Michaëlle Jean

Michaëlle Jean, CC CMM COM CD , (born September 6, 1957, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti) is the current Governor General of Canada. Jean was appointed by Queen Elizabeth II, on the recommendation of Prime Minister Paul Martin, to succeed Adrienne Clarkson and become the 27th Governor General of Canada since Confederation in 1867. Prior to this, Jean was a journalist and broadcaster on Radio-Canada and the CBC.

As the current Governor General of Canada, she is entitled to be styled Her Excellency while in office, and The Right Honourable for life; given current practice, she will be sworn to the Queen's Privy Council for Canada after her term as the Queen's representative has ended.

An official announcement about the appointment was made on August 4, 2005. Her investiture took place on September 27.


Jean fled Haiti with her family from dictator François Duvalier's regime in 1968. Her father, from whom she was estranged for many years, was a philosopher who was tortured under Duvalier's regime and separated from the family for 30 years. The Jean family settled at Thetford Mines, Quebec.

As a student at the University of Montreal, Jean received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Italian and Hispanic languages and literature and, from 1984 until 1986, taught Italian studies while completing a Master of Arts degree in comparative literature. Jean attended the University of Florence, the University of Perugia, and the Catholic University of Milan to continue her studies in language and literature. Besides French and English, Jean is fluent in Spanish, Italian, and Haitian Creole and can read Portuguese.

While attending university, Jean worked at a women's shelter from 1979 until 1987. She later helped establish a network of shelters for women and children across Canada. Jean also worked in organizations that helped immigrants come to Canada and then later worked for Employment and Immigration Canada (now Human Resources and Skills Development Canada) and at the Conseil des Communautés culturelles du Québec, where Jean began writing about the experiences of immigrant women.


Jean is married to documentary film-maker Jean-Daniel Lafond. They have a daughter, Marie-Éden, adopted from Haiti.

As Lafond was born in France and Marie-Éden was born in Haiti, the entire vice-regal family is of non-Canadian and non-Commonwealth birth, although all were born in, and now live in, countries that belong to La Francophonie.


Jean was an award-winning reporter, filmmaker, and broadcaster, previously employed by Radio-Canada in 1988, where she worked as a reporter and then host of news and affairs programs such as Actuel, Montréal ce soir, Virages, and Le Point. In 1995, she anchored a number of programs for Réseau de l'information (RDI), Radio-Canada's all-news channel, such as Le Monde ce soir, l'Édition québécoise, Horizons francophones, Les Grands reportages, Le Journal RDI, and RDI à l'écoute. In 1999, she was also asked by the English network, CBC Newsworld, to host The Passionate Eye and Rough Cuts, which broadcast the best in Canadian and foreign documentary films. By 2004, she began her own show, Michaëlle, while continuing on Radio-Canada, hosting RDI's Grands reportages, as well as an occasional anchor of Le Téléjournal.

She and Lafond have made several films, including the award-winning Haïti dans tous nos rêves ("Haiti in All Our Dreams"). In the film, 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, to tell him Haiti awaits his return. She has hosted and produced news and documentary programming for television on both the English and French services of the CBC.

Governor General


In announcing the Queen's approval of Jean as his choice to succeed Clarkson, then-Prime Minister Martin said 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 General — who after all must represent all of Canada to all Canadians and to the rest of the world as well.

Jean is Canada's first black Governor General, the second person without either a political or military background (after Adrienne Clarkson), the second person from a visible minority (again after Clarkson), and foreign-born (like Clarkson, and breaking tradition since Vincent Massey's appointment), the second person in an interracial marriage (again after Clarkson), the third woman (after Jeanne Sauvé and Clarkson), the fourth-youngest person (after Lord Lorne (33 years old in 1878), Lord Lansdowne (38 years old in 1883) and Edward Schreyer (43 years old in 1979), and the fourth journalist (after Sauvé, Roméo LeBlanc and Clarkson) to hold the position. She is also the first Governor General to be born during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. Her appointment also marked the first time that a child had lived in Rideau Hall since Edward Schreyer and his young family lived there in the early 1980s. Jean had held dual citizenship; she applied to become a French citizen upon marrying her husband who also held Canadian and French citizenship. She renounced her French citizenship, however, on September 23, 2005, "in light of the responsibilities related to the function of Governor General of Canada and Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Forces.

Jean, in her first remarks after the announcement of her impending appointment, said she wanted to reach out to all Canadians, regardless of their background. Jean also made it a goal to reach out especially to Canadian youth and those who feel disadvantaged. Jean also encouraged all Canadians to become involved in community affairs.

On September 6, 2005, the Queen granted an audience to Jean and her family at Balmoral Castle. Though it is standard for a governor general-designate to have an audience of the monarch before assuming office, this meeting was unique in that Jean's young daughter was present, marking the first time in the Queen's reign that a governor general-designate has brought her child to an audience.


