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Governor-General shares grief with B.C. Haitians

Michaëlle Jean spoke today of the pain of her 10-year-old daughter, who is mourning the loss of her beloved godmother killed in the Haitian earthquake.

Marie-Eden is making bracelets and necklaces to raise money for the relief effort, the Governor-General told members of Vancouver's tiny Haitian community. It is her way, she says, of dealing with her loss.

"She's in mourning, like I am, like so many of us are," Ms. Jean told a small group of Haitian and Caribbean Canadians.

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Like others in the crowd, Ms. Jean says she lost many dear friends.

It was an emotional speech the Governor-General delivered, speaking at times in Creole, and mostly without notes. Her descriptions of her devastated homeland and her own loss moved many in the crowd to tears.

"I've lost many friends, many good friends," Ms. Jean said. "I had relatives also who were badly affected … and I'm not the only one. Many of you here went through exactly the same."

The death toll in Haiti has now reached over 270,000.

Others in the crowd today drew strength from the hopeful and optimistic tone she invoked as she spoke of how Haiti will be rebuilt and how the solidarity of Canadians and others around are rallying to her native country.

And then she spoke of her daughter.

Ms. Jean and her husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, adopted Marie-Eden from Jacmel, the seaside city where Ms. Jean has deep family roots.

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Jacmel was devastated in last month's earthquake; it is one of the communities that the Canadian military is focused on rebuilding.

"She's been making necklaces and bracelets to raise money for the Red Cross," Ms. Jean told the gathering at Vancouver House, the city's Olympic venue. "She needed that to overcome these images and her own pain because she's lost her godmother in the earthquake, so it's terrible for her."

Marie-Eden's godmother, Magali Marcelin, ran a women's rights organization in Haiti.

Ms. Jean, who is in Vancouver to open the Olympic Games at tomorrow's ceremony, reminded the group that "every gesture is important, every word is important, every action is important."

Many in the crowd were crying as they listened to the Governor-General; many had never seen her in person before. And it was the personal stories of her loss that she shared with many in the crowd that moved them.

The Haitian population in Vancouver is tiny - in fact, it's not clear how many it numbers as there is not an organized community. About 60 people were there today.

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"We know that Haitian people are very courageous," Ms. Jean said. "Sometimes, you know, you wonder when the ordeal will stop."

She said, however, that the people of Haiti know they are not alone and she is "convinced" that Haitians, and Canadians, who have come together to help, will grow stronger from all of this despair.

Philippe Murat, who attended the speech, wants to know what he can do to help. He says the Haitian Prime Minister has asked the diaspora to help but there is no leadership.

"These people have to be called upon and we have to rally them in order to spearhead a concerted effort. So that is something we are eagerly waiting for," he said. "If they would give me a shovel I will fly to Port-au-Prince today."

Pierre Meneide, who was also in the audience, was still shaken up after her speech.

"It was when she spoke of her personal connection and what happened to her family and friends," he said. "We can all relate to that here."

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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