, mostly in the field of assisting victims of domestic violence. In 2005, she was appointed governor general by Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, on the recommendation of Prime Minister Paul Martin, to replace Adrienne Clarkson as vicereine, and she occupied the post until succeeded by David Johnston in 2010. Early in her tenure, comments of hers recorded in some of the film works by her husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, were construed as supporting Quebec sovereignty and her holding of dual citizenship caused doubt about her loyalties. But Jean denied separatist leanings, renounced her citizenship of France, and eventually became a respected vicereine. Jean is 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 Honourable; however, as a former governor general of Canada, Jean is entitled to be styled for life with the superior form of The Right Honourable.
With her family, Jean fled Haiti to escape Duvalier’s regime, under which Jean’s father was in 1965 arrested and tortured. Jean’s father left for Canada in 1967 and Jean, her mother, and sister, arrived the following year; the family settled together at Thetford Mines, Quebec. Jean’s father, however, became increasingly distant and violent, and her parents’ marriage eventually fell apart; she, with her mother and sister, then moved to a basement apartment in the Little Burgundy neighbourhood of Montreal.
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 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.
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 was the first person of Caribbean descent to be seen on French television news in Canada. 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.
Jean was 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 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 1980s.
Summaries of Jean’s time as the Queen’s representative emerged by mid-2010; Jean was regarded as having fulfilled the role in an admirable, though not perfect, fashion. It was noted that she used the office, her speaking abilities, and photogenic nature to Canada’s advantage, promoting freedom, human rights, and urban youth, and to bring attention to socio-economic problems in the country’s north. She was commended for her dedication to the arts, Aboriginal Canadians, the Armed Forces, and her outreach to Haiti following the earthquake there, but critiqued for specific incidents, such as referring to herself as Canada’s head of state and making public comments that skirted the political. Her ability to personally connect with those she met was also noted, as well as her frequent displays of emotion; commentators dubbed her the empathizer-in-chief.