This Day In History: August 4th
Award-winning journalist and Canada’s first person of color to serve as the 27th Governor-General, Michaëlle Jean, made history with her crown-approved appointment to the position. Jean was officially approved and appointed by Queen Elizabeth II on August 4, 2005, and she entered office the following month.
After being considered for the role by Prime Minister Paul Martin, her decision to accept the position took four weeks. She was only the second person selected that had no previous political or military experience. The role of Governor-General serves as a representative of the crown in Canada, the head of state and commander-in-chief of the nation’s armed forces. The Governor-General is also responsible for promoting national unity and preserving the country’s culture and identity.
Despite her Canadian citizenship, Michaëlle Jean was born on September 6, 1957, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Her father was held captive and tortured under François Duvalier’s regime, which prompted the family to flee to Canada when Jean was a child. After relocating to Montreal, Jean pursued an education in literature and started a career in journalism and documentary filmmaking.
Jean’s appointment to the position was met with speculation that it was done for political gain. She also faced criticism over her attempt to become a citizen of France following her marriage to film-maker Jean-Daniel Lafond, who was born in France and held dual citizenship. To settle the controversy, Jean denounced her French citizenship two days before her appointment to the position.
While serving as Governor-General, Jean reached out to all Canadians, especially to the youth and disadvantaged populations in an effort to encourage citizens to become involved in community affairs. She also called for more communication between cultural groups and the Francophone and Anglophone communities in Canada. Jean held the position for five years and completed her term in 2010. She was succeeded by David Johnston.
Jean became a special envoy to Haiti for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2010. Following that role, Jean worked as chancellor of the University of Ottawa for three years. She later served as the head of Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (International Organization of La Francophonie – OIF) in 2015 but only served one term before leaving office in 2019.