National Post (Latest Edition)
Payette review questioned
RIDEAU HALL’S LAWYERS TOOK ISSUE WITH ‘PROCEDURAL FAIRNESS,’ DOCUMENTS SHOW
New documents released by the government detail an exchange of letters between the Privy Council Office and lawyers hired by Rideau Hall who raised concerns around the procedural fairness of the third-party review into the workplace environment at the governor general’s office.
The exchange sheds further light on how unusual the entire situation was, with Rideau Hall’s lawyers expressing concern that the perception of “political interference” in the review could taint Gov. Gen. Julie Payette’s role during a minority government — a concern strongly rejected by the Privy Council Office.
The report was publicly released in heavily redacted form on Jan. 27, and detailed how Rideau Hall employees alleged it was a “toxic workplace” with incidents of “yelling, screaming, aggressive conduct, demeaning comments and public humiliation.” It included 92 interviews conducted between Oct. 19 and Nov. 23, 2020, and was prompted by allegations aired in a CBC article the previous summer.
The report resulted in the resignation of Payette as governor general, as well as the resignation of her top deputy, Assunta di Lorenzo.
On Saturday night, the government released a new version of the report with some redactions removed after completing thirdparty consultations. The newly-revealed documents show a lengthy letter from Toronto law firm Blake, Cassels & Graydon addressed to both the Privy Council Office (PCO) — the top government department, which serves cabinet and the Prime Minister’s Office — and Quintet Consulting, which was hired by the PCO to do the review.
Blakes, as the law firm is generally known, said it was hired by the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General (OSGG) to represent the institution as a whole, not any one individual.
In the letter dated Oct. 1, 2020, Blakes said the OSGG would be fully co-operating with the review, but it requested certain “procedures that we view as necessary to avoid significant concerns with the procedural fairness of the Review.” It described the proposed procedures as a “non-disruptive improvement” to the process.
Among the steps blakes requested was for Quintet to follow Treasury board guidelines around harassment complaints, including to take steps to determine whether any allegations raised were frivolous, vexatious or “made in bad faith (including being tainted by conscious or unconscious bias with respect to women leaders).”
blakes further provided a detailed list and chart of steps that should be taken throughout the review to allow individuals to “meaningfully respond” to any allegations made.
The letter said the review must be “seen to be — and in fact be — free from any political involvement or interference,” given the minority government situation. Without additional steps, blakes said, “there is a moderate to high risk that the review process as currently constituted could be subject to attack as facilitating political interference with an independent office of government.”
The letter concluded by saying the additional steps were necessary because the report could generate “public and political pressure for a resignation.”
“Such a result, in the absence of an opportunity for the OSGG and affected individuals to be heard, would be improper,” it said.
However, in a scorching response dated Oct. 6, the PCO told blakes that it misunderstood the scope of the review, which is “intended to be a fact-finding exercise and not a formal investigation in accordance with (the Treasury board harassment policy).”
“At this stage, this review does not give rise to any of the procedural fairness issues you outline in your letter,” said the PCO response, signed by daniel roussy of the PCO’S legal services sector.
The PCO letter also said blakes wrongly describes rideau Hall as “an independent office of government.”
“We note as well that you speak to the OSGG’S independence from government,” the PCO letter said. “This is mistaken. The OSGG is in no way independent from government ... it is a part of it.”
Furthermore, the PCO shot down concerns around how the review could be seen as “facilitating political interference.”
“We fail to understand, in the context of the current review, what you mean by this statement,” the PCO letter said. It said that by hiring Quintet, the PCO was fulfilling its role in providing non-partisan advice and support to government “in light of concerns raised in the public sphere about the work environment at the OSGG.”
In addition to the OSGG hiring blakes, Payette had also brought on former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Michel bastarache as a adviser to help rideau Hall navigate constitutional issues in the review process. In the end, however, the Quintet report was damning enough that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau requested Payette’s resignation.