Governor general-designate Julie Payette drops bid to keep divorce records sealed
Former astronaut sought to have U.S. court documents sealed after her appointment
Governor general-designate Julie Payette has abandoned a bid to keep her divorce records secret after learning a group of Canadian media organizations, including CBC News, were intending to report on her legal moves.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's pick for the viceregal position had sought to keep the details of her divorce from fighter test pilot Billie Flynn from public view while she appealed an earlier court order that denied her request to seal the documents.
A Maryland judge on Friday granted Payette's request to keep the files sealed until at least November, when the appeal was to be heard. Lawyers for Payette filed a notice Tuesday morning asking the court to dismiss that request for an appeal and to release the documents.
Gov. Gen. David Johnston's term expires in September, and Payette is expected to be installed in early October.
"Not wishing my family to revisit the difficult moments we have been through, it was my hope that our privacy would be preserved," Payette said in a statement sent to CBC News and five other media organizations that pressed for the release of the documents.
"Though a Maryland court was currently considering an appeal to maintain our family's privacy, for reasons of transparency and to leave no doubt, I have decided to voluntarily drop this appeal and release the divorce files," she said.
The divorce documents were filed in 2013 and were publicly available until they were ordered sealed on July 18, following a motion by Payette's lawyer less than a week after her appointment as Governor General was announced.
The group of Canadian media organizations — which includes CBC News, CTV, the Globe and Mail, the National Post, iPolitics and the Toronto Star — successfully challenged that order.
Payette, a former astronaut with the Canadian Space Agency, had filed emergency motions with Maryland's Court of Special Appeals to keep the files sealed while she appealed the decision to make them public. She has now decided to drop that legal action.
Payette said in her statement Monday her primary concern was shielding her son from the details of her divorce.
"As a mother, I need to be mindful of the impact on my family. Very few families are immune from difficult moments in life — mine included. Divorces are about fractured relationships and often, a sad parting of ways. This is particularly difficult when children are involved, thus the importance of protecting the ones we love and care about."
CBC News has not yet had a chance to read what is in the documents.
There are two separate divorce cases before the Maryland court — one filed by her ex-husband for a separation, which was later abandoned, and one filed by Payette for an absolute divorce, which was granted in 2015.
The Prime Minister's Office has refused to tell CBC News whether officials viewed the contents of Payette's divorce files as part of the vetting process for her appointment.
Media organizations seek access
The group of Canadian media organizations sought access to the Maryland files in a bid to shed further light on questions about Payette's past that began swirling shortly after Trudeau announced her appointment on July 13.
First, there was the revelation by iPolitics on July 18 that Payette had been charged with second-degree assault in Maryland in November 2011. The charge was dropped two weeks later, and records related to the charge have since been expunged.
A day later came reports that Payette struck and killed a pedestrian, Terry Potts, with her SUV in July 2011. Police concluded in 2012, after an eight-month investigation, that Potts's death had been accidental.
Trudeau has defended the choice of Payette as Governor General, saying his team checked her background thoroughly and nothing in her past disqualifies her for the position.
Lengthy divorce proceedings
Divorce proceedings, which have spanned two countries and four years, began in May 2013, when Flynn filed for a limited divorce, also often called a legal separation, in St. Mary's Circuit Court in Maryland.
In June, a month after Flynn's case and a month after Payette bought a home in north-end Montreal, Payette filed a separate case for an absolute divorce in the same Maryland court.
A month later, in July 2013, Payette left the Canadian Space Agency to become chief operating officer of the Montreal Science Centre and vice-president of the Canada Lands Company.
While the Maryland court granted Payette an absolute divorce in April 2015, the case has continued before the court. In June, the court dismissed a motion from Payette for an order for unspecified salary to be withheld to pay for child support.
Statement from Julie Payette:
In the past, I have been blessed with opportunities few dream of. I have had the good fortune to work on exceptional science projects, to fly in international spaceships and to see our magnificent blue planet from orbit.
But of all the blessings I am grateful for, the most important blessing in my life is my son.
Given recent media interest regarding my private life, I wish to share the following thoughts.
While I understand and appreciate the role of media in reporting on past events in the lives of Canadians in the public eye, as a mother, I need to be mindful of the impact on my family.
Very few families are immune from difficult moments in life – mine included.
Divorces are about fractured relationships and often, a sad parting of ways. This is particularly difficult when children are involved, thus the importance of protecting the ones we love and care about.
Like many parents in the same situation, I have worked hard to put these difficult events behind me and move on with the best interest of my son in mind.
Not wishing my family to revisit the difficult moments we have been through, it was my hope that our privacy would be preserved. That is why I initially sought to keep our divorce proceedings under seal in the US, consistent with the legal principles in the province of Quebec and in Canada that govern matrimonial and family matters.
Though a Maryland court was currently considering an appeal to maintain our family's privacy, for reasons of transparency and to leave no doubt, I have decided to voluntarily drop this appeal and release the divorce files. I trust Canadians and media will distinguish between matters of public interest and private life.
As I move forward, it is my son I think of first. His relationship with both his parents is paramount and this is what I will continue to safeguard.
I am deeply honoured to have been given the privilege of serving my country again and I look forward to contributing with all my energy and dedication to the advancement of a knowledge-based society that is open, tolerant, pragmatic and generous.