Report into Julie Payette's conduct at Rideau Hall finds toxic environment, public humiliations

Released publicly Wednesday night, the report details allegations of "yelling, screaming, aggressive conduct, demeaning comments and public humiliations."

Report details 'yelling, screaming, aggressive conduct, demeaning comments and public humiliations'

Julie Payette resigned as governor general following reports that she presided over a toxic work environment at Rideau Hall. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

An independent report examining the workplace culture at Rideau Hall found that former governor general Julie Payette and her second-in-command Assunta Di Lorenzo presided over a toxic work environment. 

Released under the Access to Information Act Wednesday night, the heavily redacted report details allegations from staff members of "yelling, screaming, aggressive conduct, demeaning comments and public humiliations."

The report said 43 staff members at Rideau Hall described the general work environment as "hostile or negative."

Twenty-six people interviewed "used the words 'toxic' or 'poisoned' to describe the general work atmosphere" at Rideau Hall during Payette's time there. 

The Quintet Consulting Corporation, which conducted the report, interviewed 92 current and former employees and other "knowledgeable individuals." The consultants concluded that "there is a serious problem that requires [the Privy Council Office's] immediate attention."

Fewer than 10 participants described positive or neutral feelings about the work environment. The overwhelming majority of participants interviewed described experiences that would be "objectively considered" concerning, the report said. 

In July, the Privy Council Office(PCO), which oversees the federal public service, announced it had hired an independent consulting firm after CBC News reported that sources said Payette had created a toxic environment at Rideau Hall by verbally harassing employees to the point where some had been reduced to tears or left the office altogether. 

The independent report's goal was to determine the scope of the problem. The authors of the report did not attempt to make findings of fact; the document only relies on what interview participants reported.

Payette resigned her position last week after receiving a copy of the final report and meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Her resignation came six months to the day after the CBC's first story aired. Di Lorenzo also resigned that same day.

Read | Quintet Consulting's redacted final report into the workplace culture at Rideau Hall:

In a statement announcing her resignation, Payette took responsibility for "tensions" that arose at Rideau Hall but pointed out that no "formal complaints or official grievances" were made that would have triggered an investigation.

"Everyone has a right to a healthy and safe work environment, at all times and under all circumstances. It appears this was not always the case at the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General. Tensions have arisen at Rideau Hall over the past few months and for that, I am sorry," wrote Payette in a media statement on Jan. 21.

"We all experience things differently, but we should always strive to do better, and be attentive to one another's perceptions ... in respect for the integrity of my vice-regal Office and for the good of our country and of our democratic institutions, I have come to the conclusion that a new Governor General should be appointed."

Staff departures and stress leave

A section of the report listing the various terms interviewees used to describe the work environment at Rideau Hall under Payette include "humiliation," "disrespect," "condescension," and "a non-inclusive workplace." Some staff members described it as, "the definition of a poisoned work environment," while others said they were "stressed out" and "worn out."

Twelve interview participants said Payette had created a "climate/reign of fear/terror," at the institution. 

WATCH | Complaints of unwanted physical contact made against Payette, sources say:

Complaints of unwanted physical contact made against Payette: sources

2 years ago
Duration 2:03
The complaints about former governor general Julie Payette made in an official report include instances when anger turned to unwanted physical contact, sources tell CBC News.

The review said Rideau Hall employees felt that they had no way to express their concerns and believed HR practices at the institution to be inadequate. Staff said they had no way to report the "really unhealthy" environment other than to speak to the media. 

"The results presented in this report and in particular the expressions of distrust, fear and lack of confidence by participants that meaningful change will occur, must be acknowledged in any efforts to address the situation," the report said. Participants said they witnessed at least 16 staff leave in less than a year.

Looking toward healing

The report said 13 interview participants reported they took sick leave during Payette's tenure because of the work environment. Another 17 said they left their jobs at the institution because of the hostile environment created by Payette. 

The consultants recommend the PCO "act quickly and decisively" to increase oversight of Rideau Hall until such a time that the work environment is demonstrably improved. The report also recommends employees at Rideau Hall should be thanked for their participation in the review with a commitment that their concerns will be addressed in a meaningful way.

"The situation at [Rideau Hall] as reported by participants in this review is said to have existed for several years," the report stated. "A general rule of thumb in the resolution of circumstances described in this report is that it can be expected to take just as much time to heal the situation as it took for it to develop."

WATCH | Payette resigns after scathing workplace review:

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette resigns after scathing workplace review

2 years ago
Duration 2:51
Gov. Gen. Julie Payette resigned on Thursday after a scathing review about a toxic workplace at Rideau Hall. The review followed CBC reporting into allegations of workplace harassment and bullying in the Governor General’s office.

The report suggests the PCO conduct mandatory exit interviews for all staff leaving Rideau Hall and use feedback to address workplace issues. 

The report also said a senior manager should be designated to help any employee who feels they have faced reprisals for their participation in the review. 

Vetting process facing scrutiny

Payette's departure — the first by a governor general facing allegations of misconduct — has brought increased scrutiny on the process by which she was chosen for the role even as the government searches for her successor.

Trudeau is facing criticism for selecting his personal pick rather than relying on an advisory committee set up by former prime minister Stephen Harper to suggest suitable candidates. Opposition parties have suggested Trudeau got swept up by the celebrity of Payette, a former astronaut.

CBC News reported in September that Trudeau's office failed to check with at least two key past employers before appointing Payette, which could have raised red flags about her treatment of staff and ability to lead.

Privy Council President Dominic LeBlanc said in an interview on CBC's Rosemary Barton Live on Sunday that the government intends to make the vetting process more robust as it moves to select a new governor general over the next few weeks.

Trudeau said last week that the vetting process would be strengthened and approved for all high level appointments.

Chief Justice Richard Wagner is fulfilling the duties of the governor general until a new one is appointed.


Peter Zimonjic

Senior writer

Peter Zimonjic is a senior writer for CBC News. He has worked as a reporter and columnist in London, England, for the Daily Mail, Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph and in Canada for Sun Media and the Ottawa Citizen. He is the author of Into The Darkness: An Account of 7/7, published by Random House.

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