Canada's new governor-general French no more

28th September 2005, Comments 0 comments

OTTAWA, Sept 27 (AFP) - Haitian-born journalist Michaëlle Jean became Canada's first black governor general Tuesday, after renouncing her French passport to take up the prestigious post as representative of the British monarchy in its former colony.

OTTAWA, Sept 27 (AFP) - Haitian-born journalist Michaëlle Jean became Canada's first black governor general Tuesday, after renouncing her French passport to take up the prestigious post as representative of the British monarchy in its former colony.

Jean, 48, her makeup smudged by tears during a musical welcome, was sworn in as Canada's 27th de facto head of state in the Senate chamber.

She takes over from Adrienne Clarkson, who was born in Hong Kong and was the first Asian to hold the post.

The appointment of the woman whose family fled Haiti's murderous Duvalier regime in 1968, was widely acclaimed throughout the country, though it was not without controversy.

Jean studied literature and languages and worked for Radio-Canada and its English-language equivalent, the CBC.

"We are encouraged to believe that everything is possible in this country and my own adventure represents for me and for others a spark of hope that I want kept alive for the greatest number," Jean said at her inauguration.

Her story of a "little girl, who watched her parents, her family, and her friends grappling with the horrors of a ruthless dictatorship, who became the woman standing before you today, is a lesson in learning to be free," she said.

Canadian prime minister Paul Martin called her life "as profound an expression of what it means to be Canadian as any story (she) reported on".

Detractors have alleged however that Jean had ties to Quebec separatists and her dual French citizenship made her a poor choice to represent the monarchy in Canada.

Last month, a separatist publication alleged that Jean's husband, French filmmaker Jean Daniel Lafond, had strong separatist convictions and linked him to former members of the Front de Liberation du Quebec (FLQ), a group believed responsible for the assassination of a Quebec minister in 1970.

A documentary made by Lafond in 1991 about the struggles for independence in Quebec, Haiti and Martinique showed the couple joining separatist sympathisers in a toast to Quebec's independence.

Martin, who appointed Jean, called the controversy a "smear campaign" by hardcore separatists. Jean denied that she or her husband had ever been members of a separatist party.

"I want to tell you unequivocally that both (my husband) and I are proud to be Canadians and that we have the greatest respect for the institutions of our country," Jean said recently. "We are fully committed to Canada."

Further complicating matters, Jean held French citizenship through her marriage to Lafond, who left France in 1974.

Newspaper editorials questioned whether a French citizen could represent Queen Elizabeth II and she renounced her French passport last week.

Samuel de Champlain founded New France on the shores of the St. Lawrence River in 1608 and later became the first French governor. Britain took over the colony in 1760, a year after winning the battle of the Plains of Abraham near Quebec City.

Outgoing governor general Clarkson, 66, also a former journalist, recently underwent emergency surgery and was fitted with a heart pacemaker.

Government officials said they hope Jean will electrify Rideau Hall, the official residence of the governor general, where she will live with her husband and their adopted six-year-old daughter Marie-Eden.

Clarkson was praised for expanding the duties of the governor general, but vilified for her lavish spending and frequent trips abroad to promote Canadian culture.

Canadian heritage minister Liza Frulla compared Clarkson and Jean: "One was like the Queen, the other more like Lady Di."

Although the governor general's role has become mostly symbolic, Jean may be called to dissolve Parliament if Martin's minority government loses a vote of confidence in the House of Commons.

Clarkson's five-year term was extended by one year because lawmakers sought to maintain some stability and her experience in the position was considered invaluable during political uncertainty.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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