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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
The arms are blazoned:
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.
In French it is:
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".