by Susan Munroe Updated July 30, 2017
A well-known journalist and broadcaster in Quebec, Michaëlle Jean emigrated from Haiti with her family at an early age. Fluent in five languages—French, English, Italian, Spanish and Haitian Creole—Jean became the first black governor general of Canada in 2005. A social activist for women and children at risk, Jean planned to use the office of governor general to help disadvantaged young people. Jean is married to filmmaker Jean-Daniel Lafond and has a young daughter.
Governor General of Canada
Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin chose Jean to be the governor general of Canada, and in August 2005, it was announced Queen Elizabeth II approved the choice. After Jean’s appointment, some questioned her loyalty, because of reports of her and her husband’s support of Quebec independence, as well as her dual French and Canadian citizenship. She repeatedly denounced reports of her separatist sentiments, as well as denounced her French citizenship. Jean was sworn into office Sept. 27, 2005 and served as the 27th governor general of Canada until Oct. 1, 2010.
Jean was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 1957. At the age of 11 in 1968, Jean and her family fled the Papa Doc Duvalier dictatorship and settled in Montreal.
Jean has a BA in Italian, Hispanic languages and literature from the University of Montreal. She earned her master’s degree in comparative literature from the same institution. Jean also studied languages and literature at the University of Perouse, the University of Florence and the Catholic University of Milan.
Jean worked as a university lecturer while completing her master’s degree. She also worked as a social activist, as well as a journalist and broadcaster.
Michaëlle Jean as Social Activist
From 1979 to 1987, Jean worked with Quebec shelters for battered women and helped establish a network of emergency shelters in Quebec. She coordinated a study on women as victims in abusive relationships, which was published in 1987, and she has also worked with aid organizations for immigrant women and families. Jean also worked at Employment and Immigration Canada and at the Conseil des Communautés culturelles du Québec.
Background of Michaëlle Jean in Arts and Communications
Jean joined Radio-Canada in 1988. She worked as a reporter and then host on the public affairs proframs “Actuel,” “Montréal ce soir,” “Virages” and “Le Point.” In 1995, she anchored Réseau de l’Information à Radio-Canada (RDI) programs such as “Le Monde ce soir,” “L’Édition québécoise,” “Horizons francophones,” “Les Grands reportages,” “Le Journal RDI,” and “RDI à l’écoute.”
Beginning in 1999, Jean hosted CBC Newsworld’s “The Passionate Eye” and “Rough Cuts.” In 2001, Jean became anchor for the weekend edition of “Le Téléjournal,” Radio-Canada’s major news show. In 2003 she took over as anchor of “Le Midi,” the daily edition of “Le Téléjournal.” In 2004, she started her own show “Michaëlle,” which featured in-depth interviews with experts and enthusiasts.
Addtionally, Jean has participated in a number of documentary films produced by her husband Jean-Daniel Lafond including “La manière nègre ou Aimé Césaire chemin faisant,” “Tropique Nord,” “Haïti dans tous nos rêves,” and “L’heure de Cuba.”
After the Governor General Office
Jean has remained publicly active after her service as the federal representative of the Canadian monarch. She served as a special envoy of the United Nations to Haiti to work on education and poverty issues in the country, and she was also the chancellor of the University of Ottawa from 2012 to 2015. Beginning on Jan. 5, 2015, Jean began a four-year mandate as the secretary general of the International Organization of La Francophonie, which represents countries and regions where French language and culture has a significant presence.