National Post (Latest Edition)

Payette review questioned



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.

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