New Jamaica high commissioner Janice Miller, has pledged to build on the solid platform set by her predecessors.
A career diplomat with nearly two decades experience in Jamaica’s Foreign Service, Miller arrived in Canada on October 15 to succeed Sheila Sealy Monteith.
One of the first countries to recognize Jamaica, which attained independence from Britain 52 years ago, Canada established diplomatic relations with the first independent English-speaking Caribbean territory and opened a High Commission in Kingston that welcomed its first High Commissioner – Graham McInnes – on March 4, 1963.
Prior to becoming Prime Minister, John Diefenbaker and his wife, Olive, visited the Caribbean country and his Progressive Conservative party government provided $10,000 to establish a scholarship in Canada to mark Jamaica’s independence from Britain.
Representing Canada at the independence celebrations, then labour minister, Michael Starr, paved the way for the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program, which was established in 1966 to bring Jamaican workers to Canada to help make up for a shortage of apple pickers.
Some 6,000 Jamaicans come to Canada annually under the organized labour mobility initiative to meet the temporary seasonal needs of local agricultural producers. Last month, Larkland “Willie” Pearce, who has been coming to Canada for the last 45 years to work on the Magalas Produce Farm in southwestern Ontario and George Cooper, who has employed Jamaicans on his family-run Simcoe farm since 1972, were recognized with the Badge of Honour for Long & Faithful Service and the Badge of Honour for Meritorious Service, respectively, at Jamaica’s National Heroes Day celebration.
The two countries also enjoy historic and healthy bilateral relations that include security and defense co-operation, trade and investment links and official development assistance.
“I will work to see how we can strengthen the relationship that’s special but complex,” said Miller on her first visit to Toronto last week in her new role since arriving in Ottawa. “We don’t take certain relationships for granted. They always need nurturing and strengthening and I will use my office to continue to position our country as a premier destination for investment and tourism.”
This is Miller’s second overseas assignment. She was counsellor with responsibility for political affairs at the Permanent Mission of Jamaica to the United Nations in New York for four years.
“When I learned I was coming to Canada, I felt a bit overwhelmed because I know how important this country is to Jamaica and how that relationship is extremely special,” she said. “At the same time, I also felt honoured to be chosen for this particular assignment.”
Prior to taking up her new role, Miller said she consulted with her predecessors who served in Ottawa.
“I spoke with (Sheila) Sealy Monteith who I had previously worked with in the Foreign Service,” she said. “I value the relationship I have with her and I consider her one of my role models in the Foreign Service. I also talked with Evadne Coye because she was one of our stronger representatives here. They provided me with extensive knowledge of the layout of the land and what I should expect.”
Miller, who has also visited Montreal and Saskatchewan in the last six weeks, said she has been warmly welcomed by the Jamaican Diaspora and Canadians.
“I have been well-received and I am extremely grateful for everything nationals here have done so far to make me and my family feel comfortable,” said Jamaica’s top diplomat in Canada. “While I carry the official title of high commissioner, I want Jamaicans here to know that they are unofficial ambassadors as they represent our country very well.”
Married to researcher, Donald Miller, their two children are enrolled in an Ottawa school.
“They are settling in slowly,” she said of daughters, Rianna and Rachel, who is an avid chess player.
Miller is the sibling of Reverend Dr. Dale Bisnauth, who passed away in April 2013. The former Guyana Minister of Education, Labour, Human Services & Social Security secured his PhD from the University of the West Indies Mona campus and attended Unity Theological College of the West Indies in Jamaica, where he later became dean of studies and vice president.
Returning to Guyana with her father in 1977, Miller attended Bishop’s High School before moving back to Jamaica to pursue post-secondary education at the University of the West Indies, where she obtained her first degree and a Master’s of Philosophy degree in international relations. She also spent two years as a project officer at the CARICOM secretariat in Guyana.
The recipient of a Chevening scholarship that enabled her to pursue Oxford University’s Foreign Service program, Miller has received public administration, policy analysis and strategic planning training through the University of Peking in Beijing and Ottawa’s Carleton University.
Toronto is not new to Miller.
As a young girl, she spent three weeks here attending a religious event and in 2008 she was part of the Bishop’s alumni Jamaica delegation that participated in the ninth international reunion of the school’s old students’ association, which was hosted by the Toronto chapter.
Miller’s arrival coincides with the departure of George Ramocan, who returns to Jamaica on Sunday after serving five years as consul general.
“In coming to Canada, I had some clear ideas about some things I wanted to achieve,” he said. “When I got here and I met with community leaders and groups, that thought process changed. There was a lot of negativity surrounding Jamaica and Jamaicans and I took it upon myself to work to reposition and reshape our image here. I used the 50th independence anniversary celebrations to promote Jamaica in a positive manner and also highlight the significant contributions nationals are making here.”
A minister of religion and member of the Church of God International since 1997, Ramocan said he will not accept another public service appointment.
“I am now officially retired and my work will now be centred on the church and using the networks I have built to benefit Jamaica,” he said.
Alicia Taylor, the consul in Toronto, will act as consul general until a new envoy is named.