INDEPTH: GOVERNOR GENERAL
CBC News Online | Oct. 11, 2005
It's no surprise that Adrienne Clarkson's successor as governor general is a francophone. But the choice of Michaëlle Jean might be called a bit of a surprise.
Like Clarkson, Jean is an immigrant and a journalist.
Jean was born in Port-au-Prince. In 1968, as violence under dictator Francois (Papa Doc) Duvalier escalated, the Jean family decided to flee Haiti and settle in Quebec. Jean was 11. Her father had been arrested, jailed and tortured under Duvalier's dictatorship.
It was as a child in Montreal that Jean first encountered racist taunts. She recalled other children touching her black skin to see if she was real.
Jean completed her undergraduate studies at the Université de Montréal earning
a degree in Spanish and Italian language and literature and a master's
degree in comparative literature.
She went on to study Italian language, culture and literature at universities
in Florence, Milan and Perugia, Italy, between 1982 and 1985. By then, she
was fluent in five languages – French, English, Italian, Spanish and Haitian
Creole. She could also more than get by reading material in Portuguese.
While she was completing her university studies, Michaëlle Jean was also
deeply involved with helping women and children who were the victims of domestic
violence. She co-ordinated a groundbreaking study – published in 1987
– that looked at abusive relationships in which women were the victims of sexual
violence at the hands of their spouses.
Jean shifted her focus to journalism in the late 1980s and by 1988 she was
a fixture on Radio-Canada, serving as a reporter for the program Actuel. From
1991-1992, she hosted Virages and for three years, starting in 1992, she appeared
on the national and international news program Le Point.
Since 1995, Jean has served as a host/reporter on many RDI programs such as
Le Monde ce soir, L'Édition québécoise, Horizons francophones, le Journal
RDI and RDI à l'écoute.
She has also dealt with challenging themes such as the Roman Catholic Church
in a four-day debate entitled Le Pape en France, pedophilia in L'enfance
volée and Chinese politics in La rétrocession de
Hong Kong à la Chine.
Among her many awards: the Amnesty International Journalism Award in 1995
for a 15-part series on women; the 1994 Anik Prize for information reporting,
France's Médaillée de l'Ordre des Chevaliers de La Pléiade
des Parlementaires de la Francophonie (2003) for promoting francophone culture, and the 2000 Galaxi Award for best information program host.
Jean's passion has been making documentary films. She has worked with
renowned filmmaker Jean-Daniel Lafond, her husband, on three major projects: L'heure de Cuba
(1999), about the 40th anniversary of the Cuban revolution, Tropique Nord (1994)
about being black in Quebec and the Hot Docs award-winning Haiti dans tous
nos rêves (1995).
She has also hosted CBC Newsworld's The Passionate Eye and Rough Cuts
David Mitchell, vice-rector at the University of Ottawa called Jean's appointment "politically inspired," with Quebec's sovereignty movement undergoing a rejuvenation.
"She will be a voice for Canada in Quebec and she will represent the new Quebec to the rest of Canada very effectively," Mitchell said. "She has that potential and that sense, this is an inspired choice."
Jean is the third journalist in a row to be appointed to the viceregal post. Clarkson worked for the CBC. Her predecessor – Roméo Leblanc – worked as a journalist for Radio-Canada in the early 1960s. Jeanne Sauvé – the first woman to hold the post of governor general – had a 20-year career at the CBC before she entered politics in 1972.
Michaëlle Jean succeeded Clarkson as governor general on Sept. 27, 2005. Jean and her husband have a six-year-old daughter.