  • Stephen Harper, the leader of the Conservative party and then leader of the opposition (currently the Prime Minister), congratulated Jean on her appointment and said that her life story "serves as a great example to many Canadians. I know Mme. Jean will serve Canada in a dignified, vice-regal fashion.
  • The departing Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson, applauded Martin for choosing Michaëlle Jean by saying she is "an exciting and imaginative choice for Governor General." Clarkson said she and her husband John Ralston Saul look forward to Jean being invested with her position with "great enthusiasm.
  • Gilles Duceppe, the leader of the Bloc Québécois, was disappointed that Jean decided to, in his words, "accept a position that is strictly honorary and within an institution that is not democratic."
  • Jack Layton, the leader of the New Democratic Party, said he wished Jean and her family well and that he looked "forward to seeing a family again in Rideau Hall, which is fitting for the first Governor-General of a new century." Layton also commented on Canadian peacekeeping activities at this time by saying Jean "knows well the value of the peacekeeping operations that give Canadians so much pride.

Controversy over recommendation

Soon after the announcement of Jean's recommendation for appointment, Prime Minister Martin was asked if the current political climate in Ottawa caused him to recommend that she be appointed by the Queen. Martin denied that his was a political move to gain seats in Quebec, where the Liberal Party had lost 15 seats in the 2004 election. Until Jean's appointment, Jeanne Sauvé, who served from 1984 to 1990, was the last governor general to live in Quebec (though Jules Léger, who served from 1974 to 1979, was the last governor general born in Quebec). On August 11, 2005 The Globe and Mail reported that in a forthcoming article released early by the Quebec sovereigntist publication Le Québécois, author René Boulanger stated that Jean and her husband supported Quebec independence. Boulanger also stated that Jean's spouse, Jean-Daniel Lafond, was friendly with former Quebec terrorists.

Boulanger reported that he had often visited Jean's home, and that during one of these visits Lafond told him that Jacques Rose, a former member of the terrorist FLQ, had built a bookshelf for the couple. Rose was a member of the FLQ cell which kidnapped and murdered Quebec Cabinet Minister Pierre Laporte. Boulanger admitted that his statement was intended to cause English Canada to reject Michaëlle's candidature as the next Governor General. Following release of the article, Gilles Rhéaume, former president of the St-Jean Baptiste Society called on Jean to reveal how she voted in Quebec's 1995 referendum, which federalists won by a narrow majority. Sovereigntists had a vested interest in causing a strong reaction in English Canada against francophone candidates which would alienate the public in Quebec. They had also been attempting to garner support amongst the francophone immigrant community, and a high profile federal appointment of this sort did not help their case.

Calls from a few members of parliament, and by some of the provincial premiers, for Jean and her husband to reveal their sympathies were met with a statement from the Prime Minister that the two had undergone a thorough background check by the RCMP and CSIS, as was standard procedure for appointment to such a high-profile position. Four days following this, the August 17 edition of La Presse contained the information that Jean had appeared in a video documentary toasting "to independence" in a Montreal bar with several hard-line separatists. In the video she made the statement: "Independence can't be given, it must be taken." It was then later clarified that she had been speaking about Haiti, and not Quebec.

The same day, Jean responded to the controversy, with the following statement:
"I want to tell you unequivocally that both [Lafond] 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."

Following Jean's statement, Martin responded "There is no doubt in my mind that her devotion to Canada is longstanding and resolute", although some critics continued to argue that her response was still 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, the Haitian community voiced their support for Jean, even holding special church services in her honour.

Another minor controversy concerned her French citizenship, which she acquired when she married Lafond. A section of the French civil code forbade French citizens from holding government or military positions in other countries, and, as Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Forces and as Governor General, Jean would hold both military and government positions; however, the law is rarely applied. The French embassy stated that there was "no question" that the law would not be enforced in Jean's case. Still, on September 25, two days before her scheduled swearing-in, Jean made a statement renouncing her French citizenship, putting the controversy to rest.

In an interview conducted in October 2005 Jean's husband affirmed that he and his wife were Québécois before they were Canadians. Jean later said that her opponents had attempted to manufacture a controversy out of the lighthearted event in order to discredit her.

Investiture of the 27th governor general

At her investiture on September 27, 2005, Jean declared, "the time of the two solitudes [referring to Quebec and the rest of Canada] that for too long described the character of this country is past." In her speech, described as "moving", Jean called for protection of the environment, the shielding of culture against globalization and an end to the marginalization 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. 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.

