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Governor General Julie Payette accused of harassing staff in bombshell report

Last Updated Jul 22, 2020 at 7:53 am PDT

Governor General Julie Payette delivers remarks during a celebration of the 100th anniversary of Statistics Canada at its headquarters in Ottawa on Friday, March 16, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Serious allegations of workplace abuse and harassment are being lobbed at Governor General Julie Payette

CBC News has spoken with several sources who have either worked in or currently work at Rideau Hall

Governor General's Office refutes claims of harassment

OTTAWA (NEWS 1130) – There have long been hints about workplace harassment and abuse in the office of the Governor General, and now, a new report is filling in the picture and raising questions of accountability.

The bombshell report by CBC News details allegations of past and present staffers in the office, with many of the employees pointing the finger at Julie Payette — Canada’s highest-ranking public servant — herself.

“This has gone from being one of the most collegial and enjoyable work environments for many of the staff to being a house of horrors,” one government source told CBC News, adding, “It’s bullying and harassment at its worst.”

The source was just one of a dozen the outlet spoke with who accused Payette of inappropriate behaviour. She’s accused, among other things, of throwing tantrums on staff, sometimes leaving them crying in their vehicles on the way home.

“Such outbursts are often centred around Payette being upset with the quality of someone’s work and the belief that she has to do everything herself because everyone else is incompetent,” CBC writes, quoting a source as saying “she needs to control absolutely everything.”

The majority of the harassment was apparently directed at staff who reported directly to Payette.

There were earlier hints of this happening in the Rideau Hall workplace environment. The latest annual public service employee survey found more than one-in-five Rideau Hall employees experienced harassment, and fewer than half of respondents said senior managers led by example when it came to ethical behaviour.

In 2019, 22 per cent of respondents in the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General said they had been the victim of harassment on the job in the 12 months prior, while 78 per cent said “no.”

When it came to who the respondents experienced harassment from, 74 per cent of individuals said “yes” when asked if it was from “individuals with authority over me.”

Payette was named Governor General in 2017. In her role, she represents the Queen in Canada and is thus not subject to information laws. And while the federal ombudsman can hear complaints, all it can do is pass those complaints back to Rideau Hall senior management — where a lot of the complaints originate.

The Governor General’s Office tells the CBC its reporting is in stark contrast to the reality, and that its employee turnover is low compared to other federal departments.

The report also accuses Payette’s secretary Assunta Di Lorenzo, a longtime friend, of harassment toward employees.

“Every Canadian has the right to work in a healthy, respectful and safe environment,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office reads. “Our government is committed to ensuring that all federally-regulated workplaces are free from harassment of any kind.”

The PMO has referred all further questions to Rideau Hall.