Community leader, secular priest, antiracism activist, political writer (born 9 January 1931 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; died 22 November 2005). He was one of the great leaders of the Haitian community of Montreal and of the entire Haitian diaspora.
Paul Déjean attended elementary and secondary school at the Institution Saint-Louis de Gonzague in the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince. In 1949, he moved to the United States to study philosophy, and in 1954, he moved to Ottawa, where he continued his studies in this field and earned two degrees (one in philosophy, the other in theology). After being ordained as a Roman Catholic priest, Déjean returned to Haiti in 1955. He taught secondary school in Camp-Perrin, a city in the southern part of the country. In 1961, he received a scholarship from the French government to study anthropology and linguistics in Paris. Returning to Port-au-Prince in 1966, he became a secular priest. From 1966 to 1969, he founded and directed a home there to help youth from various parts of the country. But on 15 August 1969, he was expelled from Haiti by the government of dictator François Duvalier. First he fled to Switzerland, where he taught secondary school for two years, Then he moved to Montreal, where he taught for the Sainte-Croix school board from 1971 to 1972. After this short stint as a teacher, he devoted himself to community issues full-time.
Social and Community Activism: A Man for All Struggles
Starting in 1972, Paul Déjean became fully involved in organizing the rapidly growing Haitian community of Montreal to carry out various struggles in which it was then engaged. On 12 November 1972, along with Karl Lévêque, Déjean founded the Bureau de la communauté chrétienne des Haïtiens de Montréal (BCCHM), a Christian organization for the Haitian community of Montreal, and he served as its director until 1986. This organization provided various services to Haitian immigrants to Quebec (see ), but its activities did not stop there. Starting in 1972, Paul Déjean began a systematic struggle against the Canadian government’s decision to deport nearly 1500 persons of Haitian origin who were regarded as irregular immigrants because of a change in Canadian immigration policy. Déjean also became involved in the fight against police brutality.
Defending Haitian Taxi Drivers
In the late 1970s and the early 1980s, Haitian taxi drivers were the victims of overt racism. On the pretext that white customers refused to be served by Black drivers, certain taxi companies fired Haitian drivers. In March 1982, to address this situation, the Haitian drivers founded the Association Haïtienne des travailleurs du taxi (Haitian association of taxi workers). Its purpose was to defend the interests of its members and to denounce racism against “mainly visible minorities.” (See Visible Minority.) The following year, the association submitted a brief to the Human Rights Commission, denouncing the discrimination against its members.
The BCCHM, under Paul Déjean’s leadership, came to the aid of the Haitian taxi drivers. The organization asked the Quebec government to take steps to protect the Haitian drivers’ rights in the workplace. Demonstrations were held. In the end, the taxi companies that had discriminatory policies against Haitian drivers were forced to pay fines. (See Haitian Taxi Drivers' Struggle Against Racism in the 1970s and 1980s in Montreal.)
Fighting the Decision by the Red Cross
In March 1983, the Haitian community was hit by another form of discrimination: the entire Canadian Red Cross strongly discouraged Haitian men and women who had recently arrived in Canada from making blood donations. According to the Canadian Red Cross, this group was suspected of carrying the AIDS virus. But the Red Cross provided no evidence to justify such suspicions. This prohibition was published in the media throughout Canada. In the 1980s, no distinction was any longer made between Haitians who had arrived in Canada recently and those who had been living in the country (the vast majority in Quebec) for decades. The discrimination and prejudice affected the entire community. As a result, many Haitians lost their jobs. Those who had been working in the hotel and restaurant industry were especially hard hit.
Paul Déjean became deeply engaged in the fight against this discrimination. He co-founded the Comité conjoint Haïtien sur le SIDA (Haitian joint committee on AIDS) in partnership with the Maison d’Haïti, the Association des médecins Haïtiens à l’étranger (association of Haitian physicians abroad) and the Ralliement des infirmières et infirmières auxiliaires Haïtiennes de Montréal (Haitian nurses’ aides’ association of Montreal). First, under Dejéan’s leadership, the committee pressured the federal Department of Health to remove the Haitian community from the list of persons considered at high risk of carrying the AIDS virus. Other means of pressure were exerted, particularly by Paul Déjean, who began writing letters to then Minister of Health Monique Bégin. In his letters, Déjean denounced the Red Cross decision as unjustified and discriminatory. He urged the minister to force the Red Cross to change its position with respect to the Haitian community.
Return to Haiti and Death
Two weeks after the fall of Jean-Claude Duvalier’s dictatorship on 7 February 1986, Paul Déjean returned to Haiti. Jean-Claude Duvalier had succeeded his father, François Duvalier, who had died in 1971. Once back in Haiti, Déjean resumed his tireless activism. He helped to found the Institut Culturel Karl Lévêque in memory of his friend and comrade-in-arms (see Karl Lévêque). This institute’s objectives are to denounce and fight social injustice. In 1990, he was appointed Minister for Haitians Living Abroad and Secretary of State for Literacy.
Paul Déjean wrote and published several books, including Les Haïtiens au Québec (1978; trad. The Haïtians in Québec, 1980), Communauté Haïtienne et racisme (1986) and D’Haïti au Québec (1990).
Awards and Honours
In 1985, in recognition of his activism, Paul Déjean received the cultural communities award from minister Gérard Godin.
In 2015, a square in Armand Bombardier Park in the Montreal borough of Rivière-des-Prairies was dedicated to his memory.