As Governor General

Michaëlle Jean's focus during her time as the Queen's representative has been on breaking "solitudes" (in reference to the "Two Solitudes", which is reflected in the motto on her coat of arms, Briser les solitudes, or "breaking down solitudes." This mandate extended beyond simply the relationship between francophones and anglophones in Canada, to include relations between peoples of all racial, linguistic, cultural, and gender groups. Jean also focused strongly on the plight of women victims of violence, meeting with representatives of women’s organizations during each of her provincial, as well as foreign state, visits.

Following a tradition for governors general, Jean's first months in the position saw her visiting some of Canada's provinces; the beginning of a series of visits to each province and territory. Where she went, crowds were large and welcoming, a marked contrast to the low approval levels shown in polls earlier. On November 27, 2005, Jean attended the Grey Cup and presented the Cup, donated by previous Governor General Earl Grey in 1909, to the victorious Edmonton Eskimos. In the past, this function was often performed by the Prime Minister.

The following year, the vice-regal family undertook their first international trip, visiting Italy to attend the closing ceremonies of the 2006 Winter Olympics, where Canada was given the Olympic flag as the host of the next games in 2010, in Vancouver, as well as to meet Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi in Torino, and Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican.

Returning to domestic duties, on April 17, 2006, while on a visit to the territory of Nunavut, Jean opened the annual Toonik Tyme Festival and announced her donation of eighty books written in Inuktitut, French and English to the Iqaluit Centennial Library in commemoration of Queen Elizabeth II's 80th birthday on April 21, 2006. The next month, on May 4, she became the first governor general to address the Alberta legislature, during her first official provincial visit there. That visit preceded another to Saskatchewan, where Jean made stops in Regina, Fort Qu'Appelle and Qu'Appelle. Jean participated in an historic private discussion with women chiefs and elders at Government House, following the Lieutenant Governor's luncheon. Later in the same month, she attended the investiture of René Préval as President of Haiti, her first visit to her homeland in her vice-regal capacity. She was greeted with enthusiasm in her hometown of Jacmel.

Jean became the first governor general to launch an online chat with Canadians, on September 27, 2006. This initiative was part of a larger project: creating a website within the Governor General's domain name dubbed "Citizen Voices: Breaking Down Solitudes", where users could engage each other in blogs and discussion forums.

Jean embarked on a trip consisting of five state visits to African countries - Algeria, Mali, Ghana, South Africa and Morocco - between November 18 and December 11, 2006. She encouraged women's rights in each country she visited, stating that women in Islamic countries were "builders and doers", and that westerners should "look beyond the veil. On November 23, 2006, the tour took her to Mali where she was greeted by tens of thousands lining the highway, and where she was presented, in the town of Benieli, with a goat, replete with a Canadian flag on its collar. Male vendors in Mali also gave Canadian journalists gifts to be passed on to Jean, provided that she also be given their phone numbers. The gifts, and phone numbers, were deposited with the Rideau Hall Office of Protocol. In a precedent-breaking move, on her Citizen Voices website, Jean personally explained the role of the Governor General in undertaking state visits, and the reason behind these particular visits throughout Africa. She then continued to post, from Africa, her observations and feelings on her experiences on the continent.

In her capacity as acting Commander-in-Chief, on March 8, 2007, Jean made her first visit to Canadian troops taking part in the offensive in Afghanistan. Prior to this, the Governor General had stated her desire to visit the troops, but the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, advised her not to go, citing security concerns over the Vice-regal being in the turbulent area; this was despite the fact that a number of Canadian politicians had already visited the region. Jean landed on the same day two attacks against Canadian soldiers took place. 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. 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 duties included a meeting with Afghan women, as well as Canadian soldiers, RCMP teams, humanitarian workers and diplomats.

In early 2007 there was commentary about Jean's reduction, and even cancellation, of events she was attending. Though the initial explanation from Rideau Hall was fatigue on the part of the Governor General, later elaborations revealed that Jean had been suffering from Thyroid problems and she was relaxing at the recommendation of her doctor; Jean had previously been undertaking a hectic schedule, travelling 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. Following in the footsteps of her predecessor, His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught, 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 June 1, 2007.

Controversy during tenure

The controversies that attached themselves to Jean prior to her appointment continued into the early months of her time as Governor General. At the October 12 2005 National Press Gallery dinner, a jovial annual event akin to a roast in which Canadian politicians and reporters gather and by tradition make speeches satirizing one another, Jean stirred controversy when she referred jokingly to Parti Québécois leadership candidate André Boisclair's admitted cocaine use. Also, during Remembrance Day ceremonies in Ottawa, on November 11 2005, a handful of veterans turned their backs on the Governor General as her car drove up to the National War Memorial. The protesters said they believed Jean and her husband were Quebec separatist sympathizers who worked to break up a country the veterans fought to defend.

