Michaëlle Jean pleads for leniency for asylum-seekers
The former governor general spoke of her exile from Haiti and battle to open opportunities for people of colour.
Updated: February 24, 2019
Former governor general Michaëlle Jean is calling on Canadian immigration authorities to show sympathy for asylum-seekers.
During an interview at the Grande Bibliothèque’s Fondu au Noir (Fade to Black) festival on Saturday, Jean, the former secretary general of Francophonie, spoke of her own immigration journey, from her formative childhood in Haiti under the François “Papa Doc” Duvalier regime to her arrival in Thetford Mines at age 11, in the depths of a Quebec winter.
“Fleeing was not a choice. We were torn away. My father had been broken by torture,” she said.
Jean, a former UNESCO special envoy to Haiti, took the opportunity to call on officials who handle refugee claims to show understanding.
“It is a question of life or of death,” she continued, admitting that her own birth certificate was falsified for her own protection when she left Haiti.
Interviewed by festival founder Fabienne Colas, Jean, a former broadcaster with Radio-Canada, said immigration can be a humiliating experience.
“As an exile, you encounter contempt,” she said. “People look at you and ask you questions that make no sense because they do not understand where you’re coming from.”
She said she became a journalist and TV anchor for the same reasons that led her to agree to become Canada’s head of state, “to change minds, to move boundaries.”
“I know the strength of symbols,” said Jean, whose personal mission is to broaden horizons and open possibilities for people of African descent.
She added that she will always be militant in the fight against racism.