Politics·Updated

Independent firm completes review into claims of 'toxic' environment at Rideau Hall

An independent consulting firm has completed its review into claims of a toxic environment and workplace harassment at Rideau Hall, and sources say the report is scathing.

Sources briefed on the report say it's scathing

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette. An outside consultant hired to look into reports of a toxic workplace at Rideau Hall has tabled a report that sources say comes to some harsh conclusions. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

An independent consulting firm has completed its review into reports of a toxic environment and workplace harassment at Rideau Hall — and sources briefed on the report say its tone is blistering.

Sources said the negative findings in the report could make it difficult for Julie Payette to remain in her role as Governor General. The Globe and Mail also reports that the review has been completed and is damning in its conclusions.

Sources have also told CBC that Secretary to the Governor General Assunta Di Lorenzo, who has also been accused of harassing employees, recently hired Marie Henein's firm to represent her.

Henein represented ex-Vice Admiral Mark Norman, the military's former second-in-command, during his trial for breach of trust. Federal prosecutors stayed that charge. It's not clear if Henein or another lawyer at her firm is personally representing Di Lorenzo.

CBC News contacted Rideau Hall, Di Lorenzo and Henein this morning for comment and has not heard back. The National Post has also reported Henein Hutchison LLP has been hired. 

CBC is not naming the sources as they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The head of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada, Dominic LeBlanc, is overseeing the review and is expected to offer recommendations to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on his response. LeBlanc's father was the governor general from 1995-1999. 

Experts agree that when a government wants a controversial governor general to depart, the most likely approach would be for the prime minister to suggest resignation. If the governor general doesn't follow through on that suggestion, the prime minister could turn to the Queen to appoint a replacement.

A spokesperson for Buckingham Palace wouldn't comment on the report today.

"This is a matter for the Canadian government so I would refer you to them," said Hannah Howard, deputy communications secretary to the Queen.

The Privy Council Office launched the unprecedented third-party review in July in response to a CBC News report featuring a dozen public servants and former employees confidentially claiming Payette had belittled, berated and publicly humiliated Rideau Hall staff. Di Lorenzo, the Governor General's longtime friend and second-in-command, is also accused of bullying staff.

Payette tweeted two days after that story aired that she was "deeply concerned about the media reports" and she "takes harassment and workplace issues very seriously ... I am in full agreement and welcome the independent review."

As of Jan. 5, Rideau Hall had spent more than $150,000 in public funds on legal representation in response to the toxic workplace allegations, including a former Supreme Court justice for the Governor General and Blakes law firm for the institution.

That sum is larger than the original value of the federal contract that hired Quintet Consulting to conduct the review. The private firm was hired on an $88,325 contract in Sept. 2020.

More than 50 people voluntarily took part in the review. They included current and former staff at Rideau Hall and representatives of other government departments that work closely with the Governor General and her office, such as the RCMP, Global Affairs and the National Capital Commission. 

The number of participants grew higher than the government anticipated, causing the review to take longer than originally scheduled. 

Quintet's president, Raphael Szajnfarber, told CBC News yesterday the firm remains "unable to discuss this confidential matter."

WATCH | The atmosphere at Rideau Hall was tense in November 2020 as review was underway:

Tensions high at Rideau Hall with workplace review underway

The National

4 months ago
1:51
The atmosphere at Rideau Hall is tense as an investigation into allegations of workplace harassment continues with more than 50 people being interviewed. The investigation follows claims that Gov. Gen. Julie Payette harassed employees and her second-in-command bullied staff. 1:51

Reports of 'tantrums' on foreign trips

Last year, former staffers gave CBC News accounts of Payette throwing "tantrums" in the office and on foreign trips, openly criticizing people's work to the point where they were reduced to tears, and tossing an employee's work aside and calling it "shit." Employees have been seen leaving her office with tears in their eyes or crying in their vehicles. 

Sources say Payette is known for dropping "explosions" or "bursts of emotion" on staff at Rideau Hall over the quality of work done in the office.

CBC News has now spoken confidentially to more than 20 public servants with direct knowledge of the workplace climate at Rideau Hall. They spoke on the condition they not be named because they feared they could lose their jobs or their careers could suffer. Many of the sources are still in the public service, while others are former Rideau Hall employees.

One source said Rideau Hall went from being one of the most collegial federal public service workplaces to a "house of horrors," causing longtime employees to leave in droves.

Payette greets Canadian World War II veteran Bill Anderson, left, at a ceremony at the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery in Reviers, Normandy, France, in June 2019. Some former employees reported that on some foreign trips Payette threw 'tantrums' and was verbally abusive to staff. (David Vincent/The Associated Press)

Five executives left Payette's office in 2018 within months of each other, the communications department cleared out during the pandemic and Di Lorenzo has had at least four executive assistants leave, according to sources. In the past month, another group of staff members departed.

"She screams and humiliates staff in front of others," one former employee told CBC News in July 2020. "It's verbal abuse. In no world is it OK to treat people that way."

At the beginning of her mandate, sources said, Payette also put staff on the spot by quizzing them about outer space — asking them to name all the planets in the solar system, for example, or to state the distance between the sun and the moon.

In one four-month period, roughly two dozen people reported abusive conduct by Payette or Di Lorenzo to management, according to government sources. Former employees complain the system protects the alleged abusers and said they fear it would ruin their careers to file an official complaint.

Claims of harassment of employees

Di Lorenzo is also accused of harassing employees and calling some "lazy" and "incompetent."

A former lawyer and executive in Montreal, Di Lorenzo is supposed to keep Payette's office running smoothly and effectively. Multiple sources said Di Lorenzo is years into the job — which is typically filled by a seasoned public servant — and still doesn't understand how the public service works.

"[Di Lorenzo is] also a bully," said a source. "When confronted with something she's unsure of, instead of giving you the benefit of the doubt, she comes at you as a pit bull."

CBC News has also reported Payette has faced similar claims at past workplaces, but the prime minister and his officials didn't conduct checks with her past employers before appointing her as Governor General.

Payette was given severance of roughly $200,000 when she resigned from the Montreal Science Centre in 2016 following complaints about her treatment of employees, say multiple sources at Canada Lands Company, the Crown corporation that employed her. In 2017, Payette left the Canadian Olympic Committee after two internal investigations into her treatment of staff that included claims of verbal harassment, sources with that organization said.

The Governor General retained the services of former Supreme Court of Canada justice Michel Bastarache as "constitutional adviser" and paid him $41,488. The law firm Blakes is also assisting the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General (OSGG) in the review process and has been paid $111,179; that contract has been amended to allow for billing up to $149,500.

In August, Rideau Hall hired former NDP national director Karl Bélanger and his firm, Traxxion Strategies, to provide strategic communications counsel and media relations support to Payette, and has paid him $9,450 so far.

About the Author

Ashley Burke

Reporter

Ashley Burke is a senior reporter with CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. Have a story idea? Email her at ashley.burke@cbc.ca

With files from the CBC's Kristen Everson

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