During the week of September 18 2006 in an interview with the Canadian Press, speaking about an idea for subsidies for Canadians to visit other parts of the country, Jean stated that Quebecers "are sometimes very disconnected from the rest of Canada" and that it is affecting the country's unity. Criticized by Quebec separatist politicians, including André Boisclair and Gilles Duceppe, she later clarified her statement by saying that Canadians from all provinces are disconnected from other parts of the country. A September 26 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. Later that month, journalist Chantal Hébert stated that Jean had "been wading uncommonly deep in political territory over the past few months", citing the Governor General's criticism of Quebec sovereigntists, and her support for the mission of Canadian troops in Afghanistan, expressed in first year anniversary interviews.

This notion of Jean overstepping conventional boundaries continued into 2007 when contents of her speech given at a ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms were seen by some as a thinly veiled criticism of her Cabinet's decision to end the Courts Challenges Program, which had previously provided government money to non-profit groups for use in court challenges against the Crown. At the same time, the National Post published a piece in which a Rideau Hall staff member, interpretation and exhibition planner Fabienne Fusade, stated that Jean wished to make the royal residence a showcase for Canadian art so as to project a strong "Canadian image", which meant the removal of royal portraits. Fusade called the portraits "anachronisms" and said they "did not fit any more with the current role of the Governor General. The editorial board the following day scolded Jean for her actions with Rideau Hall art, calling them a reflection of her attitude towards the Monarchy and Canadian history. The statements also attracted admonishment from the Monarchist League of Canada. These revelations led the Globe and Mail's Michael Valpy to pen a piece giving more light on the criticisms directed at the vice-regal couple, including Jean's supposedly lighter schedule in comparison to her predecessor's, her incomplete tour of all the provinces and territories of the country, and her invitations to whom Valpy described as "potentially politically charged individuals" to post on the Rideau Hall blog site. Valpy also revealed 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.


Following her installation as Governor General, Jean was granted a personal coat of arms by the Canadian Heraldic Authority, depicting her Haitian roots.

The arms are blazoned:


Sable a sand dollar ensigned by the Royal Crown Or


A sea shell Or entoured by a chain its ends broken Sable


Two Simbis Or queued and crined Sable each sounding a sea shell Or


Issuant from barry wavy Or and Sable set before a rocky mound proper growing thereon to the dexter a palm tree and to the sinister a pine tree Or



The shield shows a sand dollar, a special talisman for Jean, and the Crown symbolising her vice-regal authority. The crest is a shell in a broken chain, symbolising her ancestors' escape from slavery. The supporters are two Simbis, water spirits in Haitian culture. The motto is Briser les solitudes, which means Breaking down solitudes. Around the shield is the circlet of the Order of Canada, with its motto, Desiderantes meliorem patriam, which means They Desire a better Country.

Titles, honours and awards

Her full style and title in English 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.

In French it is:

  • 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 her title "Commander-in-Chief" is strictly a title, and not a position that she holds. In other words, she is permitted to be called Commander-in-Chief, but is actually not. The actual Commander-in-Chief (who can also be, and is, called such) is perpetually the monarch of Canada. This also holds true for such terms as "head of state".

Shorthand titles


Commonwealth Realms
Country Award or order Class or position Year Citation
Canada Order of Canada Chancellor and Principal Companion 2005-present
Canada Order of Military Merit Chancellor and Commander 2005-present
Canada Order of Merit of the Police Forces Chancellor and Commander 2005-present
Commonwealth Realms Order of St John Dame of Justice of the Order, Prior and Chief Officer in Canada 2005-present
Canada Canadian Forces Decoration 2005-present
Canada Commemorative Medal for the Centennial of Saskatchewan 2006-present

Non-national Commonwealth Realms honours

Country Organization Award or position Year Citation
Canada Human Rights League of Canada Media Award 1989
Canada Fondation Mireille Lanctôt Prix Mireille-Lanctôt 1989
Canada Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Prix Anik 1994
Canada Amnesty International Canada Journalism Award 1995
Canada City of Montreal Citizen of Honour 1997
Canada Conseil de la Langue Française du Québec Prix Raymond-Charette 2000
Canada Canadian Association of Cable Television Providers Galaxie 2000
Canada Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television Gemini for best interview in any category 2001
Canada Canadian Broadcasting Corporation French Television Prize 2004
Canada Royal Military College of Canada Club H24575 Honorary member 2005-present
Canada Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada Honorary Fellow 2007-present

Non-national Francophonie honours
Country Organization Award or position Year Citation
La Francophonie Chevalier of the Order of La Pléiade 2003

Non-national foreign honours
Country Organization Award or position Year Citation
Switzerland Swiss Ambassador to Canada Prize of Excellence in French and Italian studies 1985

Honorary degrees

Military positions

Military Force Unit Position Year
Canadian Forces Commander-in-Chief of Canadian Forces 2005–present

See also

External links


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